By Pamela Redwine
Summer is right around the corner and with the ending of the school year, we are ready for all the activities that summer has to offer. With longer days, we have more sunlight available to spend time in our yards and gardens. We have great opportunities to be physically active with activities like swimming, little league, softball, and soccer. Still others of us will participate in a wide array of summer camps and many of us will go on vacation to a variety of wonderful places. However, it is important that we don’t forget that with the hotter temperatures of summer, we need to keep our food safe. Keeping our food safe will make for a much more enjoyable trip or outing.
With gas above $3.00 a gallon most places, it is important that we plan ahead to get the most out of our travel budget. Preparing your food safely in advance can help go farther. Planning your meals ahead will save you valuable time and provide you with healthier alternatives rather than eating too much convenience and fast foods that are often high in added fat and sugars.
As you prepare for your vacation or an extended trip, take a moment to prepare foods that will be both enjoyable and safe. Take time in your planning to review the basic rules of food safety, which can help prevent a potential food-borne illness.
Tip 1—Think Fresh. Fresh fruits and vegetables make wonderful snacks. They are already pre-wrapped and packed full of flavor, fiber, and energy. Your best bets are fruits and vegetables that don’t require refrigeration. While you probably won’t forget the standards that often come to mind, like apples, bananas, and raisins, remember that there is a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables that are available. Carrots, oranges, celery, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and broccoli florets are great snacks on the road. Keeping them in a cooler or ice chest will prevent spoilage and protect them from bruising. Combining them with peanut butter and reduced fat or fat-free salad dressing, can add additional flavor.
Tip 2—Hit the Trail. By trail, I mean trail mix. Below is a recipe for making GORP. Gorp, Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, offers you a lot of flavor and variety and doesn’t require refrigeration. If you don’t like items in this recipe, substitute with other foods that you enjoy. Seek out different dried fruits, nuts, cereals or pretzels and make up your own trail mix. Nuts are great for the road. Pecans, peanuts, walnuts and cashews offer both protein and flavor. Just be careful to avoid nuts with added salt that isn’t really necessary. Finally, be sure to make the trail mix ahead of time and give the different flavors an opportunity to mix together.
Tip 3—Keep it Cold. If you are carrying any foods that you would normally keep in your refrigerator, plan to keep those foods in an ice chest or cooler. A well-stocked cooler can keep perishable foods cold for several hours. Blocks of ice are essential in keeping your foods both cold and safe. These ice packs can either be purchased commercially or prepared at home. To prepare at home, fill empty 2-liter soda bottles, with a screw on cap, with water. Be sure to leave several inches of headspace to allow for the water to expand as it freezes. Finally, allow several days for the jugs to freeze solid. Larger blocks of ice will not melt as quickly as cubed ice or small packs of ice.
Your cooler can be packed with lean meats, breads, low-fat cheeses, spreads, and salad dressings. Well chilled milk and fruit juice can also be added. As mentioned above, fruits and vegetables can be stored in your cooler. All of these foods make for a nutritious and fun little road side picnic. It is important that you chill these foods prior to placing them in the cooler. This will add to the efficiency of the cooler and keep the cold foods colder for a longer period of time.
Tip 4—Not the Hot. It is best to avoid carrying hot foods over an extended period of time. If your trip is going to be a long one, it can be difficult to keep hot foods at a temperature necessary to maintain safety. Hot foods must be kept at a minimum temperature of 140° F. Suggestions for placing hot foods on the car engine are potentially dangerous and not recommended. If you and your family would like to enjoy a hot meal, take time and enjoy a leisurely meal at a restaurant.
Tip 5—Ask in Advance. When planning your vacation, check your lodging and see what kind of conveniences they have to offer. Many hotels can provide you with a microwave and a refrigerator during your stay. These amenities can allow you to keep your foods colder longer and give you the opportunity to prepare meals and snacks in your room, again stretching your vacation dollar. Once you arrive at your hotel, be sure to place all perishable foods in the refrigerator immediately and discard any foods that you think may be unsafe. Remember, when in doubt; throw it out.
For additional information on food safety, contact your local Mississippi State University Extension Office.
Recipe of the Week:
(Good Ole Raisins and Peanuts)
1 cup unsalted peanuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup M&Ms (plain or peanut)
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup dried banana chips
Mix thoroughly and portion out
• Dried fruit: dates, dried apricots, apple chips, dried cranberries, dried papaya, dried cherries.
• Nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, soy nuts.
• Chocolate: M&Ms, chocolate chips, carob chips
• Other stuff: Pretzels, and breakfast cereal, “party mix” cereal.