Summertime is picnic time

May 23, 2000

The Memorial Day holiday kicks off the summer season. With summertime comes picnic time - from the backyard grill, at the neighborhood park, while hiking in the mountains or on camping or boating trips. Whether your picnic is an elaborate gourmet affair for 20 or a simple packed lunch for two, a little planning can make the picnic much more enjoyable.

Plan ahead

Good picnics don't just happen - thought and time are needed to plan and prepare. Once at the picnic site, the smallest detail - like forgetting the bottle opener or obtaining a 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. Once you find a list that works, store it with your picnic supplies for easy reference.

The picnic menu

Unless you have access to good facilities, the simpler the menu the better. 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. 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. Many supermarkets offer salad bars, where you can dish up a vegetable salad or container of fruit. Fresh whole fruit generally packs well for picnics. All fruits and vegetables, including melons, berries, apples, grapes and leafy greens, should be washed well under running water in your kitchen before packing. Oranges and bananas come with their own removable peel.

Beverages are a must. For a convenient source of ice and water, fill a clean plastic milk container three-fourths full with water. Screw the cap on tightly and freeze overnight. 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 washcloth, hand sanitizer 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.

Use a well-insulated cooler with an adequate ice source. Ice blocks, cubes or refreezable ice packs may be used. If you are taking raw fish, meat or poultry, pack them carefully to keep juices from leaking in the cooler.

Make sure the items to be packed have already been chilled to refrigerator temperatures before placing them in the cooler. Keep the cooler in the shade, and make sure foods are not sitting out, either before or after cooking, for more than two hours. This time window is shortened to only one hour if it's hotter than 85 degrees outside.

If your picnic cooler will not keep foods at refrigerator temperatures (40 degrees 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, chips and cookies for dessert.

Once you're through eating, put leftovers back in the ice chest right away.

Make sure there's enough ice left in the chest to keep leftovers cold and safe until you can get them home and into the refrigerator again. If not, it's wiser not to save perishable items.

Be a good citizen

Public parks, picnic grounds and playgrounds are for all to enjoy.

Good citizens put trash, food scraps and cartons into waste cans and baskets that are provided. If none are provided, pack your trash and take it with you to dispose of at home.

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

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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