Common Picnic Foods That Also Deter Pests

Keep ants, mosquitos, and flies at bay with these smart food choices.

Picnics have always been a favorite summer pastime. Lately, they've been an even more important part of spending time with family and friends.

However, no matter how sunny the weather or how pleasant the company, there's one thing that always disrupts a perfect picnic: pests. Flies hovering, mosquitos biting, and ants crawling can put a damper on an otherwise lovely al fresco meal — but there are ways to formulate your menu that will keep pests at bay.

Ants with watermelon on a picnic blanket
JenniMaijaHelena / Getty Images

Enjoy Garlic, Onions, and Tomatoes

While mosquitos do look for their human targets with their eyes, their most powerful sense is their sense of smell. But if you eat the right foods, like garlic, tomatoes, and onions, they will change your scent in a way that makes it unappealing to mosquitos, meaning they're less likely to bite you mid-meal.

If you're grilling steaks, try using a garlic marinade like this one, or flavoring grilled chicken with this soy and garlic marinade. If you're serving sandwiches, slather on some horseradish garlic spread or layer on slices of red onion.

For sides, enjoy fresh, juicy tomatoes in a simple tomato and mozzarella salad, toss cherry tomatoes with watermelon and feta, or serve up a hearty Panzanella salad.

Make Your Salads Creamy

Classic picnic salads like potato, pasta, and cabbage (AKA coleslaw) tend to come in two variations: light, vinegar-based salads or creamy, mayonnaise-based ones. If you're trying to keep flies off your picnic table or blanket, opt for creamy salads. Flies are attracted to sweet, fermented liquids like vinegar, so tossing together vinegar-free salads will reduce the chances they will land on your spread. Try this classic mayo-based potato salad, which also features mosquito-repelling onions, this bacon ranch pasta salad, or an easy, creamy coleslaw.

Load Up on Spice

Choosing spicy recipes for your picnic will do double duty to help keep pests away. They will alter your scent so mosquitos won't want to bite you, while cayenne, chili powder, and hot peppers act as a natural ant repellent.

Start your meal with a creamy chipotle guacamole that features canned chipotles in adobo, toss together a corn and black bean salad with diced jalapeños, or hand out these Southwest grilled chicken sandwiches that offer a double dose of spice, thanks to jalapeños and chili powder in the marinade and the salsa.

Keep an Eye on Fruit and Meat

The longer your bowl of fruit salad and platter of grilled meat sit out on the picnic table, the more likely you'll see flies in the area looking for a snack. But if you eat strategically, it's easy to keep flies away.

Fruit flies are attracted to overripe fruit, so not allowing your fruit to get to that point is key. One smart strategy: Instead of serving fruit at the table, separate it into serving-size cups or small containers before you pack your cooler that you can hand out for dessert.

The same goes for house flies and cooked meat, which can start to spoil and attract flies after as little as one hour in the sun. To avoid this, quickly re-cover meat once everyone has had their fill or opt for sandwiches or roll-ups instead.

Ready to plan the rest of your menu? Check out our collection of over 1,000 picnic recipes to get started.

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