Orzo with roasted veggie salad. Photo credit: Hugh Forte for A Sprouted Kitchen
1 / 2
Rhubarb and cream cheese hand pies. Photo credit: Smitten Kitchen
2 / 2
With the weather changing and the nights growing longer, take family dinner outside to the nearby park. Try a collection of engaging, real food — skip the predictable sandwiches and juice boxes — to give them fuel to run around in the dwindling evening sun.
Too messy, you say? The trick to a successful picnic is to toss out the idea of a traditional meal structure and bring lots of delicious, hearty nibbles and give the kids the freedom to serve themselves!
When picking out the menu for a healthful picnic, stick with simple things that can be made in advance. (A bonus to this kind of simple eating is that it keeps the mess to a minimum.)
Bring a few of their favorite whole foods to snack on, like mandarin oranges or baby carrots, mixed in with some new recipes. Keep place settings simple, too; choose plain paper plates, compostable cutlery and paper napkins when packing up your supper stash.
Throw in a paper grocery bag alongside your meal for the dirty dishes; toss it in your compost bin before heading inside with the sleepy kids.
With the results of a few new favorite recipes like the ones below on hand, it is easy to toss the blanket, bug spray and thermos of lemonade into a canvas bag and haul off with dinner.
Tell the kids to grab a ball and you’ve scored major parenting points, too!
Now, for 10 tips and recipe ideas for planning the perfect family-friendly summer picnic menu:
Carry along marinated salads in a Mason jar.
Pick this roasted vegetable orzo salad from Sprouted Kitchen. Pack it in a few jars, then forget about it for a few days. This salad can be served cold or at room temperature, so it’s a perfect pick for packing up and eating on the go.
Try this herb white bean dip from Food52 with veggies instead.
Bake some protein-packed savory muffins.
One tasty recipe: these double corn, quinoa and cheddar muffins from Food52. They travel well and keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.
Make inspired snacks.
Try homemade fruit leather; here’s how from Simply Recipes.
Bake a batch of hand pies, sweet or savory.
They keep the mess to a minimum when held in tiny hands. These rhubarb and cream cheese ditties from Smitten Kitchen scream Seattle summer to me! (Click through the photo above to see how it turns out.)
Hide the veggies in plain sight (with big, fun flavors).
They’ll never know they’re eating handfuls of greens when they are easily gobbled by the slice. Try Spanikopita, baked and sliced ahead. Here’s an easy one from Martha Stewart.
Prepare a simple, healthful no-bake treat.
I recommend these five-ingredient and no-bake granola bars from the Minimalist Baker.
Play around with silly ingredients to engage the little ones.
Try this alphabet veggie pasta salad from Teach. Eat. Love. Or take their favorite sandwich and put it on a stick, like this meatball sub from the Food Network. Bonus: It doesn’t need to be cut up for little mouths.
Don't forget dessert!
These gluten-free cookies from 101 Cookbooks are sweetened only with bananas, so offer a guilt-free dessert regardless of how much of the meal made it into their bellies.
But how to get it there? Here are a few quick tips for healthy, safe transport and enjoyment of picnic foods:
- Temperature safety: If you’re bringing along dairy or mayonnaise-based salads with your meal, pack a small cooler and tuck a bag of frozen strawberries alongside the container to keep it cool. (As the strawberries thaw, they transform into another tasty fruit that can be piled on the plate!) Baked goods are fine at room temperature; marinated salads are as well.
- Keep meat out of the heat: If you are bringing along raw meat for a cookout, like at a public grill in a park, make sure to store the meat in a cooler with ice packs. (The frozen fruit trick is not recommended here for added cross-contamination precaution.)
- Waterless hand-washing: Bring alcohol-based cleansing wipes for the kids’ hands for before and after eating.
- Minimize germ sharing: Provide separate serving and eating utensils to keep those used for eating out of shared containers.