6 simple picnic ideas

Picnics aren’t just for kids, and they don’t need to be elaborate or complicated affairs. Here are some ideas for every member of the family.

Kids rule

With kids in the picture, the menu, location and choice of activities naturally caters to their preferences, so why not get them involved in the planning? You can turn picnic prep time into a learning experience by brainstorming activities and games, choosing a location and planning a menu together. You can even take the kids shopping for food and get them involved in the cooking and planning (and yes, the clean up too). Many magazines and websites have family-friendly picnic ideas that can serve as a conversation starter.

The trick is to keep the menu simple: easy to prepare, easy to eat and easy to clean up after. Focus on finger foods and a healthy variety to please everyone.  Try fruit salad with a yoghurt dip instead of whole fruit, and bring along plenty of sliced vegetables for snacks. Do-it-yourself-sandwiches are also a hit: Pack an assortment of cold meats, whole grain rolls or wraps, vegetable toppings and squeeze bottle condiments. For dessert, think cookies or rice crispy squares that are easy to handle and prepare with “help”. Frozen juice boxes can help keep foods chilled on route, and can be eaten as a popsicle or slushy for dessert.

Find a place where there are activities on hand, like playground equipment, room to play games or places to go hiking. You don’t even have to go very far: the local park or school ground will do. A picnic can even be part of an ongoing project, such as building a model sailboat or learning to draw. Focus on activities you can do together, and use your own experience and expertise to teach.

Make it a date

A sophisticated menu, a secluded locale and attention to detail can turn a picnic into a romantic meal. It’s the extra touches than will get the attention, like a well put together basket and long stemmed wine glasses. Try a late lunch or an evening dinner for some privacy and to stay out of mood-killing heat and humidity.

You can go gourmet or keep the menu as simple as you like. Serve vegetable sticks with a gourmet dip or humus, and specialty breads with prosciutto and provolone instead of ham and cheese. Pâté with crackers, cold soups, baguettes and wraps are also summer favourites. Take a pass on foods that are heavy on the garlic or onions, and avoid messy or drippy foods that could cause stains. When it comes to refreshment, you can keep the romantic note with sparkling cider or white grape juice where alcohol is prohibited.

To add a bit of festivity to the occasion, pick a theme or type of food to focus on such as Italian, Greek or French foods. Aim for a sensual experience with a variety of textures, strong flavours, and foods you can eat with your hands. You may even want to include at least one food that you can feed to your date, such as grapes or chocolate-dipped strawberries. (For some sample menus, see PicnicTips.com).

And gentleman: a rose in the picnic basket makes a nice touch.

Ladies who brunch

There’s no law saying that lunch and dinner are the only picnic meals. Breakfast or brunch is an ideal time to stay ahead of the crowds and the heat. Why not make your next book club meeting, card game or weekly coffee an outdoors event, or plan an outdoor luncheon with the ladies?

Think iced teas, marinated vegetables, easy to pack salads, cold meats and watery fruits like berries and melon. Angel food cake is a light, low-fat spongy dessert that packs well, and it can be topped with chocolate, berry puree or whipped cream. Muffins, scones and quiche are also easy to pack and handle. Try a flavoured coffee instead of your regular blend, and for a new take on the traditional iced tea try green or white tea blends with some slices of lemon and lime and a hint of honey to sweeten.

Scout out locations ahead of time to find what you need, whether it’s a shady tree, gazebo or picnic table.

A change in routine

If your loved one is in a long term care facility, take the picnic to him or her for a welcomed change of scenery and routine. If it isn’t possible to go to a nearby park or picnic area, you can enjoy a meal out on the grounds. Many facilities have gardens or shady sitting areas where a meal can be enjoyed outdoors, and many of these areas are easily accessible for special needs. Decorative touches such as a brightly coloured table cloth or printed napkins make it a festive occasion.

Expect a little extra planning your first time to find out what facilities and resources are available and to be aware of any dietary restrictions or special needs. Consider your loved one’s favourite foods when planning the menu, but also keep in mind foods that he or she might not eat often, such as certain kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Seasonal foods are often a special treat.

Overall, the most important thing is your company.

Destination picnic

Picnics are a favourite activity for budget travellers. Whether it’s a day-long road trip or a week away in a foreign country, you can save money by shopping for and preparing your own food and you get to enjoy the local scenery. If you’re abroad, hit the local market for some fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, and easy-to-pack local treats like speciality cheeses, breads and desserts.

Picnics can also be destination activity. Many companies offer excursions to a scenic place, and even prepare the food for you. Picnics are often combined with another activity such as a nature walk, photography lesson or sight-seeing tour. For example:

– Heli Canada Adventures offers Heli Picnic day trips in the Canadian Rockies. You’re flown by helicopter from Revelstoke, British Columbia to a scenic location for lunch or dinner, and provided with a guide and time to explore.

– Visit Ferryland Lighthouse in Newfoundland with a tour from Lighthouse Picnics. The package includes a 25-minute walk to the lighthouse — passing historic sites and scenery on the way — followed by a prepared meal, complete with blanket and books about the area.

– Include a picnic as part of your tour — like the wine regions of Niagara-on-the-Lake or Prince Edward County.

Just for you

Take your “me time” out of doors. A solo picnic is the perfect opportunity to indulge in a favourite hobby or to delve into a good book. Pack your sketchbook and paints for an “en plein air” experience, or let your surroundings inspire the writer in you.

The menu is simple: your favourite foods. To make the experience less like packing lunch for work, pick up some quick and healthy ready made foods from the grocery store or get your favourite restaurant fare to go. Treat yourself to something that isn’t in your regular diet, whether it’s an imported food or a special dessert.

For more information

– To find the perfect site, look online at your local government, tourist,or parks services website. Find out what’s available at each site, such as activities, equipment, nature trails, waterfront views and amenities (picnic tables, outdoor grills, pet-friendly, washrooms, etc).

– The Food Network Picnic Recipes and BBC Food: Picnics have a selection of recipes to cater to all tastes.

New York Times: 101 20-minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics. Not into details? This article has dozens of “throw together” recipes.

Healthy-Picnics.comand PicnicRecipesandGames.com have picnic ideas, recipes, planning information and safety tips. The sites include fall and winter picnic ideas, games for all ages, and romantic picnic ideas.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Jo Ann Snover

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