Many traditional picnic foods quickly spoil when left out in the sun, so if keeping food hot or cold isn’t possible, opt for nonperishable food. You still need to prepare food carefully before your picnic to ensure food safety. For example, wash produce well and pack food in airtight containers. While you’ll avoid potentially serious food-borne illnesses by packing nonperishables, you don’t have to settle for junk food such as chips.
Most fruits and vegetables don’t require refrigeration and make healthy and tasty picnic foods. Skewer grapes and strawberries to make fruit kebabs. Toss apple slices with a little lemon juice to prevent oxidation and serve them with a hazelnut chocolate spread or caramel sauce. While a vegetable tray is easy, colorful and safe, you can make a salad of marinated or pickled vegetables such as artichoke hearts and water chestnuts.
Beef jerky may come to mind as a suitable nonperishable meat for picnics, but jerky also comes in other varieties. Look for jerky made from salmon or game meats such as venison. Some types of dry, cured sausages won’t spoil on a picnic. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service requires food safety labeling, so check the label to ensure the sausage doesn’t require refrigeration. Varieties to look for may include summer sausages, dried pepperoni, hard salami and Spanish chorizo. Serve with a variety of gourmet crackers and cherry tomatoes.
Soft cheeses are unsuitable for picnics but some hard cheeses with little moisture in them will do just fine left out on a picnic table. Look for aged cheeses such as parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano, which also might appeal to any lactose-intolerant guests as it’s made from sheep milk. Make a cheese tray with nuts and dried fruits such as apricots, but cover it with plastic wrap and try to keep it out of direct sunlight when it’s not being served.
Better Baked Goods
You have a variety of choices with baked goods for your picnic, from savory options such as baguettes and corn muffins to desserts. Bring a long, thin baguette and cut it into slices when you arrive. Serve it with a flavored oil suitable for dipping such as garlic-infused olive oil. Cookies are popular but for something fancier, bake mini cakes in a muffin tin, garnish them with berries and dust them with powdered sugar instead of cream cheese or buttercream.
Snack Food Nibbles
Finger foods are an easy option for picnics, but instead of the ubiquitous bowl of chips, fill the bowl with a tropical mix of dried banana chips, dried mango, dried pineapple and shredded coconut. Roast almonds or other nuts with olive oil and red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper for a zesty snack.
References and ResourcesUSDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Sausages and Food Safety
Milk Facts: Cheese Refrigeration Guidelines
Whole Foods Market: Handling Dairy Products, Cheese and Eggs Safely
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely
Kimpton Hotels: A Chef Tells Us How to Picnic