A Guide to Healthy Outdoor Summer Eating
There’s nothing like summer in Central New York! The days are long and warm, and the pace of life slows down. Summer is the ideal time of year for eating outdoors and putting your bare feet in the grass. Whether it’s picnics in the backyard or a local park, camping by one of the Finger Lakes or in the Adirondacks, or barbecuing with neighbors, eating outdoors becomes the norm in the summer. When putting together these events, food safety is of utmost importance and yet, meals should be simple to prepare, cook, and transport. There isn’t any need to over-complicate the process. Be sure to fuel your family and friends with meals that are both nutritious and safe by using the following guidelines from the USDA and Harvard School of Public Health.
Pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler. Surround food with ice inside a cooler. A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. If using frozen gel packs or containers of homemade ice, place them between packages of food. Never set containers of food on top of ice. The trunk of your car can reach 150oF so plan to transport coolers in the passenger area of your car. When you arrive at the picnic site or campground, put a blanket over the food cooler and place it in the shade to keep the food cold. Keep the cooler closed until you are ready to cook and eat.
Best Picnic Eats
Choose foods that won’t wilt, melt, or spoil easily in the heat. Choose firm vegetables (raw or cooked), chopped fruit, wholegrains, pasta salad, beans, and trail mix. Try making meat and vegetable kabobs or lightly grill zucchini and yellow summer squash, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms in a tightly wrapped aluminum foil pack. Pair with heat-friendly dips such as salsa, pesto, hummus, or baba ganoush. Put together a fruit salad of peaches, mango, melon, strawberries, and pineapple. Consider going meatless with the new Beyond Meat products or grilling up some portabella mushroom caps. Go with firm, lower- moisture cheeses like cheddar or parmigiana reggiano over soft high-moisture cheeses that can spoil quickly.
For a Healthier Grill
Hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages are popular picnic foods but rank low on healthfulness due to added nitrates and higher amounts of sodium. In addition, the fat from rich cuts of meat tends to drop into the flames, producing more smoke and carcinogens. Make a simple marinade and go with healthier options such as: grilled fish, lean poultry, or veggie burgers. Thoroughly cook all the food at one time and remember to pack your food thermometer.
It’s probably no surprise that food-borne illnesses tend to increase in the summer. There are several reasons for this. The chief reason is that harmful bacteria thrive in warmer temperatures. The danger zone is between 40-140 oF, which is when bacteria can double in about 20 minutes. Another reason is preparing and serving food outdoors with unwashed hands or on contaminated surfaces. Pack hand soap or sanitizer or Clorox wipes to use before and after serving or eating. The best rule to follow is, “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold” and pay special attention to dishes or dips made with dairy and mayonnaise. In hot weather (above 90oF), food should never sit out for more than one hour. Discard any food left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90oF.)
Reduce Food Waste
To prevent an overflowing trash bin, bring silverware and plates that can be washed and reused. And, to minimize food waste, prepare a little less food than you think you’ll need. There’s a tendency to bring too much food, so prepare a little less and if you do have leftovers, have some air-tight containers on hand to take home food (after packing up food, keep it in a cooler).
Never assume that fresh water sources are potable. Bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled beverages. If camping in a remote area, bring along water purification tablets or equipment. At picnics, have everyone carry their own reusable insulated water bottles to reduce waste. If possible, call ahead and find out if there’s a source of safe drinking water at your destination.
What’s your best piece of advice to stay safe while eating outdoors?
Recipe: Watermelon Fruit Pizza
Source: Eating Well
Finish your 4th of July weekend celebration with this easy red, white, and blue refreshing dessert pizza!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
- 2 large round slices of watermelon (about 1” thick, cut from the center of the watermelon).
- 32 ounces Greek Yogurt
- 1 tsp local honey
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- ¾ cup halved blackberries
- 2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
- Mix together the yogurt, honey, and vanilla. Blend well.
- Spread about 1/3 C of the yogurt mixture on top of each slice of water.
- Even place the strawberries, blackberries, and mint leaves over the yogurt.
- Cut each slice of watermelon into 8 wedges.
- Double the recipe for large crowds.
- Substitute blueberries for blackberries.
- Substitute raspberries for strawberries.
Katina Sayers is the owner/operator of Katina’s Nutritional Coaching Corner. She has an extensive background in health and education that began with degrees in exercise physiology, health and physical education, community health, and culminating with a doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. She completed an advanced certificate of study in Integrative Nutrition and Health Coaching from the renowned Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City. For the last four years, she has worked one-on-one with clients, presented a multitude of nutrition topics for large and small audiences, contracted with businesses to implement worksite wellness initiatives, and currently manages day-to-day food service operations at a local non-profit agency, as well as directs activities related to nutrition and health. Katina can be reached at email@example.com.