April 1, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell
LEXINGTON, Ky.

Signs of spring are everywhere in the blooming flowers, singing birds and laughter of people enjoying the warmer weather. The tantalizing aroma from picnics and cookouts also announces arrival of this season when people gather for family reunions, graduations and other traditional spring and summer festivities.

“To make sure your gathering is healthful and safe, choose nutritious foods and properly transport and serve them,” said Sandra Bastin, Extension food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

“Serving nutritious foods is especially important because there is a continuing obesity problem in the United States,” she said. “It is easy to update favorite recipes to increase fiber while reducing fat, sodium and sugar. Your imagination is the only limit to creating healthful, tasty foods your guests will enjoy.”

Bastin suggested a mixture of low-fat mayonnaise and plain yogurt to reduce the fat in salads. Freeze grapes, bananas, strawberries or peach slices as low-fat snacks. Using lots of chopped peppers reduces the need for salt and provides more color in potato or pasta salads.

Since sugary drinks actually increase thirst, substitute ice-cold water flavored with lemon or lime slices. Another alternative is to puree some fruits like peaches, nectarines or pears with a little lemon juice and freeze the mixture in ice-cube trays; then use the cubes in iced tea or chilled soda water.

To increase the fiber in foods, use whole-grain breads and rolls for sandwiches and grilled meats and poultry. Put fruit chunks or chopped nuts into meat salads to increase fiber as well as flavor and color.

“Getting together outdoors also is a good opportunity to engage in more physical activity by playing softball or badminton, canoeing, swimming, or taking a leisurely walk,” she added. “It is easy to increase your activity level. Why not park further from the store when shopping for groceries or other items for the picnic or cookout? It is amazing how much difference these activities can make in your health through the spring and summer. You just might make it a habit to get more physical activity.”

Bastin stressed the importance of keeping foods at the right temperatures to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

“Since disease organisms that might make people sick can rapidly multiply under certain conditions, it is essential to maintain cold foods at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below and hot foods at 140 degrees or above,” she said.

Bastin gave some tips to keep foods at a safe temperature for spring and summer gatherings.

“To keep cooked foods cold, thoroughly chill foods before putting them in a cooler or picnic basket,” she said. “Use frozen ice packs or ice in coolers to keep perishable foods cold. Always put perishable foods closest to the ice when you add other food to the cooler. To maintain cold foods, remove only as much as you plan to eat right away.”

She cautioned people not to leave foods out for an extended period.

“Meat, poultry and dairy items and other perishable foods can spoil when left at room or outdoor temperature for more than two hours,” Bastin said. “At temperatures above 85 degrees, it takes just one hour for these foods to spoil.”

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Source: Sandra Bastin 859-257-1812