Summer Foods Checklist
When it comes to preparing summer picnics, road food or beach snacks, keep two words in mind: simple and good. Using the best ingredients while keeping things easy is key for any recipe to take on the go. And with summer fruits and vegetables juicy, fragrant and bountiful, making deliciously portable meals couldn’t be simpler.
So first things first: Just like when you’re cooking at home, a little common sense planning before you head out the door helps ensure stress-free dining on down the road. Think ahead about where and when hunger will strike:
- Hitting the road? Pack healthy snacks, like fresh-cut veggies and whole fruits. Make sure at least some of them don't need to be in the cooler to avoid frequent opening and closing.
- Going camping or to the beach where you can cook out? Pre-marinate fish, chicken or tempeh to cook on your first night out. Pack frozen items that will thaw for the second night, or bring canned goods that open and heat up easily. (Don’t forget the can opener!)
- Don’t forget refreshing drinks and cold water –it’s easy to get dehydrated on the road.
- Try out new recipes at home first to make sure you like the dish before packing it along on a trip. The road’s no place to find out that you don’t like that pasta salad.
- Transporting food in summer heat and consuming it outdoors has its own set of hazards. Not to worry, however. Pack lots of ice and reusable cold packs, and check on cold food often to make sure it’s in good shape. A rule of thumb for food safety is two hours outside of a refrigerated environment, but the weather and how you store the food can affect the quality and safety. When in doubt, throw it out!
Perfect Your Picnic Prowess
If you're anticipating a summer of picnics and roadside dining—and we hope you are—here are some suggestions to make the whole process easier and a heck of a lot more fun:
- Invest in a good quality cooler for perishables. Look for air-tight gasket seals around the lid and, on larger coolers, a leak-proof spigot for draining melted ice. (Consider the size: coolers filled with food and ice can be heavy, so you may want to buy two coolers of manageable size rather than one large one you can't lift easily.)
- Look for watertight containers for storing foods. Is there anything more disappointing on a picnic than discovering that your sandwiches are water logged from melted ice? Heavy-duty, reusable ones are best. Mason jars are a great solution for salads, chilled soups and cut fruit or veggies – they’re reusable, resealable, and come in a wide range of sizes.
- Try reusable dishes and flatware on the road. Heavy-duty plastic or melamine plates and cups are perfect for picnics, along with metal flatware. And they lend a little elegance to your al fresco dining, too.
- Keep a small wooden cutting board and sharp paring or pocketknife on hand for last-minute food preparation. Be sure to wash the board with extra hot and soapy water after cutting meats and before packing it back up to avoid bacterial growth.
- During the summer, keep a light, over-sized blanket or sheet in the back of your car for impromptu dining on the ground. A plastic ground sheet is also a good idea to protect the blanket — and your backside, for that matter — from ground moisture.
- Two kitchen towels, one damp and one dry, sealed in plastic bags, will ensure you're prepared for almost any picnic mess. A roll of paper towels is handy, too.
- If you have the room, folding camp stools or other outdoor chairs are always handy for outdoor meals.
- Don’t be bugged! Thwart hungry ants by drawing circles around your plate with chalk. Talcum powder works equally well if dining on the ground. Ants can't stand the smell and texture of either. Deter bees with sprigs of fresh mint, and choose a spot with a light breeze to help keep mosquitos away.
- Garbage bags take up very little space and are essential. Be a responsible picnicker!
Stay hydrated. Have plenty of liquids on hand and remind everyone to drink often, especially kiddos and the elderly. Water is always best, but 100% fruit juices or juices mixed with natural sparkling water are great, too.