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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Cook, Cover, Chill or Chuck: Food Safety Outdoors

As the temperature increases, so does our tendency to eat outdoors.  Not surprisingly, the prevalence of food borne illness also increases this time of year.  The good news is that healthy picnicking is completely within your control, and some of the most healthful foods are also the safest.  So here are a few tips to safely and happily eat outdoors.  

Cook with care.  When it comes to grilling, or barbequing, make sure you keep raw and cooked foods separate.  Separate areas, trays, tools and even coolers are the safest way to prevent cross contamination.  Then make sure you cook food sufficiently.  Take a thermometer with you.  If you don’t want to try and remember different numbers for different foods, stick with this one to be safe: 165.  If you don’t have a thermometer – make sure juices from meat run clear.  

Cover food outdoors. We sometimes overlook this food safety tip, but there are a lot more pathogens outdoors – blowing dirt and dust around a campsite, bugs or other pests that land on or get into the food. So, keep the food covered when possible to reduce the amount of bacteria and pathogens that can be introduced to your food and then ingested.  

Chill.  Make sure that cold foods stay cold – keep a cooler, with ice to transport cold or raw foods and then to chill it afterwards.  You will want to keep food out for no longer than 2 hours, so set a time on your phone if you need to, but get that food put away and chilling, so that it doesn’t stay in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than a total of 4 hours.  You can keep hot food hot by using a separate “cooler” and wrapping hot bricks or stones in a kitchen towel.  

Chuck it.  When in doubt, throw it out.  It is always better to throw out suspicious food than to be throwing it up later.  So, if you can’t get your chicken kebabs cooked all the way through, or you can’t cool that potato salad down quickly, chuck it. Better yet, plan a menu with items that don’t run a high risk of food borne illness and then you don’t have to worry about getting ill or wasting it.  

Fruits, veggies and oil-and-vinegar based dressings are safer foods to eat outdoors and don’t run the risk that protein-rich, meats, dairy and creamy dressings do.  Plus, we don’t get enough fruits and veggies in our daily diets, so this is a great opportunity to play it safe and healthier as well.  

Serves 4
Mix together:
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 tsp. dill
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. hot pepper sauce
4 cups vegetable juice
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
½ cup chopped cucumber
¼ cup chopped red or sweet onion
½ cup chopped bell pepper
1 ripe avocado peeled and diced
¼ chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Chill or serve at room-temperature.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Road Trip: Skip the Garbage-Gut

country map on brown wooden surfaceSpring marks the beginning of road-trip season and whether you are day tripping nearby, or crossing state lines, staying healthy makes a world of difference in how much you will enjoy your trip.  Eating out and hitting drive-thrus can get really old, real fast leaving you with a feeling of “garbage gut” after being in a car all day. Here are some tips to ensure a healthy trip:

1.   Eat out no more than once per day.  Generally, dinner is a good chance to stop somewhere for a meal in a restaurant but eating breakfast and lunch “from scratch” saves money, time and can provide better nutrition.  Consider grabbing toast and some fruit at your hotel before you hit the road, then plan to picnic for lunch - which by the way makes for much more scenic and memorable meals.
2.   Plan for your “car meals”.  The key things to include will be produce, whole grains (3 grams of fiber per serving or more) and protein. The first two are a bit easier to store, but good protein sources that don’t require refrigeration gets a bit trickier.  You may not always have the ability to maintain a chilled cooler, so consider bringing along some shelf stable protein.  
3.   Snack smart.  Instead of packing the car with bags of chips, consider nuts, jerky, or even popped wheat berries.  Dry cereal and dried fruit make great road trip snacks that don’t leave you feeling “blah” after hours sitting in the car.  Involve the whole family in planning their favorite snacks and let them customize their own cereal, fruit or seed snack bags increases the likelihood they’ll be more content, car snackers.  
4.   Stay well hydrated.  Pack plenty of water and remind yourself to drink even if you’re not staying thirsty.  We tend to mistake thirst for hunger – and even more so when we are bored and cooped up in the car.  So, drink before you snack and keep the snacks proportioned in small, reasonable amounts to avoid mindless munching and garbage-gut.