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Be a Pro at Picnic Packing

Sallie Yakowicz, NDSU Extension Program Assistant

July, National Picnic Month, is the perfect time to pack some treats, grab some friends and family, and enjoy a light meal under the summer sun.

However, before heading out, make sure what you have packed is healthful, safe and tasty.

Tip 1: Pack some finger foods. Bring fewer to save space and make cleanup easier. Try simple, healthful options such as replacing potato or macaroni salad with fresh fruit or veggies. For example, bring apple slices and peanut butter dip, carrots and peppers with hummus, sandwiches or wraps hard-cooked eggs.

Tip 2: Use reusable containers. Using reusable plastic containers instead of plastic baggies reduces waste. Plastic containers limit garbage and simplify storage, and are eco-friendly and help keep our beaches, parks and pavilions clean.

Tip 3: Grab a cooler or two. Ditch the old-fashioned wicker picnic basket; instead, bring a large cooler that can store all your foods at a safe temperature. Here are some cooler tips:

  • Remember that while packing a cooler, it should be about 25 percent ice and 75 percent food.
  • Have a separate cooler for raw meat to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Put ice on the bottom and around the insides of the cooler. Larger blocks of ice melt less quickly than cubes.
  • Place the heaviest and most perishable foods on top of the ice, filling in the rest of the space with lighter items.

Tip 4: Freeze your water. Partially frozen water bottles will stay cooler longer in the sun.

Tip 5: Ditch the high-calorie fare. Here are some suggestions:

  • Because mayo adds unnecessary fat to your picnic spread, try mayo alternatives such as vinegar and oil dressings, avocado or pesto spreads, honey mustard or hummus.
  • Pack some apples, oranges, melons and grapes. Whole fruits are less perishable than cut fruits.
  • Try soda alternatives such as water. If you have a sweet tooth, add a little fruit juice or lemon slices to your water bottle for a punch of flavor.
  • Be sure to keep all perishable items, such as salads, cut fruit and vegetables and meats, cold.

Tip 6: Bring an umbrella. Make sure you have a good source of shade to protect you and your family from the harmful rays and dangerous heat that the summer sun brings. In addition, always remember to pack some sunscreen.

Tip  7: Make the picnic fun. Plan activity ideas such as hiking, board games, Frisbee, a scavenger hunt, bocce ball or a variety of other games best played under a blue summer sky.

Visit to learn more about “The Family Table” so you can eat, connect and savor at the family table. Join the challenges and sign up for an electronic newsletter with recipes and tips. Follow the program on Facebook for more tips, meal plans and ideas for getting conversations going during family meals.

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Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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