Patriotic Plates for Picnic Month

Summertime is a favorite time for seasonal fruits and veggies and meals from the grill.  This month we have two more great reasons to celebrate the season—and the better choices the culinary creations it offers—with both the Fourth of July and Picnic month! Here are four tips for making the most of both:

  1. Red, white and blue! What’s more festive than a plate filled with seasonal favorites in theme colors? Make mealtime easy whether it’s a small get together or a big backyard barbecue, and choose menus by our colors. Keep it simple and serve fruits and veggies: wedges of watermelon, bowls of cherries and/or strawberries with blueberries, and tomato caprese salad (cherry tomatoes work great along with fresh mozzarella and basil with a drizzle of balsamic). Offer blue corn tortilla chips with salsa, grilled eggplant and potato salad. Use your imagination and think of other fun menu items that fit the theme.
  2. Patriotic presentation. Not all of us are crafty, and we don’t have to be to have fun making snazzy better choices for entertaining. Cookie cutters in the shape of flags, stars, or your home state can be fun ways to slice melon, lunchmeat, cheese, and other sandwich fixings. Or try arranging your mixed fruit salad atop angel food cake in the shape of a flag. For stripes, use raspberries, slices of strawberries, or pitted cherries, and for the blue background of the stars on a flag, layer blueberries surrounding small stars shaped from honeydew or other favorite melon. It doesn’t have to be perfectly colored or shaped to be fun and theme appropriate.
  3. Serve family favorites. Like any holiday, Fourth of July should be about celebrating the foods and recipes your family loves. The key is to feature family favorite dishes that include a variety of food groups. Whether it’s the fruit and veggie inspired ideas above, a dollop of Greek yogurt with fruit, slices of star shaped cheese for your burger, whole grain buns for favorite lean grilled meats, or any variety of better choice-inspired specialties that celebrate your family’s heritage in this great American melting pot, all five food groups offer excellent taste and nutrition perfect for grilling season.
  4. Pack a picnic. If celebrations include road trips near or far, master the picnic on the go. Make sure to start with a cooler, ice packs, a thermometer for the cooler, and hand sanitizer, then start thinking of your menu. Choose things easy to transport, eat, and clean up, like sandwiches, salads, and cold entrees from meals made earlier in the week, like cold chicken or roasted veggies for a salad wrap. Need finger foods for the car? Try string cheese, whole pieces of fruit, nuts, cereal/granola, pre-popped popcorn, yogurt, cut up veggies (pre-roasted or raw), and more! Think of foods that work on their own or could be combined into something else at the destination.

Remember, the sky is the limit for a fun picnic, so try some of these ideas:

  • Combine cheese sticks and veggies with an existing salad (pasta, bean, potato) for a heartier dish.
  • Layer yogurt, cut fruit and cereal/granola in a cup or bowl for a parfait.
  • Sprinkle popcorn over a mixed veggie or lettuce salad in place of croutons for a fun crunch.
  • Remember to pack vinegar, oil, and a salt free seasoning blend (Italian spice works nice) so making salad dressing or sandwich spread is easy.

Enjoy your summer and the better choices that come along with it!

Kim Kirchherr, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, FAND