Warm-weather friendly dishes
When it comes to deciding what to place in your summer picnic basket, you want to fill up on an array of healthy and tasty dishes that include protein, fruits, vegetables and salads.
You also don’t want your food to spoil. “You want to make sure the food you’re serving your friends and family is stored at the right temperature so you don’t pass along any food-borne illnesses,” says Laura Ali, a registered dietitian based in Pittsburgh. She’s also a certified culinary nutritionist.
Food that contains mayonnaise, such as potato or tuna salad, shouldn’t be outside a refrigerator or cooler for more than two hours, or one hour when the temperature is 90 degrees or above, Ali says. “If it should be cold, keep it cold,” she says. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Foods that aren’t properly cooled are at risk of developing bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.
Symptoms of food poisoning include:
Keep everything clean.
To have a safe picnic, wash your hands and all cutting boards, knives and grilling equipment well before using them. If the picnic area doesn’t have water, pack up sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to take along.
Wash all your fruits and vegetables well before eating or cutting them. This prevents bacteria from moving from the knife into the produce as you cut through it.
Focus on proper temperatures.
Keep cold food cold and hot food hot, Ali advises. Here are a few tips:
— Pack your cooler with ice and ice packs.
— Wrap all meat and poultry items tightly in resealable bags surrounded by ice.
— Allow perishable items like mayonnaise-based or dairy-based salads, or meat, poultry and cheese to sit out no more than two hours, then put it back in the cooler.
— If the temperature is over 90 degrees, pack perishables up after an hour. You can pull it out later if someone wants leftovers.
Here are 11 picnic foods that keep well in hot weather:
1. Fresh vegetable salads
Nothing beats a fresh, light summer salad full of colorful vegetables, Ali says.
Fresh vegetable salads can include such ingredients as;
— Red onions.
Wash everything ahead of time and pack the vegetables up in serving bowl. Lay a damp, clean paper towel on top of the veggies and seal it to store in the cooler. Pack the dressing separately — a balsamic vinaigrette would be perfect — and toss it with the salad just before serving. Everything will stay fresh and crisp.
2. Fish and chicken in pouches
Being active can build up some hearty appetites, Ali says. “Taking along some snacks full of lean protein will help fill you up and keep you going. Individual sealed pouches of salmon or chicken are great take-along options for active outings. There are a variety of flavor options to choose from and they are small and light, so they are easy to carry with you.”
Bring bread and wraps to make sandwiches and wraps.
3. Mediterranean foods
Mediterranean dishes such as grape leaves, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted bell pepper slices are hardy and hold up well outdoors, says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles who writes a blog that focuses on plant-based eating. “You could put them out on a board and mix and match them. They’re beautiful, they’re healthy and they lend themselves to a picnic.”
4. Fresh fruits
Fresh fruits are great options for picnics and barbecues, Palmer says. “You can just pack them whole; you don’t need to chop them up. They don’t require refrigeration if the picnic’s just for a few hours. They’re colorful and blend in with the outdoor environment.”
Fruits that are great for picnics include:
5. Dried fruits, nuts and seeds
Dried fruits, nuts and seeds are very stable at variable temperatures, even in the heat, says Dr. Rajsree Nambudripad, an integrative medicine physician with Providence St. Jude Medical Center in Orange County, California. “Nuts and seeds are great for snacks or to top your salad. They have good fats and proteins that keep you full.”
Enjoy these nuts and seeds at your next picnic or barbecue:
— Macadamia nuts.
— Pumpkin seeds.
— Sunflower seeds.
6. Fruit salsas
Fruit salsas are light and refreshing and make for perfect toppings for grilled meat, chicken or fish. You can also snack on them with chips, Ali says. Many prepared foods sections of grocery stores stock a selection of salsas. You can also make your own, by mixing cut fruit with cilantro, peppers and a little lime juice and honey.
You can use these fruits to make salsa:
7. Slaws dressed in oil and vinegar
Compared with classic cabbage and carrot or broccoli slaws and salads made with mayonnaise, those dressed with oil and vinegar will stand up better in hot weather and won’t spoil as quickly, says Beth Stark, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area. Add dried fruits, nuts and seeds for texture.
8. Fruit bars
For a tasty and healthy dessert that doesn’t require refrigeration, try fruit bars. They’re simple to make — one of Palmer’s recipes, for example, calls for pressing a mixture of fresh, dried or frozen fruits with whole-grain cereal, nuts, oats, honey and nut butter into a baking dish. Bake the concoction for 25 minutes, then cut into bars. Frozen red raspberries are a great choice for this recipe, because they don’t require chopping and are frozen at peak ripeness, which preserves all the fruit’s nutrients.
9. Miniature popcorn
Mini popcorn — made from small popcorn kernels — is a great outdoor dessert or snack that will hold up in warm weather. For instance, miniature popcorn by The Little Kernel is popped in 100% olive oil and stays crispy and crunchy in any kind of weather. Miniature popcorn comes in a variety of flavors, like white cheddar and butter.
Chilled quinoa with a little corn mixed in provides color and a grain, and it’s a great picnic side dish that will hold up well in the summer heat, says Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital.
Quinoa is packed with protein and fiber, is gluten-free and a perfect substitute for pasta or rice. You can add other vegetables to this dish or even turn it into a salad by mixing in fresh kale, which is less likely to wilt in warm weather, and topping it with a vinaigrette dressing or olive oil and lemon.
11. Veggie-based chips
Sub in vegetable-based chips for greasy, high-calorie potato chips. Organic food stores and many general supermarkets sell these tasty alternatives.
These snacks are based on an array of veggies, including:
— Black beans.
11 picnic foods that hold up well in hot weather:
— Fresh vegetable salads
— Fish and chicken in pouches.
— Mediterranean foods.
— Fresh fruit.
— Dried fruits and nuts.
— Fruit salsas.
— Slaws dressed in oil and vinegar.
— Fruit bars.
— Miniature popcorn.
— Veggie-based chips.
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Update 07/29/21: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.