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The Best Time for a Picnic: Labor Day Weekend through the Fall, Say UNH Professors Who Share Tasty, Healthy and Inexpensive Menu Ideas

Release Date:
8/28/2013 9:00 PM

August 28, 2013

Fruit, picnic, features

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- With temperatures cooling and farm-fresh vegetables and fruits in abundance, there’s no better time to picnic than late summer and early fall, say Georgia Chavent, director of nutrition and dietetics at the University of New Haven, and Christopher Gentile, adjunct professor of hospitality and tourism at UNH.

Farm stands all over the region are teeming with tomatoes and corn, fresh herbs, berries, peaches and many other fruits and vegetables. “This is the perfect time to create a simple yet festive farm-to-table picnic,” said Gentile.

According to Heather Hunter of AAA Travel, 34.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home this Labor Day weekend, a 4.2 percent increase from the 32.7 million people who traveled last year.

A healthy and delicious picnic can be prepared the night before and tucked in a cooler the next day, to take to the beach, a state park or to a friend’s Labor Day picnic. Or the ingredients can be picked up on the way, and – armed with a cooler of ice, a few bowls, utensils and a grill at the park – the food can be made on site, Gentile added.  

Dining alfresco in a meadow, by a river or in the backyard can be enjoyed right through the fall Chavent said.

The two UNH professors each shared a menu with recipes that take advantage of the bounty of vegetables, fruits and locally raised meats. The menus are low cost and speak to people’s interest in healthy and tasty food and drink options. They can also be used for tailgating as football season gets underway.

Chavent offered this tip to make economical drinks that are healthy. “Make your own beverages,” she said. “The first way to keep an eye on health is to cut out store-bought beverages. They’re expensive, calorie-laden, loaded with sugar and the bottles contribute to pollution.” 

Instead, she said make a crisp sun tea – in minutes and for pennies.

She suggests mixing a quart of water, six tea bags, six leaves of spearmint, a touch of lemon balm, some local honey or a couple tablespoons of sugar into a pitcher and let it steep for a while in the warm sun. Then slice some fruit, mix it in, pour it into a thermos and go. Gentile proposed a refreshing limeade as his make-at-home beverage of choice.

The salads on the menus can be made by college students in a dorm room or by families with young children. This allows the kids to participate and see how easy and enjoyable it is to make a healthy picnic meal. “So many salads can be prepared in no time,” Chavent said.

For example, picnickers can grab a bag of broccoli slaw and a bag of chopped carrots and mix them with a dressing of light mayo, plain yogurt, a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Chavent said the key is to follow food safety tips which can be found here:

“Summer is not over,” Gentile said “Picnic season is just beginning. It’s getting cooler outside and it’s so nice to sit outside with friends and family and enjoy simple, delicious food.”

The Menus:

Christopher Gentile’s Festive, Peasant Style, Farm-to-Picnic-Table   

Chips with Pineapple Salsa
Tomato, Red Onion and Avocado Salad
Country Ribs with a Vanilla Scented Chili Rub
Roasted Corn on the Cob with Chili Lime Butter
Three Berry Crumble

Georgia Chavent’s Flavorful, Simple and Healthy Picnic Menu

Healthier Mexican Layer Dip with Baked Tortilla Chips or Sesame Bread Sticks
Baked Citrus Chicken 
Corn and Black Bean Salad
Green Bean Salad
Peach Surprise
Sun Tea

Christopher Gentile’s Recipes:

Pineapple Salsa

1 whole pineapple skinned, cored, cut into half-inch cubes
3 beefsteak tomatoes
1 tbsp.  fresh basil, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper diced very small
2 tbsp. lime juice


Mix all ingredients together in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. 
Allow flavors to macerate for 1-hour before serving. 
Season with salt and pepper to taste.


1 package flour tortillas cut in half and half again.


Place on baking tray and bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes until crisp.

Or fry on stovetop.
To fry – use cooking-grade olive oil, about two inches in the pan base.
Heat oil to 350 degrees, place 1 layer of chips into oil; fry until golden brown.
Remove and place onto a dish with paper towel; salt to taste. 
Repeat process until all chips are fried.

Variation: If there’s no time to make chips, pick up a bag of pita chips, baked tortilla or sweet potato chips.      


Half gallon of water
12 lemons
12 Limes

Quarter cup sugar in the raw


Zest 1 lemon and one lime.
Slice 1 lemon and one lime.
Squeeze the remaining lemons and limes and mix into the water.
Add the zest and the sliced lemons and limes and the sugar.
Add ice.
Mix well.

Tomato, Red Onion and Avocado Salad

1 pint red cherry tomatoes
1 pint yellow sun-burst tomatoes
1 red onion (medium, sliced thinly)
2 avocados, ripe peeled and cubed, pits removed
4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
2 tbsp. choice of herb: cilantro or flat parsley


Chop tomatoes and onion. Peel avocado, remove pit, cube it.
Add olive oil, kosher salt and choice of herb.

Variation: Add crumbled feta or goat cheese.

Boned Country Pork Rib with a Vanilla-Scented Chili Rub

Four pounds of boned country pork rib, three inches-thick cut

Rib rub:

1 vanilla bean scraped or tbsp. of vanilla-scented extract
3 tbsp. of dark chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin powder


Mix dry ingredients together; add vanilla-scented extract or scraped bean.
Coat ribs and allow flavors to penetrate for 2 to 24 hours in refrigerator.
For meat 3 inches thick, sear on pre-heated grill on high for 8-10 minutes each side.
Then turn grill to low and place ribs on upper rack and close lid and grill for 10-15 minutes.
Remove from grill; allow complete cooling, Wrap in foil and refrigerate.

Grilled corn with chili lime butter

6 ears fresh corn
¼ lb. softened butter
1 tbsp. light chili powder
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 limes, juiced
Salt, pepper, lime to taste


Grill corn in husks for 18 minutes, turning the corn every three minutes to grill evenly.
Remove from grill; allow cooling for 5 minutes. (Corn will still be hot. Using kitchen gloves and/or tongs is suggested to avoid being burned.)
Peel back the husks, add the chili-lime butter, close the husks and place back on the grill for 3-4 minutes to warm and disperse chili butter. 
Remove and serve.

Mixed Fresh Berry Crisp 

Pick berries at a local farm. Or purchase them up at the supermarket.
Best bets: blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, one cup each.

Crisp Mix:

1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
1 cup granola
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp softened butter


Mix all dry ingredients together.  Add in softened butter and mix until crumble forms.
Oil spray the bottom of a 9”x13” pan and fill bottom with mixed berries.
Add the crumble mix to top.
Bake at 350 degrees until topping browns and begins to bubble.
Remove and let stand for 10 minutes prior to serving.

Georgia Chavent’s Recipes:

Healthier Mexican Layer Dip

12 oz. can fat-free refried beans (vegetarian option is a good choice)
16 oz. fat-free sour cream
2 fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
12 oz. premade or prepared salsa
2 cups reduced-fat shredded cheddar OR 1 cup shredded asiago cheese baked tortilla chips
6 oz. can of black olives (pitted or sliced)


Spread thin layer of refried beans in  6”x4” Pyrex pan.
Crumble 2 handfuls of chips over beans. 
Spread diced tomatoes and olives over chips.
Spread thin layer of salsa over mixture.
Then spread thin layer of fat-free sour cream.
Spread 1 cup of shredded cheddar or ½ cup shredded asiago cheese over mixture.
Repeat first 6 steps.
Garnish with remaining ingredients.
Chill and serve with baked tortilla chips.

Baked Citrus Chicken

Grated peel and juice from 2 oranges
¾ cup light butter, melted
2 cups pre-packaged cornflake or panko (Japanese style) crumbs
1 tbsp.  paprika
½ tsp. seasoned salt (optional)
4-5 pounds of skinless chicken breasts (cut each breast into 4 slices)


In shallow dish, combine peel, juice and butter.
In second dish, mix crushed crumbs, paprika and seasoned salt.
Dip chicken into butter/juice mixture, then coat with cracker-crumbs mixture.
Arrange chicken on a rack in a shallow baking pan; loosely cover with aluminum foil
Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Remove foil and bake, uncovered for 10 more minutes or longer until chicken is tender and cooked to internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Fresh Corn, Black Bean and Red Pepper Salad

Get corn on the cob from local farm stand

4 ears of corn
1 red pepper
½ red onion, chopped
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
Splash of lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste


Boil corn, cut off cob.
Chop red pepper, onion, jalapeño pepper.
Rinse and drain black beans
Mix together
Splash lime juice and mix in seasonings to taste 

Green Bean Salad

1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 to 3 tbsp.  olive oil
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. crushed red-pepper flakes
2 tbsp.  rice vinegar
4 tsp. crushed garlic
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1-2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons toasted peanuts, crushed


Blanch beans in hot water until tender (about 3-5 minutes), cover immediately with ice water and chill until ready to mix with other ingredients.
Combine oils, red pepper, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.
Gently mix chilled green beans, tomatoes and peanuts.
Top with oil mixture and gently toss together to blend.

Peach Surprise

12 cups peeled, sliced peaches/10 large peaches
2/3 cup wheat pastry flour
½ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup butter


Place peaches in 2-quart, ovenproof casserole dish about 3 inches deep.
Mix flour, sugar, and salt together.
Add butter, cutting it in thoroughly with a pastry blender or two knives.
Sprinkle over the peaches.
Bake at 350°F until the topping is deep brown and the peaches are cooked through (45 minutes to 1 hour).

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