July is National Picnic Month

Farm Forum

When I was a kid, I always looked forward to July. We would load the car with boxes and coolers full of food and beverages early in the morning to drive to a lake or state park.

We added some lawn chairs and outdoor games. I think car trunks were bigger back then.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have air conditioning in our vehicle, so we traveled with open windows. If you were sitting in the backseat, you were blasted by the wind. I didn’t mind arriving at the picnic site with a wild hairdo.

The feast, with a variety of foods prepared by my parents, was the highlight of the day. We always had homemade buns, salads, bars or cookies and watermelon. The burgers were prepared at the site. Sometimes we ate on the picnic table, but sometimes I got to sit in a lawn chair and eat.

If you are old enough, you may remember those “lounger” lawn chairs with the nylon webbing. Those chairs threatened to fold up and swallow me like a crocodile with metal jaws. Sometimes I let the lawn chair fold me in half on purpose but never while holding my delicious plate of picnic food.

July, which is National Picnic Month, is an opportunity to reminisce and potentially build on the fond memories of picnics.

Picnics have a long history. In the 1700s and prior, picnics or “moveable outdoor feasts” were enjoyed by the wealthy or enjoyed as a celebration of a successful hunt. In many ways, some of the early picnics were like modern-day potlucks, where each person brought part of the food.

As you plan a picnic, keep some safety tips in mind to deter invisible guests, including bacteria, from visiting your party. Be sure to travel with coolers filled with ice because perishable foods need to be kept at 40 F or below. Keep the raw meats in a separate cooler from the beverages because the meat juices could contaminate the containers. Keep your ready-to-eat foods such as salads away from raw meat juices.

Don’t forget your food thermometer. Cook foods to safe internal temperatures. For example, burgers should reach an internal temperature of least 160 F and chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165 F. If the outdoor temperature is warm (above 90 F), be sure that the food is not out for more than one hour. If the outdoor temperature is cooler, follow the “two-hour rule,” which states that perishable food (including cut fruit and vegetables) should spend no more than two hours at room temperature.

Be sure to protect your food from the visible pests, including flies and ants, that may invade your party. Cover your food containers because bugs can carry bacteria on their tiny legs. If you are using bug spray, be sure to spray it far from the food.

Does a picnic always have to consist of hot dogs and chips? Add more fruits and vegetables to the menu. For example, serve salads containing a variety of fruits and vegetables for added nutrition. Mix your own proportion of these ingredients or find recipes online.

How about some Grated Broccoli Salad with carrots, apples and dried cranberries, Tomato Cucumber Salad with olives and feta, Berry Cantaloupe Salad or Roasted Corn, Bean and Pepper Salad With Lime Vinaigrette? You can search for these on Google.

Make a homemade dressing for a healthier dish. Store-bought salad dressings have a number of ingredients and are often high in calories, fat, sugar and sodium. How about some balsamic vinaigrette? Whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar (optional), 1 tablespoon chopped garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 3/4 cup olive oil. This recipe yields 1 cup of dressing.

Incorporate chickpeas, lentils and beans into dishes to increase fiber, vegetable and protein content. How about Greek Chickpea Salad Pitas or Black Bean Brownies?

You do not have to travel great distances to have a picnic. If you have children or grandchildren, they might enjoy a picnic on a blanket in the backyard with a few fun food ideas:

• Cut triangle-shaped wedges of watermelon and add a stick in the rind end for a fruit Popsicle.

• Make sandwich kabobs with small pieces of bread, cheese, grape tomatoes, sandwich meat and olives.

• Enjoy some “fruit caterpillars.” Place purple and red grapes alternately on skewers.

• Try filling ice cream cones with melon balls for a refreshing treat.

• Enjoy some crunchy veggie flowers. Make four v-shaped cuts on the outside of cucumbers. Cut cucumbers into slices to form flower petals.

• Try some “banana sushi.” Spread a whole-grain tortilla with peanut butter, SunButter or other spread. Next, place a banana inside and roll. Cut into slices.

• For a kid-favorite dessert, try making a “dirt dessert” with low-fat, calcium-rich chocolate pudding sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs and a couple of gummy worms.

Here is a simple-to-make and tasty treat to enjoy at a picnic or a potluck. Visit our recipe database at for hundreds of recipes.

3-ingredient Lemon Bars

1 (14.5-ounce) box angel food cake mix

2 (1-ounce) boxes lemon-flavored, sugar-free instant pudding and pie filling mix

4 c. low-fat milk

Note: Do not substitute the type of pudding indicated or the recipe may not turn out.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Prepare pudding mix with milk according to package directions. In a large bowl, mix dry cake with pudding by hand. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until top starts to brown.

Makes 24 servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 210 milligrams sodium.