This summer I'm on a mission: to eat outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and wonderful weather any and every chance I get. Are you with me? Whether it's a sunny day at the beach, a last-minute lunch at the playground or a cool concert in the park, there is something about enjoying a meal in the fresh air that makes summer extra special.
True, eating outdoors doesn't require fancy finger foods or a five-course meal, but there's still a strategy to the perfect picnic. Armed with a few tips, you can host a low-fuss picnic that's still high on creativity. If you ask me, the ideal picnic comes down to a great location, a fun group of people, and of course, some very delicious food and drinks. Here's my picnic plan to help you make the most of it:
Perfectly packable picnic recipes
Be ready with the perfect picnic fare. Any food that's transportable, easy-to-assemble and minimal on the messy factor is ideal, but that doesn't mean you have to stay faithful to the old standbys. This summer, ditch the PB & J and switch it up with some of these snack-sized options. They're big on flavor, take minimal effort and can be served straight from the cooler or at room temperature.
- Small bites appeal to all: Shareable, pre-made appetizers will start things off right. Try these cheesy Pesto, Parmesan Prosciutto Pinwheels made from a few staple, wholesome ingredients.
- Easy yet gourmet nibbles: These Loaded Potato Nests are already a major crowd pleaser but can be tailored to appeal to a range of eaters. Keep the bacon and chive pairing for the comfort food lovers or swap them for crème fraîche and smoked salmon for something more lavish.
- Kid-friendly finger foods: Mini Calzones are dipable, dunkable and customizable, which makes them the ultimate kid food. For little ones who only want pizza, help them get their summer veggies by mixing in diced zucchini, chopped tomatoes or sliced bell peppers.
- Treat yourself: End the meal on a sweet note with these easy-to-assemble yet decadent Orange Ricotta Cream Cheese Bars. Also, these Peaches and Blueberry Cream Popsicle Bites can be made in ice cube trays and kept in the cooler for easy travel.
Properly prep and pack
The perfect picnic is all about proper planning, so I've created a packing checklist to make sure I've got everything I need. Some of my must-have items include:
- Chill out: Bring a cooler and extra ice packs to keep those refrigerated items as cool as possible before serving. Transport popsicle bites and cold treats in ice cube trays. Dishes served at room temperature can be sealed in air-tight, reusable containers.
- Perfect picnic shopping list: Round out your homemade treats with store-bought items, such as individually portioned cheese sticks, yogurt, pudding cups or premade dip with sliced veggies and pita chips.
- Disposable and reusable: Use a combination of disposable and reusable utensils and plates to keep things easy and convenient. If you're already heading to the store, stock up on single-serve containers from the salad bar for salad dressings, condiments and the like. Always remember, a few extra knives are helpful for cutting up fruits, veggies or desserts, and a bottle opener is a must for soda and other drinks.
- Beyond food: Of course you need to pack more than just the food, so bring along a blanket or lawn chairs for everyone to sit and trays to help keep food off the ground. Keeping it tidy is essential too, so pack plenty of napkins and wet wipes for those sticky fingers and trash bags for easy clean up.
Now that you are equipped with a checklist and customizable menu options, go pack your basket, grab friends and family and enjoy the best summer has to offer!
Aida Mollenkamp is a celebrity chef on the Cooking Channel, cookbook author and food expert for the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association.