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Tips & Recipes for a Perfect Picnic

June 8, 2011

Photo © One Hungry Mama

Picnic season is here! While there’s no need to get fancy, it’s easy to put together a fun—and even sophisticated—spread that the whole family will love.

Here are some tips and favorite recipes for packing a laid back, but unforgettable al fresco meal:

Plan ahead:
I don’t mean slave away. After all, the point of having a picnic is to relax and enjoy family and friends. But a little planning goes a long way. Come up with a way to keep your choice of victuals focused. Choosing a type of cuisine helps me. And cook foods that can be made ahead, stored in the fridge for a couple of days and enjoyed at room temp.

Pack TWO hearty dishes and a bunch of noshes:
I find that picnics end up being all snacks or so many mains that none are very good. Instead, focus on two primary dishes like a frittata, pasta dish, or salad like this one of potatoes, tomatoes and quick-pickled onions or Old Bay Shrimp Salad. Then fill in the blanks from there. A baguette and cheese. Prosciutto. Olives. Cut up veggies and hummus. A refreshing Beet and Orange Salad with Dill Vinaigrette. Some fruit and all-natural, bakery sweets.

Don’t forget fun drinks:
Putting in a little extra effort—which can be invested a day or two before your picnic—to make a fun drink like Strawberry Lemonade can make all the difference. It will make your meal seem celebratory and more complete. For example, when I pack a Spanish themed picnic (see below), I like to bring sangria for the grownups and virgin sangria (juice with cut up fruit!) for the kids.

Pack carefully & get comfy
I find that I can relax most when all of our food is well packed and I have everything I need to get comfortable at the park. A good blanket (or two). These ingenious pegs to keep wine bottles and glasses upright (even with wild children running around). Plenty of stuff for the kiddos to play with. Reusable plates that can get a little beat up, but are sturdy enough to keep my food from falling into the grass (I have these melamine plates by Thomas Paul; Ikea also has a great selection, including these). If you ask me, it’s worth investing in a large cooler tote bag. They are also great for the beach and road trips. Keep Your Cooler is just one of many places with an affordable selection.

Pick a good spot
Find a place where you’ll be able to settle for a while. We love Ft. Greene park because we always run into folks there. We also hit the waterfront park in DUMBO since there is so much to keep kids (at least our little boys) occupied. They can play at the playground, throw rocks into the east river, and watch boats, trains, cars AND helicopters go by. Wherever you go, make sure there is plenty of shade, lots for the kids to do and room to spread out.

Here are some other great menus for making a delicious family picnic:

Spanish inspired

Italian inspired

  • pressed sandwiches (I like simple mozzarella, prosciutto and pesto)
  • Lemon Pasta with Ricotta & Basil
  • white bean dip & pita chips
  • fennel, orange and olive salad
  • biscotti
  • sparkling lemonade

Asian inspired

Enjoy. Eat well. See you at the park!

Kids change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat. Get more family-friendly recipes, tips and techniques to satisfy your own hunger and inspire healthy hungers in your children on Stacie’s blog,
One Hungry Mama.