May 24, 2011

Celebrating Picnic Season {Naptime Simple Tips}

Phoebe's Shrimp Lollipops for a Boat Picnic

Picnic season is finally here and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. We love taking our meals from home “to-go” in the warmer weather. Our sandwiches always seem to taste a little bit better in the fresh, salty beach air. Lunches beneath the oak trees at the playground have an enjoyable, relaxed vibe and we swear that couscous salad always tastes best eaten out of take-out containers on a boat. When we are feeling particularly ambitious we dress up our daughter for a mini-hike and enjoy meal overlooking a vista of rolling hills with distant glimpses of the Atlantic.

There are a few key things to picnicking I’ve learned over the years and I want to share them with you. Picnics shouldn’t be complicated or stressful. Preparing for them should be easy and fun so you can enjoy your time outdoors with your family, not worrying about food.

Picnic Essentials:

– Blankets: If you are planning to picnic on the ground it is good idea to bring something to sit on. In woodland areas a waterproof surface is ideal. I picked up a simple oilcloth at our local Homegoods for just such occasions. It is cheap and easy and can easily be wiped clean. Light cotton blankets or large beach towels are great for beach picnics, breathable fabric is key for sandy surfaces that can get hot on a summer days.

– Sharp Knife & Cutting Surface: If you are planning on eating hard cheese or meats remember to pack a portable, sharp picnic knife. I like my Opinel 9 knife, it is easy to use and cleans well. Plus, it folds tightly so my daughter is unable to open it. Be sure to pack a plastic or wooden board for cutting your food.

– Plates, Cutlery & Cups: I like to pack recyclable one-use plates, cupcakes and forks for picnics. They are durable to eat with and can be stuck in the recycling bin instead of the trash can at the end of the night. A lot of times I like to use individual plastic containers to transport our food and we are able to eat straight out of them.

– Flashlights: If you are planning a dinner picnic be sure to take a flashlight along in case you happen to finish after dark.

Picnic

A Small Lunch Picnic at the Playground

Food Planning:

For big picnics choose dishes that can be made during naptime or even a day in advance of your meal. This means that right before you load up your bag all you have to do is retrieve it from the fridge instead of having to get up early to cook while eager picnickers beg for you to get a move on while they wait for the door. Picnic food is generally eaten slightly chilled from the cooler or at room temperature so it is important to consider this before planning any menu. Steer clear of any foods that need to be specifically cooled until immediately before eating. It is next to impossible to perfectly control the temperature if your food once it is being transported so plan accordingly. For this reason I generally don’t pack mayonnaise-laden salads that could turn rancid, breaded chicken fingers or fried foods that get soggy when packed, toasted sandwiches, or vegetables that wilt in the heat.

Make-Ahead Food That Packs Well:

– Cold Noodle, Rice or Pasta Salads

– Cold Sandwiches

– Fresh vegetables

– Fresh fruit or fruit salads

– Crackers/Pretzels/Goldfish crackers

– Hard Cheeses & Meats

– Cold Fried Chicken a la To Catch A Thief

– Any kind of dessert that can be served individually – don’t bring a large bundt cake or anything that needs to be served in slices

cheese plate

A Great Cheese Plate is a Fun Picnic Food!

Food Transportation:

Packing for the actual picnic can be a bit tricky since the objectives are to fit all the food into as few bags or boxes as possible, and keep said bags light enough to carry.

When I pack a picnic lunch or dinner for my daughter and I at the playground I simply zip our food into her little cloth lunchbox with a coldpack and hang it off the back of the stroller. For more involved picnics to the beach or on the boat I use one of our LLBean Tote bags to hold everything. They are so easy to carry and are the most durable bags I own.

Food should be packed in containers that seal properly and are easy for kids to open. Be sure to toss a few plastic ice packs in with all of the food if possible. This will help prevent any harmful bacteria from forming during transport. I tend to use my favorite BPA plastic containers or disposable paper take-out containers for packing almost everything. I even have a thermos I use for transporting gazpacho. As I mentioned above, recyclable cutlery is ideal for picnics. That way you don’t have to haul your good forks to and from the picnic sight!

Don’t forget to pack a few cloth dishtowels and napkins for everyone. Wrap up any dirty cutlery and plates with them to transport home after the picnic.

Some Great Picnic Recipes:

Blue Cheese, Scallion & Couscous Salad

Orzo Salad with Tomatoes & Artichokes

Corn Salad

Marinated Cold Green Beans

Lemon Rosemary Grilled Chicken, served cold

Mint Lemonade

– Cold Sandwiches

Barbara’s Brownies

Chocolate Chip Coconut Oatmeal Cookies