Summer offers many opportunities for dining outdoors. But remember: "Al fresco" dining, as suggested by its name, requires things to be fresh and stay fresh.
"Fruits and vegetables are always a safe bet for outdoor dining," says Kristin Gustashaw, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical dietitian at Rush University Medical Center. "And the variety and color lets you get really creative with the presentation. They're also highly nutritious and light. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are really 'nutrient dense.' You get a lot of nutrition with a relatively small caloric intake."
Gustashaw suggests making your own salad bar using a well-iced cooler. Just place containers with fruits and vegetables and other dishes for your salad bar directly in the ice. You can then close the cooler when not in use, providing a creative way to serve your guests while keeping food at its freshest and safest.
Remember, as with any food preparation, you want to keep things:
Clean – your hands, containers and any surfaces that you're serving on
Separate – to avoid cross contamination
Chilled – below 40 degrees for cold dishes
Cooked – to a safe internal temperature (usually above 170 degrees) for hot dishes
Another consideration is to bring only the amount of food that you're going to serve. "Many people don't realize that we should discard any food leftover after an outdoor event," says Gustashaw. "It's so easy for it to become unsafe when cold foods get too warm or when heated foods cool down too much or too slowly. Also, when insects contact food, they contaminate it to the point of being unsafe."
You may also want to avoid foods that you have to be overly cautious about, such as foods that contain ingredients like eggs and mayonnaise.
Many people forget that you also have to be careful in your backyard. "Remember to keep things on ice as you would on a picnic or re-refrigerate food as soon as possible," says Gustashaw. And follow the FDA's clean, separate, chill and cook guidelines.
You'll also want to remember to keep your guests hydrated in the summer heat. You can provide calorie-free or low-calorie beverages like iced tea, flavored waters, and low-calorie lemonade mixes. "These can be spruced up with fresh fruit garnishes," suggests Gustashaw.
It's easy to have a safe summer outing. Just keep things fresh, by making sure heated foods are kept heated and cold foods are kept on ice or refrigerated until being eaten. Also, consider nutrient-dense and low calorie choices.
Looking for a dietitian? Call (312) 942-DIET (3438)
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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.
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