My boys and I want to spend every waking minute outside in the summer, and that includes meals. Picnics are a favorite activity and over the years we have become alfresco experts. With a little planning, you too can enjoy the great outdoors and some great food, too.
I like to keep these essentials in my picnic basket so we’re ready to go:
Picnic blanket. In my opinion, you have to go big here. A large, water-resistant blanket made for this purpose is an investment in fun and practicality for years to come. Put this in your basket last because you always need it first when unpacking.
Hand sanitizer. Packets of wipes are perfect when kids have been digging in the dirt and come running back for a snack.
Bug spray. Keep a small bottle in a zip-top plastic bag in your picnic basket. Nothing ruins a lovely outdoor event like vicious bugs attacking you or the kids.
Dinnerware. Plates, napkins, eco-friendly disposable silverware. What’s a picnic without food? One secret to family-friendly picnic fare is to stick with what your kids know and love, in portable form. For kids, the novelty is in the outdoor experience—not the food. That’s not to say that grown-ups can’t enjoy tasty treats, but there are ways to appeal to both kid and adult palates. Making food in advance leaves more time to play and less time trying to assemble at the picnic. Try this pasta salad recipe your whole family will love!
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Pasta salad for everyone
- The night before your picnic, cook, drain and chill 8 oz of your family’s favorite pasta (rainbow fusilli is great but if your little person will only eat macaroni, go for it).
- In a 2 qt container, put a generous ½ cup of ranch dressing (or your favorite) in the bottom. Add 1 cup of shredded cabbage or kale on top of the dressing, and top with a variety of diced raw vegetables of your choice such as carrots, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Diced apples and dried cherries or cranberries are also great additions. Lightly salt this layer if desired.
- Top with the cooled pasta, seal and refrigerate.
- At the picnic, serve plain pasta and raw veggies to your kids, then mix up the rest of the salad, grown-up style.
[Related: Summer camp in Chicago: Where, when and how to sign up for summer fun]
More picnic tips
- Use egg cartons to transport mini-muffins or cupcakes
- Freeze juice boxes and yogurt packets overnight to keep things cool, and of course the kids can drink/eat them as they thaw
Wraps travel better than sandwiches. Assemble in advance, slice and wrap in plastic wrap as a “log.” Place these side by side in small plastic containers. Try these easy combinations and use flour, spinach or wheat tortillas as the wrap:
- Sun butter or nut butter and jelly or honey
- Cream cheese with thinly sliced cucumbers
- Hummus and olive spread
- Thinly sliced meats (such as turkey, ham and salami) with American or Havarti cheese
- Small bags of chips or crackers are not only fun, but make portioning easy
- Use small muffin tins to organize food for little fingers and help avoid (almost inevitable) spills
- Mini containers of fruit (mandarin oranges, blueberries, strawberries, grapes) travel well and fit into muffin cups perfectly
See you at the park!