When the winter chill begins to give way to the warming kiss of spring, many of us begin to anticipate the fun of outdoor activities, like fishing, hiking, and most of all, having picnics. Is there any better way to enjoy nature and fellowship with family and friends, than to share great food and company? However, a picnic can turn into a disaster if you do not know how to select food to pack in a picnic. There is a lot more to it than just throwing as lot of things from the refrigerator into a basket or cooler.
A successful picnic requires planning, whether it is a family reunion, church social, family outing, or a romantic getaway for two. The first thing to consider is how many people will attend, and the ages of the attendees. For a large group, it is customary for everyone to bring something. However, you will need to get together with everyone, and assign things to bring, other wise you will wind up with 20 jugs of tea, 100 bags of potato chips, and little else. Make sure you assign a fair balance, so a few people don’t end up supplying all the expensive stuff. You also need to know who is going to attend, for example; if someone has Jewish relatives, you are not going to want to show up with 100 ham sandwiches or 20 pounds of ham salad. Bring things that everyone can enjoy. Another tip: make sure you bring some sugar-free drinks, and or sweeteners, in case someone may have diabetes. And lastly, have a big enough variety of food so that anyone with food allergies can still have a lot to pick from. You need alternatives to sugar, and especially nuts, and shrimp, and some vegetarian, and/or vegan choices.
For family outings and smaller get-togethers, it is much easier, because you should already have an idea what may be needed. Just don’t leave the youngsters out of the loop. Have things they will like as well, and let them help with the planning and preparation. In addition, plan on having some games, like horseshoes, croquet or Frisbees available.
For an intimate private affair for two, find out what the other person likes, and plan the rest around that. You especially want to know if they have any food allergies.
You’ll need more than just food. Plan on taking several large plastic trash bags, so you can leave the area as clean, or cleaner than you found it. Never leave a dirty site. It is helpful sometimes to have all the guests bring their own paper plates and plastic utensils, cups, etc…It can make clean up a lot faster and easier. If the site does not have tables and benches, you may want to bring folding tables, and chairs. You can, of course, have an old-fashioned picnic with a blanket on the ground if you don’t mind sharing your food with ants. Moreover, speaking of bugs, if you bring any bug spray, be extraordinarily careful about not spraying it where the wind can blow it back on to people, the food and drinks. Do not use it anywhere near people or food. Fly swatters and fly strips are a much better option. Just be sure to take them and all dead bugs out with you when you leave. A First-Aid kit is also good to have along anytime you leave the house.
Once you have all that sorted out, you can move on to food. There is no limit to the amount of possible picnic food ideas. You can have a themed picnic, such as all the food representing a particular country, or historic era, or a particular region, or you can stick with traditional picnic food. It’s not that hard to come up with great ideas for food. If it is an outing with the children, it can be as simple as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. With a little forethought, you can create a memorable experience for everyone, just by making thoughtful choices on what food to pack in a picnic basket.
One of the classic picnic foods is cold fried chicken. Serve it well chilled and keep it cold until the moment of serving. Another classic is ham sandwiches. Many people think these are a safer option, because the ham is cured against spoilage, but this is only partially true. If you use mayonnaise, it must always kept chilled, as well as anything containing it, including sandwiches. Mayonnaise is very dangerous if not kept cold. In addition, speaking of sandwiches, there are few things worse than a soggy sandwich. Most sandwiches made up ahead of time will arrive at the picnic DOA (Dead On Arrival), and just be a doughy soggy mess. It is better to pack all the ingredients separately and make the sandwiches on-site. Likewise, with salads. A pre-made salad will most likely be a pathetic, wilted mass of vegetable material that even a starving rabbit would refuse, by the time it arrives at the picnic. Keep all the ingredients separate and assemble the salad at the picnic site. Be sure to keep mayonnaise, dips and salad dressing well chilled. Another classic is Deviled Eggs. Just be sure to keep them wrapped in Saran Wrap, and very cold. If you are worried about the filling sticking to the wrap, just place two halves side-by-side with the filling facing each other, and wrap them. You can separate them after unwrapping.
A picnic just isn’t a picnic without chips and dip. Potato chips, corn chips, and tortilla chips are all classic. Make sure you bring plenty, and a good assortment of dips. Fruits are also good to bring. Apples, bananas, peaches, grapes and other fruit can be enjoyed by young and old alike. One of the best is watermelon. A good watermelon symbolizes summer, with all its promise.
As for drinks, make sure you bring plenty of plain water, both to drink, and for clean-up. Iced tea is traditional, as is lemonade. Sodas are convenient, and bottled water is becoming more and more popular these days. For an outing that does not involve children, wine and beer are often consumed, but check your local laws first. Many sites do not allow alcohol in any form. In addition, there is the risk of DUI, and Open Container violations. Here is a prime example. All of the wine was not consumed at a picnic, so you decide to take an opened bottle home to finish later. As an example: let’s say the picnic was in New York, and you live in New Jersey. It is legal to have an open container in the car in New York, as long as you are just transporting it, but as soon as you cross the border into New Jersey, you are breaking the law, because New Jersey does not allow any open containers of anything in a motor vehicle, and they will take you to jail. It is best to avoid the whole issue, be safe and just enjoy wine and beer at home, in a bar, or a licensed restaurant.
These are just a few ideas for picnics. Choosing food to pack in a picnic does not have to be a big chore. It just takes a little forethought. Now, go out and spread that checkered tablecloth on the ground, and have fun….