NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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National Picnic Month, planning a picnic, picnic safety, fun food ideas

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

With the summer season in full swing, it’s that time of the year to grab your basket, get outside, and enjoy a picnic with family and friends! Picnics are the perfect time to enjoy light, fresh, and healthy meals and snacks while enjoying the fresh air and great outdoors. July, which is National Picnic Month, is an opportunity to create fond memories of picnics.

As you plan a picnic, keep some safety tips in mind to deter invisible guests, including bacteria, from visiting your party. Be sure to travel with coolers filled with ice because perishable foods need to be kept at 40 F or below. Keep the raw meats in a separate cooler from the beverages because the meat juices could contaminate the containers. Keep your ready-to-eat foods such as salads away from raw meat juices.

Don’t forget your food thermometer. Cook foods to safe internal temperatures. For example, burgers should reach an internal temperature of least 160 F and chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 F. If the outdoor temperature is warm (above 90 F), be sure that the food is not out for more than one hour. If the outdoor temperature is cooler, follow the “two-hour rule,” which states that perishable food (including cut fruit and vegetables) should spend no more than two hours at room temperature.

Be sure to protect your food from the visible pests, including flies and ants that may invade your party. Cover your food containers because bugs can carry bacteria on their tiny legs.

Add more fruits and vegetables to the menu. For example, serve salads containing a variety of fruits and vegetables for added nutrition. Mix your own proportion of these ingredients or find recipes online.

Make a homemade dressing for a healthier dish. How about some balsamic vinaigrette? Whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar (optional), 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 3/4 cup olive oil. This recipe yields 1 cup of dressing.

You do not have to travel great distances to have a picnic. If you have children or grandchildren, they might enjoy a picnic on a blanket in the backyard with a few fun food ideas:

  • Cut triangle-shaped wedges of watermelon and add a stick in the rind end for a fruit Popsicle.
  • Make sandwich kabobs with small pieces of bread, cheese, grape tomatoes, sandwich meat and olives.
  • Enjoy some “fruit caterpillars.” Place purple and red grapes alternately on skewers.
  • Try filling ice cream cones with melon balls for a refreshing treat.
  • Enjoy some crunchy veggie flowers. Make four v-shaped cuts on the outside of cucumbers. Cut cucumbers into slices to form flower petals.
  • Try some “banana sushi.” Spread a whole-grain tortilla with peanut butter, or other spread. Next, place a banana inside and roll. Cut into slices.
  • For a kid-favorite dessert, try making a “dirt dessert” with low-fat, calcium-rich chocolate pudding sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs and a couple of gummy worms.

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

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