How to make your picnic more enjoyable

June 24, 1997|By Lynn F. Little

One of the joys of summer is eating outdoors. Whether your picnic is a gourmet affair for 20 or a simple packed lunch for two, some planning can make your outing more enjoyable.

- Plan ahead. Good picnics don't just happen; they need thought and time to plan and prepare. Once you arrive at the picnic site, the smallest detail such as forgetting the bottle opener or the permit to use the park may put a damper on an otherwise fun-filled event.

- Don't trust your memory. Make a list of what you need to bring. If you picnic a lot, keep your "essentials" list with your picnic supplies.

- Keep your menu simple. Unless you have access to good facilities or can hire a well-equipped caterer, the simpler the menu the better. Include a protein source, fruit and/or vegetable and bread or grain product. If your picnic site has a grill, frozen hamburger patties or frozen chicken pieces are convenient. For the no-cook picnic, check out the deli meats and cheeses at your grocery store.


- Salads available at grocery store delis are convenient for last-minute picnics. Make sure the salad looks fresh and is kept well chilled on ice. Many grocery stores, along with fast-food outlets, offer salad bars where you can dish up a vegetable salad or container of fruit.

- Fresh, whole fruit generally packs well for picnics. Be sure apples and grapes are washed.

- Beverages are a must. Ice water often is considered a priceless luxury for picnics at remote sites. 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 on your picnic. A clean tablecloth, disposable washcloths and a 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 won't keep foods at refrigerator temperature (40 degrees or below) until you are ready to eat, choose less perishable ingredients such as peanut butter, jelly, salami, pressed luncheon meats or 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, chips and cookies.

- When packing your cooler, start with cold food, packing right from the refrigerator. Be sure to include a cold source in the cooler. Use ice, ice packs, frozen water or juice, frozen food such as hamburgers and ribs, or cold fruit. Don't put the cooler in the trunk, but rather on the back seat of the car where it will not be as hot. Keep the cooler in the shade at the picnic and keep the lid on - you want to avoid repeated openings. Be sure to replenish the ice if it begins to melt.

- If you plan to grill food, keep it cold until the grill is ready. Cook the meat completely at the picnic site (no partial cooking ahead) and be sure to cook the meat thoroughly. Meat and poultry should not be pink - juices should run clear - and fish should flake with a fork. Use a clean plate for serving food. Be careful that raw meat juices don't touch other food.

- In hot weather (85 degrees and above), food never should sit out for more than an hour. Serve smaller portions, so food does not stay out of the cooler too long. Serve food quickly from the cooler and replace it inside the cooler fast.

Once you're finished eating, put leftovers in the cooler right away. Make sure there is enough ice left in the cooler to keep leftovers that need refrigeration cold and safe until you can get them home and into the refrigerator again. If not, it's wiser not to save perishable items. The best decision would be to take only the amounts of food you'll use because most foods are only safe for short periods of time.

- Be a good citizen. Public parks, picnic grounds and playgrounds are for all to enjoy. Put trash, food scraps and cartons into cans and baskets that are provided. If none are provided, pack your trash and take it home for disposal.

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If you'd like some tips on barbecue and picnic safety, send a self-addressed, business-size envelope with 32 cents postage to Cooperative Extension Service, Washington County Office, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740. Mark the envelope "Picnic." You also can visit the office and pick up a copy.

Maryland Cooperative Extension Service's programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is an extension educator, family and consumer sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Maryland.

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