Higher gas prices have many seeking fun in the sun close to home, and what better way to take advantage of spring’s bright sunny days and soft fragrant breezes than to picnic under nature’s canopy? Picnics have been around for as long as humans have eaten leisurely meals outdoors, but the contemporary form arose from the 19th century “Picnic Society,” a group of Londoners who shared refreshments in lush park settings.
Today’s picnics, whether a romantic surfside interlude for two or a family reunion, include everything from traditional fried chicken to gourmet take-out. Planning the perfect picnic involves some preparation but needn’t be a chore. Before heading out the door with red-checkered cloth in hand, be sure to have everything you need to make your outdoor-dining excursion complete:
Safety first. Keep foods at proper temperatures to avoid food-borne illness. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Hot stuff. If you bring hot dishes, keep them above 140 degrees Fahrenheit to curb bacterial growth. Eat them soon, as bacteria thrive at warm temperatures.
Just chill. Keep cold foods cold with ice or artificial ice packs available from camping supply stores. Eggs, meats, cheeses and dairy foods must be chilled, as do cut melons and foods containing mayonnaise.
Wash up. Keep hand sanitizer or soap and water handy. To avoid cross-contamination, make sure utensils stay with the food they are meant to serve.
Your serve. Pack plenty of dishware, utensils and napkins. Don’t forget a bottle/can opener, corkscrew and plastic bags/wrap. Cover foods and beverages to deter buzzing pests.
Packable proteins. Traditional foods like fried or baked chicken, lunchmeat sandwiches and cheeses are picnic-friendly, but they have to be kept chilled. Consider these protein-rich foods that require no refrigeration:
- peanut butter
- unopened cans of tuna, chicken, beans and meats
- nuts, seeds and edamame
Portable produce. Bananas, apples, peaches, berries and seasonal fruits are sweet tastes of spring that do not have to be chilled, but sliced melons and salads with dressing should be kept cold. Refreshing warm-weather vegetables include carrots, sliced cucumbers and bagged spinach for sandwiches.
Mind the melt. Most cookies and baked sweets are picnic-friendly, but chocolate and icing will melt in outdoor warmth.
About those beverages. Soft drinks, juice and similarly sweet drinks attract bees; keep them covered to avoid stings. Drinking wine, beer and alcohol in temperate climes can trigger dehydration, so bring plenty of water, too.
First aid. Insect bites and minor abrasions are common, so pack bandages, antiseptic and antibiotic ointment. Bring medications for tummy troubles. Bee allergy? Know what to do if someone gets stung. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug repellent.
Clean up. Bring a few trash bags, one for litter, another for recyclables
Burn it off. Picnics provide the perfect opportunity to expend calories. Work off that fried chicken leg by tossing a Frisbee or playing catch.
With a little preplanning, dining outdoors can be a safe, fun and budget-wise cure for spring fever.
For more more tips on food safety, go to the USDA website.