Pack a better picnic

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) It’s getting warm outside, and some would say it’s hot! It’s a beautiful time for a picnic, but packing can be problematic. Chef Terri Rees lays out the basic rule of food safety: cold foods need to be kept cold, and hot foods need to be kept hot. That’s called the temperature danger zone. Cold foods need to be at or below 41° and hot foods above 140°.

Keep it cool

  • You need a cooler, and maybe two. Make sure your cold foods are thoroughly chilled and that your ice packs or ice cubes are ready to go.
  • If you can, pack your drinks in a separate cooler. That way when you open and close it, you won’t be affecting the food.
  • If possible, freeze some of your drinks. Space is limited in a cooler, and this can replace some of the ice.
  • It may seem simple, but keep the cooler closed as much as possible, so you don’t let the summer heat in.

Choose smart foods

  • Try vinegar-based salad dressings instead of mayonnaise and avoid dips with dairy products. Substitute avocado dips or fresh salsas.
  • Try simple desserts like brownies, cookies or cupcakes that don’t need to be kept cold.

Pack it smart

  • Pack your non perishables in your picnic basket or tote. Don’t forget items like napkins/paper towels, plates, cups, utensils and forks/knifes/spoons. Throw in a couple of trash bags and hand wipes.
  • If you are bringing a bottle of wine, don’t forget the opener!
  • Keep everything separate to avoid contamination, and don’t over pack. You don’t want to have to worry about taking food home and determine whether it is safe or not. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Store foods in separate containers. Use resealable plastic bags for sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, and cookies.
  • Pack your heavier items on the bottom of your cooler/picnic basket, and the lighter items on top. Nobody likes a crushed sandwich.
  • It may seem silly, but wrap your containers in plastic wrap. That way if it spills, your chances of it getting all over your other items is minimal!
  • If you really desire a “hot” dish and won’t be around electricity, think of making dense foods that retain the heat like baked beans, casseroles, or potato dishes.
  • You can use your cooler to help retain heat. Designate one that is just a bit bigger than your dish, and warm up some heating pads and put them in your cooler – it doesn’t know the difference between hot and cold, it just wants to maintain the temperature!


Try some of these recipes for a change of pace:

Smart Chicken & Quinoa Roll-ups served with Roasted Corn Salsa
Serves 4 -6

  • 1 pound ground Smart Chicken
  • 8 – 12 lettuce leaves (for rolling chicken)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 red, yellow or green pepper, diced
  • 1 cup chicken stock (or as needed)
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa prepared per package instructions
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice
  • Smoked paprika
  • Extra virgin olive oil as needed
  • Salt/pepper as needed

Dipping Sauce

  • Red raspberry jam 1 – 2 tablespoons per roll up
  • Dark chocolate balsamic vinegar – as needed
  • 1 drop of hot sauce (if desired)
  • Sliced green onions for garnish

Prepare all of the vegetables. You may use any vegetables that you wish and are not limited the ingredients listed!

Heat a sauté pan over medium/high heat. Swirl a bit of extra virgin olive oil and add the onion, carrot, and celery. Once the onion has begun to turn translucent, add the garlic (you don’t want the garlic to burn) and add in the remaining vegetables. Remove the veggies from the heat and add the chicken to the pan. Cook thoroughly. Add in the chicken stock and balsamic. Add the quinoa and the smoked paprika and heat thoroughly.  Taste for salt and pepper and add if needed. Return the veggies to the pan and combine. Reduce any remaining liquid to a sauce consistency.

Lay out eight lettuce leaves and place an equal amount of Smart Chicken mixture into each leaf. Roll up like a burrito and place seam side down on the plate. Swirl the plate with a bit of the dipping sauce and garnish with sliced green onions.

Depending on the size of your lettuce leaves, this recipe makes 1 – 2 roll-ups per serving. These can be served hot or cold, and alternatively can you can use spring roll wrappers!


Roasted Corn, Tomato & Black Bean Salsa

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ears roasted corn, cut off the cob
  • 1 quart cherry tomatoes (preferably heirloom), quartered
  • 1 ½ cups cooked black beans, drained

Combine vinegar, onions, garlic, and seasonings and whisk in the olive oil. Transfer to medium bowl, add corn, tomato and beans and toss well to mix. Taste for seasonings and adjust if you need to.


Pineapple Casserole
Serves 8

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. All purpose flour
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 – 20 ounce cans pineapple chunks, drained, with ½ cup juice reserved
  • 1 cup Ritz cracker crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a medium size casserole dish with butter or pan spray.

In a large bowl, stir together sugar and the flour, gradually stir in the cheese.  Add the drained pineapple chunks and toss until well combined. Pour the mixture into prepared dish.

In the same bowl, combine cracker crumbs, melted butter and reserved juice until well blended. Spread crumb mixture over top of casserole. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.


Watermelon and Feta Salad

  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ cup good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups of baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 1/8 seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 12 ounces feta cheese ½ inch diced
  • 1 cup whole fresh mint leaves julienned

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, shallots, honey, salt and pepper.  Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly to form an emulsion.  If not using within the hour store the vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator.  Place the arugula, watermelon, feta and mint in a large bowl.  Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss well.  Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if needed.

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