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By Terri Hahn

Plan the perfect picnic for Memorial Day


Photo credit: Iowa State Extension

Tasty Taco Rice Salad is one of those "go to" recipes. You know - the ones that you turn to when you are in a hurry and you don't have time to search for recipes. It's easy, versatile and almost everyone likes it. Plus it's packed with nutrition - whole grains, vitamins, minerals and protein.

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, and many of us will observe the holiday with cookouts, road trips and other activities that involve food.

And I think this year we will really be looking forward to getting outdoors and getting together with friends or family members we might not have seen for awhile.

I know Memorial Day is also supposed to be the start of grilling season, but what if your group just wants to get together and eat and not have to cook when you get to your destination?

It's OK to admit grilling isn't for everyone. There is no "rule" that says you can't stop at the local supermarket and pick up fried chicken or pulled pork from the deli department for your main dish and complement it with sides and desserts.

But before we get there, we need to talk about safety. Check out these tips from Cami Wells with UNL Extension.

Before you go

Don't forget essential items such as a food thermometer, cooler chest with ice, plenty of clean utensils, storage containers for leftovers, paper towels, and trash bags. Find out ahead of time if you'll have running water, grills, picnic tables, and trash receptacles at the site.

Bring soap if water is available. Pack moist towelettes and hand sanitizer if your picnic site does not have hand washing facilities available.

Pack plenty of utensils and dishware. Bring serving utensils for each dish to prevent contamination. Consider using disposable plates and plastic utensils.

Don't forget a blanket to sit on. Bring along some entertainment such as balls, music or games. This will keep children busy before and after the picnic. It is also great for family fun time after the picnic.

Don't forget the sunscreen, fun sunglasses and hats. It is important to keep everyone protected from the sun. Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. In general, UV strength is greatest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during sunny summer days. Up to 80% of UV rays pass through clouds, however, meaning that sunburn is possible on cloudy days as well.

How to pack

If you're planning on take-out foods such as fried chicken or barbecued beef, eat them within two hours of pick-up or buy ahead of time and chill before packing the foods into the cooler.

Take-out food or food cooked just before going to the picnic can be carried hot. Wrap hot foods in towels or newspaper, and place inside a box or heavy paper bag. Keep these foods warm on a grill or use within 1 hour.

Small individual bottles of water make packing easier - no cups to pack. They also make great ice packs to help keep cold food cold. Put them in the freezer the night before so the bottles are ready to pack.

Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods won't be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures.

Keep cold food at 40 degrees F or colder to prevent bacteria from growing. Pack cold foods in a sturdy, insulated cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Freeze your own blocks of ice in clean milk cartons or plastic containers for use in the cooler.

The trunk of your car can reach temperatures of 150 degrees F. Transport coolers in the passenger area of your car. When you arrive at the picnic site, put a blanket over the cooler and place it in the shade. Keep the cooler closed until you are ready to eat.

At the picnic site

When you arrive at the picnic site, the first task is to wash your hands before preparing food. If running water is not available, use disposable wet wipes or hand sanitizer to clean your hands before and after touching food.

Don't leave food out in the sun. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Serve food quickly from the cooler and return it fast. In hot weather, above 90 degrees F, food shouldn't sit out of the cooler for more than an hour.

Keep coolers closed. Once at the picnic site, limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as you can. This helps to keep the contents cold longer.

If picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than 1 hour, throw them out! The more time that food has been sitting at unsafe temperature, the more likely harmful bacteria has grown.

Remember to keep the park as clean as you found it, so use the trash bags that were packed. Recycle plastic water bottles and pick up any trash. It is always a good habit to leave the area cleaner than it was.

Don't forget to unpack that cooler as soon as you return home. Refrigerate leftover meats and salads which have stayed cold; discard if they have become warm.

Here are some great salad recipes that go beyond the expected potato or pasta variety.

Tasty Taco Rice Salad is easy, versatile and almost everyone likes it. It's also one of those recipes you can make without a kitchen. All you really need is a skillet/electric skillet.

Tasty Taco Rice Salad

1 pound lean ground beef

1-1/2 cups instant brown rice, uncooked

2 cups water

1 cup onion, chopped (about 1 medium)

1 tablespoon chili powder

3 cups chopped tomatoes (see note)

1 seeded jalapeño (chopped finely)

2 cups spinach or romaine lettuce

1 cup shredded 2% fat cheese

Cook ground meat in a large skillet until brown (160 degrees F). Drain off fat. Rinse meat with warm water to remove the grease.

Add rice, water, onion and chili powder to meat in skillet.

Cover. Simmer over low heat about 15 minutes to cook rice.

Add tomatoes and jalapeño. Heat for 2 to 3 minutes.

Place layers of spinach or romaine lettuce, rice mixture and cheese on plates. Serve at once.

Makes 8 servings.

Note: If you don't have fresh tomatoes, use 2 (14.5 ounce) cans of Mexican-style tomatoes. This does increase the sodium.

Recipe from: Iowa State Extension

Anyday Picnic Salad

1-1/2 cups diced cooked chicken (see note)

1 apple, cored and diced

1/3 cup chopped celery (about 1 stalk)

1/3 cup light ranch dressing or creamy salad dressing

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

In a medium bowl combine chicken, apple, and celery. Add dressing and pepper and stir to coat. Stir in pecans or walnuts, if desired.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Serve on a lettuce leaf, spread on bread or tortillas or a sandwich, or spoon into a halved tomato or cucumber.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: If desired, use two 6-ounce cans of water-packed tuna instead of cooked chicken. Drain off the liquid and flake tuna with a fork before adding. Cooked roast beef or pork also can be substituted. Use 1 cup halved seedless grapes instead of an apple.

Recipe from: Iowa State Extension

Creamy Cauliflower Salad

2 cups cauliflower (broken into florets) (about 1/2 head)

1/2 cup onion, diced

2 cups chopped lettuce, chopped (Romaine works well)

1 red or green apple, chopped (Braeburn, Granny Smith)

1/4 cup light ranch dressing

Prepare the cauliflower by rinsing well in cold water just before using it. Snap off the outer leaves and discard. Use a sharp knife and cutting board to slice off stem and hollow out and remove core. Cut or break cauliflower into small pieces called florets.

Toss cauliflower, onion, lettuce and apples in a medium bowl. Stir in dressing. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from: Iowa State Extension

Any Day's a Picnic Chicken Salad

2-1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken breast (such as grilled)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons pickle relish

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use within two days.

You can use this to make chicken sandwiches, make a pasta salad by mixing with 2 cups of cooked pasta or serve in hollowed-out tomatoes or cucumbers.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from: North Dakota State Extension

Don't forget dessert! And with these no-bake cookies, you don't even have to heat up the oven.

Cocoa No-Bake Cookies

2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter or margarine spread

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup water

4 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned)

Photo Credit: Iowa State Extension

This recipe is easy, versatile and tasty. Serve Anyday Picnic Salad on top of romaine as a salad, or on whole wheat bread as a sandwich. You can use apples and grapes as the fruit, or try strawberries, melon or pineapple

1 cup nonfat dry milk

1 cup raisins (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large saucepan, bring sugar, cocoa powder, salt, margarine, peanut butter and water to a rolling boil for one minute, stirring as needed.

Remove from heat. Add oats, dry milk, raisins and vanilla to the boiled mixture. Mix well.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper and let stand until cool, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 36 cookies.

Recipe from: North Dakota State Extension

Terri Hahn of Osceola has worked in food media for more than 30 years and has won numerous state and national awards for her writing. Email her at [email protected]


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