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University of Illinois Extension

Enjoy a Family Picnic

July 17, 2013

Are you looking for a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy? Consider packing up your kitchen and dining room table and move your meal outdoors—figuratively speaking, that is, said a University of Illinois nutrition and wellness educator.

"A picnic meal can be enjoyed at a park, beside a lake, or even in your backyard. You don't have to have a picnic table; a blanket on the ground will do. You can use paper plates or fine china; there are no rules. However, food safety still applies!" said Jenna Smith.

Outdoor picnics, especially in warm-weather months, can present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. Follow these simple steps to protect your family and friends.

1. Prepare your meals at home, remembering to wash your hands with warm soapy water first. Be sure to also wash fresh fruits and vegetables.

2. When packing, keep cold foods cold by placing them in a cooler of ice or frozen gel packs. Keep the coolers closed as much as possible. Designate one cooler for beverages, which is often opened and re-opened to replenish drinks, and one for perishable foods. This way, perishable foods are not exposed to warmer temperatures as often.

3. Keep hot foods hot by wrapping the food well and placing it in an insulated container until ready to serve.

4. Prepare the picnic site by making sure your hands and surfaces are clean. If running water is not available, use a water jug, soap, and paper towels.

5. Never cross-contaminate. Be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood securely wrapped. When grilling, never re-use platters or utensils that held raw meat to hold cooked food.

6. If using a marinade, marinate foods in the refrigerator, never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. Also, don't re-use marinade as a sauce on cooked food unless you reserved a portion separately before adding the raw meat.

7. Hot and cold perishable food should not sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90° F. When in doubt, throw it out!

To make your picnic meal delicious and nutritious, try grilling lean meats, such as turkey burgers, chicken breasts, or pork loin, and choose lean deli meats like turkey, ham, chicken, or roast beef. Put them on whole-wheat breads, buns, or pita pockets, she advised.

"Add plenty of vegetables in pasta salads and use a low-fat dressing, or try non-fat plain yogurt as a substitute for mayonnaise. Enjoy a glass of lemonade made with real lemons and sweetener or reduced sugar," she said.

According to Smith, the picnic and barbecue season offers a great time to be with family and friends. And, with proper planning, you can be sure your loved ones are kept safe from harmful bacteria. In addition, they'll enjoy a nutritious meal without even noticing it!

Take this tasty and nutritious salad to your next picnic:

Italian Pasta Salad (Serves 10)

3 c. cooked macaroni

1/2 c. green bell pepper, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 c. broccoli, chopped

1/2 c. red onion, sliced

1 c. low-fat Italian dressing

1 tsp. dried Italian spices, (oregano or basil) optional

Mix ingredients together lightly, using enough dressing to moisten ingredients.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 100 calories, 0.5 gram fat, 350 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber

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