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Published July 06, 2012, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Family vacation teaches food safety lesson

“Remember that time when we were on a family vacation?” my teenage son began. He grinned at his sister. My teenage daughter immediately knew where he was headed with this conversation.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Remember that time when we were on a family vacation?” my teenage son began. He grinned at his sister.

My teenage daughter immediately knew where he was headed with this conversation.

She became a bit embarrassed and retorted: “I was little, and I didn’t know any better!”

I recalled the situation, too. I remember spinning my head 180 degrees to see what was happening in the backseat of the van. Fortunately, my husband kept driving calmly down the highway.

On a balmy day in July, we were en route to a family getaway in another state.

My daughter was in preschool and my son was in elementary school at the time.

“Mom, she’s eating old chicken!” my son reported loudly from the backseat.

My brain did a quick calculation of when we had chicken, and the timing certainly wasn’t in the immediate past. I discovered she had saved her chicken nuggets by tucking the bag under the seat of the van for a couple of days. We had made some extended stops in parks, so the interior of the car probably reached 100 degrees as we explored.

“Spit it out right now!” I exclaimed. Her cheeks were plump with two-day-old unrefrigerated chicken.

She looked up in surprise. I had a napkin in my hand ready to catch the food.

She reluctantly surrendered her hidden snack before she had a chance to consume it. She also had to rinse her mouth with water several times.

The kid has a strong immune system, fortunately.

We certainly were well past the one-hour safe storage time for perishable foods in 90-degree temperatures. At room temperature, you can have perishable food unrefrigerated for two hours.

From that situation, we learned to always travel with an ice chest so beverages and leftover perishable food stay cold and safe.

Beyond food safety, traveling with an ice chest can extend your budget for fun adventures at your destination. Most hotels allow you to refill your ice chest when you leave or you can purchase ice, too. When packing for a family trip, pack some wet wipes to clean your hands and the inevitable messes in the vehicle.

Add some 100 percent fruit juice and/or fat-free milk, string cheese, tubes of yogurt and baby carrots to your ice chest. Whole fruit, such as apples and bananas, serve as portable snacks. Consider nonperishable foods, too. You might opt for single-serving containers of fruit, plus whole-grain crackers, dried fruit, nuts and cereal mixes. Homemade snack mixes and granola are portable snacks that stretch your budget, too.

Plan some healthful snacks and beverages for your next trip. Here’s a snack to pack in zip-top, single-serving bags. This recipe is courtesy of the Texas AgriLife Extension Expanded Nutrition Program in Hidalgo County.

Awesome Granola

3 cups oatmeal (uncooked, old-fashioned)

½ cup coconut (shredded or flaked)

1 cup nuts (pecans, walnuts or peanuts)

¼ cup honey

¼ cup margarine (melted)

1½ teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup raisins (or substitute dried cranberries)

Heat oven to 350 F. Melt the margarine. Combine ingredients in a large bowl, except raisins or cranberries, and mix well. Place in a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Stir every five minutes.

Stir in raisins or cranberries. Mix thoroughly. Store in a tightly covered container or make individual servings by measuring ¼-cup amounts into zip-top plastic snack bags.

Alternate directions for preparation in a microwave oven: Melt margarine in a large bowl and then add other ingredients, except dried fruit. Mix well. Pour mixture into an 11- by 17-inch glass baking (or similar microwave-safe container). Cook on high for eight minutes, stirring after every two minutes.

Add raisins or cranberries and stir.

Makes 24 servings (¼ cup per serving). Each serving has 125 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrates and 25 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.