Ingredients like garlic and basil help to naturally repel bugs. So why not make them part of your next al fresco meal?

Alina Dizik
August 27, 2020
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Whether your watermelon is attracting flies or your sweating is drawing mosquitoes, eating outdoors can have one major downside: the bugs. So what should you do if you'd rather not have that swarm of insects derail your al fresco meal? Consider what you're actually eating.

Some ingredients including grapefruit and mint actually work to keep insects at bay—in tandem with your trusty citronella candles, of course. Read on for a list of our favorite drinks, apps and mains that do double duty by keeping creepy crawlers away.

Caprese salad

Combine fresh mozzarella with bright red tomatoes and some basil for a favorite outdoor dish. Anecdotal evidence shows that most insects don't like basil, so be sure to add plenty of the fragrant herb. P.S. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and use toothpicks to make it easier to pick up each mozz-tomato combo, making it more convenient to eat al fresco.

Mojitos

Whether you're drinking it virgin or adding some rum, muddling fresh mint into your cocktail means tiny flies are less likely to turn up for a swim. Mint's fresh smell is a deterrent to many yard-loving insects, including ants and spiders. Expecting guests? Place a bowl of fresh mint sprigs near the drinks area so guests can add it to their own mixed creations.

Spicy guacamole

When it comes to eating outside, everyone's favorite dip benefits from a spicy upgrade. The capsaicin in chile peppers is what lends them their heat, and can also help repel insects. Add roasted chile peppers to your favorite guac recipe before serving. Tip: If you're low on ripened avocados, you can add chile pepper to ceviche for a spicier take with the same effect.

Yogurt parfait

Invited to an outdoor brunch? Top a yogurt of your choice with slices of peeled grapefruit for a picture-perfect dish that also deters curious critters. Grapefruit and many other citrus fruits are natural insect repellents. Nootkatone, a chemical that's responsible for the distinct smell of grapefruits, helps keep even ticks at bay. The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the substance as a nontoxic repellent to kill insects.

Garlic shrimp

Pictured Recipe: One-Pot Garlic Shrimp

Shrimp is always a hit during an outdoor picnic, but if you sauté your favorite crustacean with some garlic, it can serve to repel insects during your next gathering. Not only does garlic add flavor but the pungent allium can help keep bugs at bay. In some instances garlic juice is added to natural insect repellent that's used on plants.

Citrusy Mimosas

Whether you're serving fresh-squeezed orange juice to the kids or blending your favorite OJ with some bubbly for the adults, the offering is sure to be a hit. Best of all? The citrusy fruit's peel and zest contains limonene, which has a scent that's not appealing to bugs, including mosquitoes—so you can enjoy your mimosa without worrying about unwanted flyovers.

Lemongrass chicken skewers

Need a twist on plain old chicken? Adding lemongrass to this protein-filled barbecue favorite means you can enjoy the tangy chicken skewers without bugs buzzing nearby. Lemongrass oil helps create a fragrance around the dish that is unappealing to insects (while being delicious for humans). Sprinkle sesame seeds on top for extra crunch.

Sushi

No time to cook? Your go-to carryout meal can be perfect for an outdoor gathering—especially because it doesn't leave a mess. Opt for seaweed-wrapped maki with some miso soup when ordering. Seaweed is a natural insect repellent, and some gardeners even recommend spraying liquid seaweed or spreading seaweed on plant beds.

Iced coffee

Carolyn A. Hodges, M.S., R.D.

Pictured Recipe: Whipped Pumpkin Spice Coffee

However you like your coffee, it does double duty to boost energy and keep insects away. Since most insects are sensitive to smells, freshly ground coffee beans actually help deter many backyard bugs. Some experts even recommend burning used coffee grounds to further ward off pesky mosquitos. Serve iced or hot.