NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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July is National Picnic Month

National Picnic Month, "The Family Table," benefits of family meals, picnic food safety tips

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

July is National Picnic Month, which is a perfect time to create happy memories as you enjoy seasonal foods in an outdoor environment.

For the past 18 months, we in the Family and Community Wellness programs at NDSU Extension have been promoting family meals through "The Family Table" project. We based our programming on published research, which shows the long-term influence of families eating together on various aspects of physical, mental and emotional health.

On average, experts say to aim for four or five meals per week with most family members present. Eating together promotes family unity and a place that is safe and secure in a sometimes confusing world.

Children get very busy as they grow older, so be flexible in your timing for family mealtimes. Meals can be eaten together anywhere, any time, and they still "count." Try a family breakfast, evening snack or a picnic in a nearby park or your backyard.

Be sure to put away electronics, turn off the TV and turn on the conversation.

Teens who eat more meals with their families are less likely to become depressed, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, develop eating disorders or become pregnant.

Eating together more often also promotes better nutrition. Children who enjoy more family meals eat more fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy, and they eat fewer fried foods and soft drinks. This adds up to a diet that has more calcium, iron, fiber, and vitamins A, C, E and folate.

Consider these nutrition and food safety tips:

  • Plan your menu to be colorful, with all the food groups: vegetables, fruit, grain, protein and dairy or other calcium source.
  • Check out the seasonal fresh produce available from farmers markets, gardens and grocery shelves.
  • Be sure to keep perishable foods chilled during transportation and at the picnic site. Transport food in the passenger area instead of the trunk, and keep coolers in the shade. Use blocks of ice or frozen gel packs. Remember that perishable food, including cut fruit, salads and meat, should spend no more than one hour at temperatures of 90 F or above.
  • If you do not have a way to keep foods cold, bring nonperishable foods such as peanut butter sandwiches, chips, pretzels, whole fruit, trail mix or dried fruit.
  • Be sure to check your destination to learn if it has a safe drinking water source. If not, bring your own clean water. Bring moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning your hands.
  • If you plan to grill meat, be sure to bring a food thermometer to check doneness. Steaks and pork chops should reach an internal temperature of 145 F, followed by a three-minute rest time. Hamburgers should reach 160 F, and chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 F.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Be sure to bring a clean plate to the grill to retrieve cooked food so raw juices on the original plate do not contaminate the cooked food.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist

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