Is there anybody who doesn’t love a picnic? Not according to Smithsonian Magazine, which reported that searches for “picnic date ideas” have increased nearly fourfold in the past year.
It may be that the pandemic got us all used to doing everything, including dining, outside in the fresh air, or a newfound awareness of the many health benefits of spending time in nature. Whatever the cause, eating alfresco is more popular than ever, and with a little planning, you can pack the perfect picnic wherever you end up enjoying it: at the beach, the mountains, even indoors.
There are some practical considerations to filling your picnic basket, of course. You want foods that won’t melt or spoil and are portable and easy to eat as well as healthy. Produce checks every one of these boxes, and can be enjoyed in so many easy, delicious ways. Plus, the majority of Americans do not meet the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines recommendations for produce (1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and many cite lack of preparation and cooking time as a reason why, according to research published in the June 2020 Nutrients. But many fruits and veggies don’t need much time or attention to be picnicworthy.
Sugar snap peas, baby bell peppers, baby carrots, broccoli florets, radishes, cherry tomatoes, or grapes, cherries, berries, peaches, and plums require zero peeling, dicing or other prep work to enjoy — simply rinse and add them to a food storage container or zip-top baggies. They are the perfect picnic finger food on their own or served with a dip.
A daily dose of fruits and veggies is associated with a plethora of benefits. Fruits and veggies are very low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, reports Orlando Health. They also can help prevent chronic disease, aid digestion, lower blood pressure, and keep one’s appetite in check, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. A study published in January 2020 in the journal Nutrients found that participants who ate at least five servings of fruits and veggies even experienced a mood boost.
Another benefit of plant-based options? They tend to be less likely to spoil in the heat than meat, dairy, or other animal-based products. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still use caution, however. In general, the temperature range between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F is the danger zone for food, where bacteria can multiply rapidly, according to Kansas State University. Food is safe only for up to two hours at that range, and only one hour if the outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees F. It’s a good idea to surround your food with ice packs and place it inside an insulated container to prevent spoilage, advises the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). And don’t forget to pack plenty of water and beverages to stay cool and hydrated.
Below you will find nine picnic recipes that are way more filling, nutritious, and colorful than cheese and crackers.