Summer and July 4th are a time of road trips and picnics, but not everyone knows what’s best when it comes to bringing food along for the ride. Here are five tips for a fun and green summer picnic.
Don’t Pack Dangerous Ingredients
Condiments like mayo or drinks like milk can spoil very rapidly in the hot summer weather, even on ice, since it melts quickly, and the surrounding temperature can be too high to effectively prevent bacterial growth. There are lots of recipes for mayo-free potato and pasta salads that are available online. Rachael Ray has quite a few on her site. A simple oil and vinegar dressing is safer and just as tasty, ensuring that no one will get food poisoning at your July 4 picnic.
Use a Cooler
Though a cooler can’t guarantee safety when it comes to easily spoiled items, it’s invaluable for keeping drinks cool. It’s also the perfect place to stow fruits, pudding cups, cheese, and ingredients that benefit by being served at colder temperatures. A cooler doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective though. In my house, we use a foam cooler from a gift of Omaha Steaks that we were given once. These are absolutely great coolers if you can get them. The ice in a cooler should be contained in plastic bags or containers, to keep it from flooding the food and perhaps contaminating or ruining the contents of the cooler.
Decorated Individual Servings Are More Fun
Add a touch of class to any picnic by separating the foods into little containers for each guest. Leftover deli containers lined with coffee filters and cupcake papers are perfect for this. I have a whole package of cupcake papers that leak dye into my baked goods, so I don’t like using them for baking, but they are great for holding dry things like snack crackers or cookies, and look very pretty and special in a container. Adding ribbon tied around the boxes in July 4 red, white and blue, or pretty summer themed labels will really fancy up a picnic event. Even just wrapping sandwiches in waxed paper and sealing them with a themed sticker, instead of using a zip top bag will make family and guests feel special and important.
Remember to Pack Condiments / Utensils / Drinks
It’s easy to forget the little things that really make a picnic nice, like salt for the hard boiled eggs, or knives to cut the cheese. Making a list ahead of time will help ensure that nothing is left behind. If homemade drinks like Kool-Aid or Lemonade are being served, it would be a great idea to bring individual servings for each person. Mason jars are great for this, since pint jars are a convenient 16 oz size and the lids can be screwed on well to seal tight. They are reusable as well, and will really cut down on waste. The jars can also be filled about a ¼ to a 1/3 of the way with the drink the night before and set into the freezer, making sure that ice won’t dilute the drink the next day. Fun combinations can be made like this, such as filling a jar that has strawberry flavored drink frozen in it with lemonade, producing pink lemonade as it melts.
Clean Up After Yourself
A trash bag or covered container should be packed into the picnic as well, to make clean up easy. In case there aren’t trash cans at the picnic site, it’s important that all the trash should be gathered and brought home to be properly disposed of. To cut down on waste, real plates and utensils could be used, and in that case, a covered plastic container should be included in the supplies, to gather dirty dishes so they can be kept out of the way until they can be washed at home. The site should be checked over to make sure no trash or food is being left behind to bother other picnickers and any fire should be thoroughly smothered with water or sand. Enjoying, and saving, America’s beauty for others is a great way to celebrate July 4 all summer long.