Summer Spread
Melanie Ng

Summer Spread

The weather is heating up, so we’re bringing you our best how-to guide for creating the perfect summer spread. Roll up your biggest blanket, gather your family, and let’s go! 

Our UGA SNAP-Ed team will take you through everything you need to know to pack a safe and delicious meal to enjoy outdoors: 

  • What to pack and prepare 
  • Our suggested recipes for finger food, make ahead, and easy to pack dishes 
  • Food safety tips 
  • Outdoor reminders 

Family arriving in the park for picnic on a sunny day with a picnic basket and a soccer ball


Pack and Prepare

A great outing requires some preparation—more than just the food! As you plan your menu, think about the kinds of items you usually need in order to eat those dishes. Consider some of these ideas! 

For the Food: 

  • Plates/bowls (enough for everyone and a few extras!) 
  • Napkins 
  • Utensils (forks, spoons, knives, straws, serving utensils) 
  • Drinking cups 
  • Storage containers with lids for transporting food 
  • Large bottles with lids for transporting drinks 
  • Cooler bin or bag 
  • Ice or frozen gel packs (scroll to the Food Safety Tips section to learn why this is important) 
  • A large basket, bin, bags, or plenty of hands to help carry the supplies 
  • A tray or flat surface for laying out food 
  • Trash bags and a bag for collecting reusable items when they are dirty 

For the Family: 

  • Large blanket or bedsheet for sitting on 
  • Antibacterial single-use hand wipes or a water jug, soap, and paper towels (more on this in the Food Safety Tips section!) 
  • Sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses for sun protection 
  • Cool clothing that is weather-appropriate 
  • Bug spray (spray far away from the food and clean hands after) 
  • Outdoor activity equipment (such as sidewalk chalk, a frisbee, or a basketball) 

Family of four sit on a picnic blanket with food and hold hands to give thanks.


Take these Recipes To-Go! 

We’ve got plenty of ideas and a list of recipes to make and pack for your next outdoor meal. Click each recipe name to be taken to the full recipe! 

Finger Foods 

  • Wash whole fruits and veggies ahead of time, or wash and cut in advance!  
    • Store cut fruits and vegetables in the fridge. 
    • If cutting fruit like apples, they may turn brown. They’re still safe to eat, but if you want to slow down the browning, toss them in a little bit of lemon juice before storing in the fridge! 
    • In-season fruits like berries, peaches, and melons are refreshing options! To learn about why we love these fruits, check out our Berries and Summer Fruits blog. 
    • Pair fresh veggies with dips like our Ranch Sauce, made with ½ cup plain yogurt and ¼ cup Ranch dressing! 
  • Snacks like pretzels and whole wheat crackers go great with dips. For a list of snack ideas, scroll through our Smart Snacking blog. 
  • Popcorn and rice cakes are easy to carry and easy to eat! 

Family of four adults and two kids sit at a picnic table and smile with containers of food on the table

Make-Ahead and Pack 

Sandwich with chickpea salad, lettuce, and tomatoes on two slices of whole wheat bread, on a purple napkin.

Stay Hydrated 

Being active and outside in the Southern heat can dehydrate us faster than usual. For more hydration tips, check out our blog on 10 Tricks to Stay HydratedDon’t forget to pack plenty of hydrating beverages to go along with your food! Keep your family cool with some of these great drinks: 

Glass of bright red drink with a lime slice next to text that reads "Watermelon Agua Fresca" and "Yum!"


Food Safety Tips 

Food safety might be the most important part of any outdoor event with food! To keep you and your family from getting sick, there are a few important things to pack and do, and we’ll tell you why: 

1. Use a cooler and pack with ice packs to transport and store food:  

  • Cold food should be kept at 40 °F or below to prevent bacterial growth.  
  • Keep food in the closed cooler until it’s time to eat. 

2. Store hot food separately 

  • If bringing hot foods, they should stay above 140 °F 
  • Transport them separately to prevent cooling off and making cold food too warm.  

3. Antibacterial hand wipes:  

  • Before setting out the food, make sure all hands and surfaces are clean.  
  • Using a jug of water, soap, and paper towels to dry is best, but antibacterial hand and surface wipes will work in a pinch to keep everyone safe! 

4. Separate raw and prepared foods: 

  • If you’re grilling out, make sure to pack and prepare your uncooked items away from the food you plan to eat as is.  
  • Follow the USDA’s Guidelines to Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.  
  • For more outdoor cooking tips, read this UGA Extension article. 

5. Store beverages in a different cooler if you can 

  • As people grab their drinks, the temperature in the cooler rises—this can be dangerous for food items!  
  • Storing food and beverages separately will prevent perishable foods from getting warm before it’s time to eat.  

6. Eat the food within 2 hours of serving 

  • Once the food leaves the cooler, eat within 2 hours. If it’s over 90-degrees, eat within 1 hour.  
  • Throw out food that sits in the temperature danger zone for over 2 hours.  
  • Food first, then play after fueling up! [1] 

Family of 2 adults and 2 kids sit on a picnic blanket in front of a pond with their two puppies, a picnic basket, and a cooler.


Outdoor Reminders 

So many activities await you outdoors! For ideas, check out our blog on Spending the Summer Outdoors! Before you enjoy your day outside, keep these things in mind: 

  • Leave the area as you found it. Clean up trash and throw it away in a trash can.  
  • If there are no trash cans, use one of the trash bags you packed and throw everything away at home. 
  • Aim for a late afternoon outing to avoid times of the day where the sun is the strongest. Always wear sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours or after going in water. [2] 
  • Be mindful of how much skin is exposed to the sun. Wear protective clothing like broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lightweight clothing to protect the skin. [2] 
  • Being outside may dehydrate you faster, whether you are sweating or not! [3] Remind your family to drink plenty of fluids (like waterjuice, soup, and fruits or veggies that contain water) before, during, and after spending time outdoors! 

Mom and daughter sit at a shaded picnic table with bright drinks. The girl is wearing sunglasses and they are smiling at a male person..


Now you’re ready to enjoy some yummy food and quality time with family and friends outdoors. Enjoy! 


Written by Melanie Ng, Ph.D. Candidate | Edited by Leslie Davis, MS, RDN, LD, CDCES and the Nutrition Education Team 

Posted: May 31, 2021 

[1] FDA—Handling Food Outdoors 

[2] FDA—Sun Protection 

[3] WIC Works—Hydration Facts 

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