Nutrition Column – Planning Perfect Picnics

Summertime is picnic time, whether in the backyard, at the neighborhood park, on a lake or in the mountains. Picnics can be elaborate affairs or simple spur-of-the-moment outings. Regardless, a little pre-planning can make the outing much more enjoyable.

Good picnics don’t just happen; they take some planning and organization. Once at the picnic site, the smallest detail, like forgetting the bottle opener or a permit to use the park, may put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable event. Don’t trust your memory – make a list of what you need to bring. Once you find a list that works, store it with your picnic supplies for easy, future reference.

Unless you have access to good facilities or a caterer, it’s best to keep your picnic menu simple. Include a protein source, fruit and/or vegetable and bread or grain product. If your picnic site has grilling facilities, frozen hamburger patties or frozen chicken pieces available at many grocery stores are convenient to make. For the no-cook picnic, check out the deli meats and cheeses at your neighborhood supermarket.

Salads available at supermarket delis are convenient for last-minute picnics. Make sure the salad looks fresh and is kept well-chilled on ice. Some supermarkets offer salad bars where you can dish up a vegetable salad or container of fruit. Fresh, whole fruit generally travels well to picnics, but be sure apples and grapes are adequately washed.

Beverages are a must in Colorado’s dry climate. For a convenient source of ice and water, fill a clean, plastic milk container three-fourths full of water. Screw the cap on tightly and freeze. The container makes a great ice pack and provides cool drinking water as the ice melts.

Take safety along on your picnic: A clean tablecloth, disposable washcloths and roll of paper towels should be on your essentials list. If your menu includes perishable foods, be sure they are kept hot or cold, not in between. If your picnic cooler will not keep foods at refrigerator temperatures (40 degrees F or below) until you’re ready to eat, choose less perishable ingredients such as peanut butter, jelly, salami, pressed luncheon meats and hard cheeses for sandwich fixings. Take mayonnaise and mustard in individual packets to spread on hard rolls, tortillas or bread. Round out your picnic menu with fresh or dried fruit, raw vegetables and chips and cookies for dessert.

Once you’re through eating, put leftovers back in the ice chest right away. Make sure enough ice remains in the chest to keep perishable leftovers cold and safe until you get them home and into the refrigerator. If not, it’s wiser not to save perishable items.

Finally, be a good citizen. Public parks, picnic grounds and playgrounds are for all to enjoy. Good citizens put trash, food scraps and cartons into appropriate refuse cans and bins. If none are provided, pack your trash out with you and dispose of it at home.