Fun Summer Picnic Ideas and Menus for Seniors

If you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors with loved ones as summer begins to wind down, consider planning a picnic at a local park or botanical garden. It’s an easy intergenerational summer activity that most people enjoy. Just make sure you follow best practices for staying safe on a hot summer day.

Planning a Healthy Summer Picnic for Friends

Begin by creating a menu that keeps summer safety and everyone’s health in mind. Consider those who might be on special diets, such as gluten-free or low-sodium, as well as foods that hydrate:

    • Snack on veggies for the win: Summer picnics often include unhealthy snacks and side dishes. Instead, make a big tray of a variety of vegetables and add a few healthy dips. Substitute full-fat sour cream and mayonnaise for low-fat versions or plain yogurt. Another option is to serve hummus. It’s a nutritious and delicious dip made from high-fiber chickpeas that won’t increase your cholesterol.
    • Serve fruit for hydration: Apples, cherries, berries, pineapple, melon, and grapes are all fruits with a high water content that help you stay hydrated on a hot summer day. They are also packed with vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. For picnickers trying to avoid weight gain, fruit can help satisfy a sweet tooth and make it easier to pass on treats high in calories, sugar, and saturated fats.
    • Opt for baked, not fried, chicken: Instead of serving store-bought fried chicken, bake or grill a healthier version. One way to do that is to roll chicken in yogurt, sprinkle it with lemon juice, and bake it ahead of time. The yogurt gives the chicken a crispy but healthy crust. Baked chicken has just 7 or 8 grams of fat per serving, versus an average of 20 grams for fried. If your picnic spot has a grill, that’s another healthy option.
    • Skinny up the salads: Potato salad, pasta salad, and macaroni salad are popular side dishes at picnics. Unfortunately, most aren’t very good for you. You can make them healthier by skipping the mayonnaise and using Greek yogurt instead. Also consider dressing your pasta with a lemon-basil vinaigrette instead of a fatty sauce.
    • Set up a hydration station: Finally, make sure to set up a water station that includes water, ice, lemons, berries, limes, and cucumber. On a hot summer day, guests are at increased risk for dehydration. Sometimes it happens before you even realize something is wrong. Summer Hydration 101 for Older Adults has more hydration tips for you to review.

Food Safety and Summer Picnics

Hosting any outdoor event during the summer takes extra planning and precautions to stay safe, including:

    • Maintain food temperature: On a summer day, you should never leave food outdoors for longer than an hour. If it is really hot, that may even be too long. Be sure to return foods that contain mayonnaise, eggs, or other ingredients that spoil quickly to the cooler immediately after serving.
    • Watch the cooler: Keep an eye on the temperature in your coolers, too. It helps to place them in a shady location so the ice doesn’t melt as fast. Make sure to identify where the closest convenience store or gas station is so you can make a quick ice run, if necessary.
    • Use caution with meat: One mistake people make is to partially cook meat before leaving for the picnic grounds, with the intention of finishing it on a grill. This increases the risk for food poisoning. The best option is to cook the dish thoroughly before the picnic or to arrive early to start it on the grill.

You can learn more about avoiding food poisoning by visiting Foodborne Germs and Illnesses on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. It’s a helpful resource for information on the causes, symptoms, and warning signs of foodborne illnesses.

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