Let’s talk about the simple family picnic. While it may feel like a throwback to a bygone era, it’s still a wonderful way to enjoy good food and spend time together. It doesn’t take much planning, and it can recharge your batteries while giving your kids some (much needed) unstructured playtime. Picnics are also a great way to gather together in a natural setting to eat when a restaurant isn't an option. It will also break up the day and inject some spontaneous new experiences.
So pack up the picnic basket (or high-tech cooler), turn off the screens, and take advantage of the parks, forest preserves, and other natural settings that are probably closer than you think. True, some spaces are temporarily closed due to Covid-19, but if you're flexible and creative, you can find a spot to spread out your blanket. Here are 10 ideas to help get you started on planning a picnic the whole family will love.
1. Keep it Simple
While it can be fun to plan a menu and create some family favorites in your own kitchen, it isn’t necessary. Most grocery stores have a great prepared food section, where you can pick up sandwiches, fried chicken, salads, heck, even sushi. Everyone can pick their favorite, and you can be at the picnic table before you know it. Try a nearby park that you’ve never visited before, have a quick meal, and start exploring.
2. Make it an Event
On the other hand, sometimes you want to make a picnic special. Here’s where you can get creative with the cuisine. Tailgaters have upped the ante for outdoor eating—you can do the same without having to worry about the expensive tickets. (And you’ve got a setting much better than a parking lot). Maybe you work around a particular cuisine—Mexican, Greek, Italian, or other. Or perhaps it’s fun to go upscale, springing for fancy cheeses and charcuterie. Fruit salads and pasta salads are always kid-friendly. Cut up apples, strawberries, pineapples, and melon and serve with a sweet fruit dip.
3. Embrace Nature
As parents, it’s tempting to always be planning what the kids are going to do. When you’re outdoors, like the kids explore on their own. Bring along butterfly nets, binoculars, and magnifying glasses. See what they can discover. (Everything is catch and release, of course.) Go wading the creek and you’ll be amazed at the number of critters you’ll see. Have your picnic in the evening and end your night by catching lightning bugs and looking at the stars. Don’t fear nature, embrace it.
4. Be Prepared
Of course, it’s easy to idealize what it’s like to spend time outdoors. Don’t forget to plan for the things that go wrong. Sunscreen, bug spray, and hand sanitizer should always be in your kit. Bring hats on sunny days. Have a first-aid kit in your car. It’s always a good idea to have a jug of water along for washing hands, cleaning up messes, or drinking in case other beverages are consumed faster than you thought.
5. Gear Up
No picnic is complete without a picnic blanket, and a Mambe waterproof blanket is an excellent choice for any outing. It combines a midweight Polartec fleece on one side with a nylon waterproof layer on the other. You can lay it out on the ground and sit comfortably or use it as a cover on a picnic table. It’s machine washable when you’re done, so don’t worry about messes. Portable hammocks are a fun way to spend some relaxing time after the meal, reading a book, or taking a nap. (Note, the kids will not take a nap. They will, however, love using it as a pirate ship, spacecraft, or castle. You didn’t really think you’d get to read a book, did you?) In the evening, bring along citronella candles, flashlights, and glow bracelets for the kids.
6. Outdoor Games
You don’t need to go crazy—again, let the kids decide how they want to spend their time—but bring along some things that they may enjoy. Have a Frisbee or football to throw around. If your family enjoys bags, horseshoes, or badminton, bring them along. With plenty of open space, this may be the time to launch that water rocket or fly a kite. Always bring along a deck of cards to have at the ready.
If you’re lucky enough to be near a body of water, take the opportunity to rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboat, or sailboat. You don’t need to be out on the water for very long, but the kids will love it, and it will make the picnic extra-special.
8. Drink Up
Don’t forget that the kids will get thirsty playing outside. Rather than throwing disposable water bottles in the cooler—most of which will go half-used and abandoned—go old-school and make a thermos of lemonade. Forget that premade mix and make your own—1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of lemon juice per 2 quarts of water. You’ll never go back to a mix again. Another thermos of ice water is a good idea as well since the lemonade will go fast.
9. Don’t Forget Dessert
No picnic is complete without dessert. If you want to get nostalgic, consider a homemade pie or two. If you have access to a fire ring, s’mores are always a popular option as well. Try making ice cream at home and putting it in the deep freeze. Pack a cooler with ice and it should be perfectly soft-serve when you’re ready to eat. Or go with that picnic favorite, a whole watermelon.
10. No Screens
You shouldn’t have to say this, but no screens. And that goes for the adults, too. Get rid of the distractions that are a part of modern life and enjoy the time in the outdoors. Before long, you’ll discover why your parents and grandparents looked back on picnics so fondly.
Written by Ann Gibson for Matcha in partnership with Mambe Waterproof Blankets.