By MICHELLE LECOUNTY AND AMBER ATKINSON
Just as much as sledding and snowmen are winter pastimes, picnics are a staple summertime activity. The two seem to go hand-in-hand and for good reason, too. Whether on the beach, a stop along the road, the local park, or even your backyard, picnics are a great way to get outdoors and enjoy the nice weather. At your next picnic, consider ways to get everyone involved and active.
Sometimes just a little planning ahead is all it takes to get everyone having fun. Consider making a scavenger hunt to get to the picnic by leaving clues or a “treasure” map for others to find their way. Take along a board game, bocce ball, a softball and catcher’s mitt, or a Frisbee. If kids will be joining you, you might pick a park with a playground nearby. Plan a hike or bike ride and take the picnic with you. Stop when you get hungry or find a scenic spot to eat. The sky is the limit when planning picnic fun.
Just as important as what you do while on a picnic is what you pack to eat. With a little planning, picnics can be a healthy and affordable alternative to fast food. But don’t get stuck on bologna sandwiches or potato salad. Try some of these other picnic-friendly meal ideas.
• Wraps filled with lean meats and stuffed with veggies and salsa or light dressing
• Mexican bean salad using a can of drained and rinsed black beans; a can of drained corn; a can of chopped Mexican-style tomatoes in lime juice; a chopped red pepper; a pinch of cumin; and a bit of cayenne.
• Combine cherry tomatoes with green beans and some whole-grain pasta and add a little pesto for a tasty, nutritious salad that travels well
• Try using broccoli slaw instead of coleslaw, mix in some shredded carrots, and toss with a light, low-fat poppy seed or yogurt dressing for a great salad that will be still be crunchy and delicious and lower in calories than the typical coleslaw
• Use meals in a jar. Pre-portion foods into jars for each person for less hassle and a mess free picnic.
• Take a bag of prewashed mixed fresh veggies and single serving packs of hummus.
Remember that bacteria love the hot, humid days of summer, and they grow faster now than at any other time of the year. Keep your picnics with family and friends safe this summer by protecting them from food borne illness. When packing your picnic be sure to use plenty of ice or freezer packs to keep your food cold. Consider filling old milk gallons or water bottles with water and freezing them for affordable ice packs. If carrying drinks, consider packing them in a separate cooler so the food cooler isn’t opened as frequently. Try to keep both coolers in the shade. Once food has been sitting out for two hours, throw it out. In hot weather when the temperature is above 90°F, dispose of food once it has been sitting out past one hour.
If carrying a cooler or insulated bag is not an option, consider some food choices that don’t require refrigeration. Peanut butter and crackers or pretzels can be packed without ice. Unopened containers of food such as individual fruit cups are great options, and easy to serve. Dried fruits, nuts, and unpeeled fresh fruit are easy to-go foods as well.
Wherever you go this summer, pack a picnic with healthy food and fun memories for all ages. And don’t forget the sunscreen.