Healthy Labor Day Picnic Ideas

You may be busy gearing up for fall—packing away the bathing suit, buying fall clothes and school supplies, using the A/C less and opening the windows more—but state parks, swimming pools and campgrounds are all gearing up for the long Labor Day weekend, when families and friends take advantage of the waning hot season one last time. 

Over the years, Labor Day has evolved from purely a labor union celebration into a “last fling of the summer” festival. But don’t let uninvited guests spoil your fun! Poor planning (or carelessness) can increase the risk of food-born illness; the sun and hot temperatures can create an environment for food to spoil.  To help keep your end-of-the-summer fling safe and satisfying for all, check out these picnic pointers and tasty side dishes.
Picnicking at home allows the luxury of a nearby refrigerator. 
  • Store burgers, chicken, hot dogs, and cheese in a cool space until you are ready to put them on the grill. 
  • Set up the buffet table in a shaded area. 
  • Do not serve salads, slaws, condiment or other perishables until you are ready to eat.
Away from home festivities require more planning.
  • Use coolers and ice packets (or ice cubes tightly sealed in plastic bags) to keep cold items cold. Packing chilled items together will also help. 
  • Thermal containers or insulated jugs are perfect for carrying beverages and soups; Pack other foods in sturdy covered dishes.
  • Use common sense when you park your picnic basket and cooler. Do not leave the food in the sun—find a shady spot under a tree or in a shelter instead.
  • Plan to eat the food you have packed while it is still fresh, preferably within an hour after arriving at your destination.
  • Don’t bring more food than you need. After food is un-refrigerated for several hours, it is NOT advisable to pack up the remainder for leftovers.

The Perfect Side Dish
To WOW your partygoers, add a side dish filled with flavor and nutrition!
  • Baked Beans are easy to prepare and packed with protein and fiber. Go easy on the bacon and added fat.
  • Pasta Salad, prepared with whole-wheat pasta, onions, black olives, cherry tomatoes, shredded mozzarella cheese, and low fat Italian dressing, is loaded with complex carbohydrates, calcium and healthy fat.
  • Fruit Salad: A blend of watermelon, cantaloupe, white seedless grapes, and blueberries makes a colorful centerpiece. It also provides antioxidants and phytochemicals, plus fluids to help hydrate the body.
  • Spinach-Asparagus Salad with Strawberry Dressing: Combine 1/2 cup whole strawberries, 3/4 cup orange juice, 2 Tbsp raspberry vinegar, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 4 tsp honey, and 1/8 tsp salt in a blender until mixed and slightly chunky. Place 10 cups trimmed spinach leaves, 1 lb. asparagus (blanched, drained, and cut into bite-size pieces), 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, and 1/2 cup toasted almond slivers in a large bowl. Pour on dressing, toss and serve. Makes 10-12 cup servings, 1-cup each.
Good-bye summer…it’s been wonderful.