One of the best things about the summer is that it provides plenty of opportunities to eat outside and have picnics. Children adore picnics and you can make even the most ordinary meal into an occasion just by serving it on a rug in the garden or the park.
There are two kinds of picnic. There is the kind which you plan, down to the last cherry tomato, as part of a family day out, or for a celebration (you may be simply celebrating the fact that the sun has shone for two days in a row). Then there is the more spontaneous affair, where you arrange to meet friends in the park with a rug and some sandwiches. The thing which unites all picnics is that they are fun, relaxed occasions. Children can often be persuaded to try something new when you are in this informal setting. If your child is a fussy eater this is the time not to worry. Picnics are a time for you all to take it easy. Enjoy each other's company and make the most of this time with family and friends, when there are no chores to do, or daytime interruptions.
If you have a reluctant eater on your hands, take any opportunity to change the environment. Throw a rug on the lawn and have a 'picnic tea', with attractively cut sandwiches served out of a picnic basket.
You will require different foods depending on your type of picnic, but there are some items which will make your life easier whatever the occasion. Wherever you plan to eat, the basic equipment you will need includes:
- a picnic rug or blanket - preferably two
- a suitable carrier for food - cool boxes are ideal, and insulated back-packs leave your hands free to hold little hands
- frozen ice blocks to keep food cool
- supply of wet wipes
- tea towels and kitchen towel to wipe up spills
- plastic bags to take home any rubbish
- unbreakable plates, bowls and cups as necessary
- paper napkins
Individual containers of food are popular with children, but if you are feeding several children you might like to take some colourful plastic plates or bowls with you.
Buying your picnic
If you don't want to cook and are lucky enough to be near a delicatessen, specialist shop or local farmer's market, you can take advantage of all they have to offer, selecting a variety of cooked meats, cheeses, pates and antipasti. Or, for a trouble-free, spontaneous picnic, stop at your local supermarket and pick up ready-made food from the chiller cabinet. Choose wholesome salads and healthy dips, along with pre-prepared crudites and breadsticks. Don't forget plenty of fresh fruit and bottles of water.
For a special, planned-ahead picnic, whatever you prepare, hand-held food is still ideal, so think of things such as:
- mini-sausages, cooked in honey and grainy mustard
- little quiches
- small slices of cold pizza
- child-size sausage rolls
- pieces of cold frittata
- hard-boiled eggs in their shells - fun to unwrap and eat whole or quartered
Sandwiches are universally popular, easy to prepare and transport. Use mini-pittas, small French loaves, soft finger rolls and wraps for variety. These are convenient to hold and better at containing sandwich fillings than conventional slices of bread.
Sandwich filling ideas:
- smoked mackerel pate and cucumber
- slices of cooked chicken, avocado (mashed with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouration) and lettuce
- ham, mashed avocado (as above) and cherry tomatoes, halved
- sliced turkey and cranberry sauce
- cream cheese and strips of roasted red peppers
- cream cheese and avocado
- mild cheddar cheese (grated) and thin slices of apple
- hummus, grated carrot and lettuce
- hard-boiled egg (mashed with a little soft butter) and cress
- smooth peanut butter and sliced banana
- cold sausage (halved lengthways) and mild chutney
- sardines mashed with a little tomato ketchup
- tuna and tinned sweetcorn - add a little French dressing to bind and provide extra flavour
Dips and crudites are perfect picnic fare, and will ensure that your child eats something fresh and healthy. Cut up plenty of carrots, celery, peppers, cucumber and cherry tomatoes for a refreshing energy boost served with hummus, bean or avocado dip.
- Fresh fruit is essential for a picnic. Apples, bananas, plums or a bag of cherries are all easy to transport and eat. Take a small knife (well-wrapped in a napkin) if you want to cut up apple while you are out.
- Cubes of pineapple or small slices of melon and watermelon are a thirst-quenching treat. Ensure that you wash melons thoroughly before slicing, as bacteria can be present on the skin. Remove the seeds and refrigerate melon slices to prevent growth of harmful bacteria.
- In summer, a punnet of washed, hulled strawberries will provide a perfect end to your picnic - with perhaps a tub of Greek yoghurt or natural fromage frais to dip them in.
- For a more substantial sweet treat, take along homemade cookies, flapjacks or tiny squares of a dense, moist cake such as carrot or courgette cake. Remember, whatever the cause for celebration, this is not the time for fragile desserts.
Drinks for picnics
Take plenty of water, as children dehydrate quickly when active in the open air and sunshine.
Use plastic bottles of water, two-thirds full, then frozen. These can be used as ice blocks to keep the food cool, and then drunk when the ice has melted.
Any leftover water will be useful for washing hands.
Smoothies are fun and nutrient-rich for picnics. Prepare these at home, chill and transport in insulated flasks. For extra energy and vitamin C, make homemade old-fashioned lemonade.
You can take flasks of tea or coffee for adults. Mint tea is particularly refreshing and travels well.
Picnics should be great fun but in order that everyone enjoys the day to the full, there are certain guidelines you need to follow to ensure that the food you prepare and eat is safe.
- Always wash your hands before handling any food, and always use clean utensils and containers to prepare and hold food.
- Do not prepare food more than 24 hours before your picnic, unless it is to be frozen. Any frozen food must be completely thawed in a refrigerator. If possible, prepare food on the day of the picnic.
- Store all prepared foods in the refrigerator and pack them at the last minute.
- Use an insulated cooler along with frozen ice blocks to maintain the temperature of cold food and prevent bacterial growth.
- Store food in a cooler with ice blocks under and between containers.
- If travelling to your picnic by car, transport the food in the passenger area, as this will be cooler than the boot of the car.
- Once at your picnic site, keep your cool box in the shade and covered by a blanket to maintain the cold temperature inside.
- Take plenty of wet wipes to clean everyone's hands before the meal.
- Keep any uneaten foods in the cooler during the meal. Do not allow cold food to sit out in the warmth.
- Keep all food covered to prevent insect contamination.
- Throw away any remaining food as it will have been sitting out for longer than is safe
Food that is normally refrigerated will last for two hours before it should be eaten. This time is reduced to one hour in particularly warm weather. If you cannot keep food cold for long enough, take a picnic of foods which do not require refrigeration, for example:
- simple sandwiches such as marmite or peanut butter
- savoury crackers
- fresh unpeeled fruit such as apples, pears, bananas and oranges
- dried fruit
- nuts (if children are old enough and don't have allergies)
- muffins and fruit breads
In addition to the food, don't forget to pack a first-aid kit containing insect repellent, antiseptic cream, ointment for burns, bites and nettle stings), arnica cream for bruises, and plasters for blisters and cuts.
Taken from Feeding Made Easy by Gina Ford