Before summer barbecues began sizzling throughout New Zealand there was the humble Kiwi picnic, says Public Health dietitian Bronwyn Wood.
Lean meat, seafood and vegetables all make healthy barbecue fare while a selection of crisp green salads and fresh seasonal vegetables paired with a loaf of freshly baked bread and cold meats make for wholesome picnic dining, she said.
Barbecue meals can be as easy, or as complex, as you choose, Ms Wood said, though for some of the healthiest summer recipes, use simple ingredients.
But however you choose to dine over the sunnier months, there are dietary privileges to indulge and pitfalls to avoid.
"There are masses of fresh fruit and vegetables - lettuces and avocados have just started and tomatoes will be ready soon - but with any meats when you barbecue, you have to follow the rule of cook, cover, chill."
The barbecue months demand stricter food safety, she said, especially regarding the preparation of meat dishes like chicken or pork and their storage on the day or overnight.
Ms Wood said lean cuts of beef, including round, sirloin and loin cuts, are the preferable choices.
Tenderising meat increases its flavour and texture without adding additional fat. The cuts will also be tastier after being marinated in salsa, low-calorie salad dressing, wine or citrus juices.
Grilled chicken breasts and lamb kebabs also make healthy alternatives to high-sodium, high-fat hamburger patties and sausages, she said.
Grilling vegetables and fruit - use a low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden - not only adds flavour but can also help target the recommended daily intake of vital nutrients.
Ms Wood said summer diners should never forget to stay hydrated: "Water is the best option when temperatures soar, but you can add slices of lemons or strawberries for natural flavour," she said.
A focus on simple foods is also a boon at summer picnics, she said. Fresh berries may be kept in the refrigerator to add to salads, yoghurt and icecreams. Fresh green beans can be just as delicious when dipped in yoghurt or low-fat cottage cheese.
Healthy extras, like lettuce and tomatoes, should also make up a picnic hamper list along with sliced raw vegetables to serve with low-fat dips.
Fruit smoothies are a healthy addition for a picnic or barbecue as are fresh fruit and natural fruit juices. "It's almost easier to eat well in summer and your options are limited only by your imagination."
Ms Wood said exercise could also be incorporated into summer dining activities with an eye to making a fitness routine an ongoing, frequent and regular affair. Exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle and can easily start with gentle walks in the morning before breakfast or strolls after dinner.
FOOD SAFETY AT BARBECUES
Clean
* wash and dry your hands before you prepare food and every time after you touch raw meat or poultry
* before you start handling food, make sure all barbecue tools and all surfaces on which you put food are clean
Cook
* precook chicken, meat patties and sausages before barbecuing
* meats should be marinated in a covered container in the fridge, not on the bench
* have clean plates and cooking utensils ready. Don't place or prepare raw meat next to cooked or partially cooked meat or other ready-to-eat foods
* use one set of utensils for raw meat and poultry and another set for cooked food
* always wait until the existing food on the barbecue has been cooked through and taken off the barbecue before adding any more raw meat
* turn the food regularly so that it cooks evenly
* minced meat, meatloaf and sausages should be cooked until steaming hot right through, and pork and poultry juices should run clear - use a meat thermometer to check temperatures
* place cooked items on a clean plate, not one that was used for raw meat
Chill
* when buying meat, if your trip back from the supermarket is likely to take more than 30 minutes, pack your chilled and frozen purchases in a chilly bin. Don't leave food in a hot car - perfect conditions for growing bacteria
* keep meat, poultry and other perishable foods cold until you are ready to cook them
* use an icepack and cooler bag or chilly bin to keep food cold outdoors
* store raw meat and poultry in the refrigerator away from other foods and below ready-to-eat foods
* when eating outdoors, keep your food covered to prevent contamination from insects, birds and pets
* cover and refrigerate any leftovers as soon as possible after cooking
* throw out perishable food that you have left at room temperature for more than two hours
http://www.foodsmart.govt.nz/