One of the most enjoyable ways to savor the beauty of the summer months
is to eat a picnic alfresco. “But you’ll want to make sure
that your family has a healthy picnic, and healthy means a couple of different
Susan Rahimi, MD, a family medicine physician with
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Orange. “First, pack the right kind of foods, so you have a balanced
meal that’s not heavy on sugar and fats. Second, pack the food the
right way, to prevent any foodborne illnesses from developing.”
When planning your picnic menu, make sure to incorporate the bounty of
summer’s harvest. “There are so many great fruits and vegetables
this season, such as watermelon or tomatoes,” Dr. Rahimi says. “You
can roast veggies for wraps or sandwiches, and bring bunches of grapes
Smart substitutions are also a way to enjoy traditional picnic foods that
are on the unhealthy side. For instance, Dr. Rahimi suggests swapping
potato chips and sour cream-based onion dip for veggies or whole-grain
crackers and hummus. Salsas and baked tortilla chips are another option.
When it comes to pasta or potato salads, skip creamy dressings for lighter,
homemade vinaigrettes. And those grapes or berries make excellent desserts—if
you can’t resist a treat, make desserts such as cookies bite-sized
for portion control (and easier portability).
“Finally, skip the sodas, sugary lemonades or even fruit juices—kids
shouldn’t have too many of those,” Dr. Rahimi says. “Sparkling
or flat waters and iced teas are just as refreshing.”
Once you’ve got the food ready, you’ve got to pack your picnic
baskets. “Doing this correctly can help prevent the spread of bacteria
once you get to your picnic spot,” Dr. Rahimi says. “Foods
that need to stay chilled should be packed together in one cooler or insulated
container with plenty of ice packs to keep it all cold. Don’t pack
your drinks with these foods. People are usually digging into drink coolers
often throughout the day, and if the drinks are packed with the food,
bacteria can be more likely to contaminate the food.”
It’s best to stick with ready-made food, but if a barbecue is available
at the picnic, it’s important to keep any raw meat in its own container
so it can’t leak juices onto other food. “And don’t
reuse marinade that’s been on raw meat—pack some more if you
want to marinate your food after it’s cooked,” Dr. Rahimi
says. “Bring separate dishes and utensils to use on raw and cooked
foods so there’s less chance of cross contamination.” A food
thermometer can help make sure you’ve cooked your meat to the proper
temperature—160 degrees for burgers and 165 degrees for chicken.
At the picnic, keep your baskets in the shade. Before eating, make sure
everyone in the family washes their hands; if you’re not sure whether
they’ll be a bathroom at the picnic site, pack wipes or hand sanitizer.
You can also use a bottle of water and a travel-size liquid soap, Dr.
Rahimi advises. And all food, whether hot or cold, should be kept out
no longer than two hours, or only an hour if the temperature outside is
90 degrees or hotter.
“With some proper planning, you’ll be able to really relax
and enjoy your picnic, Dr. Rahimi says.
For more information about St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group, please click
here. For more information about Dr. Rahimi, please click
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.