Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Summer Picnicking: Preparation, Tips and Dishes

By Elizabeth Leader Smith, May 21, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Elizabeth Leader Smith

It may still be spring, but my mind is on summer and the road trips, day hikes and lazy days at the beach.

I know the saying goes, “The journey is the thing” but my family can’t help but ask, "What are we going to eat when we get there?"

We pack a snack. We pack a meal. We pack a feast. We picnic because no matter how far from home we are this summer, we still want to eat well. We want easy meals that incorporate summer’s finest flavors.

Thankfully, we’ve also found that when we plan ahead, picnicking is often less expensive than scrambling around looking for tasty food (that everyone agrees on) when we’re out, about and hungry.

The Secret Ingredient: Preparation The upside of al fresco dining is that your view can be of water, fields or mountains with a canopy of trees, billowing clouds or even the stars overhead. The downside is that the kitchen isn’t an arm’s reach away, so a little common-sense planning before you head out the door helps ensure stress-free dining.

Here are 10 tips to make picnics more manageable:

  1. Invest in a good quality cooler for perishables. Look for air-tight gasket seals around the lid and, on larger ones, a leak-proof spigot for draining melted water. (Consider the size: coolers filled with food and ice can be heavy, so you may want to buy two coolers of manageable size rather than one large one you can't lift easily.)
  2. Look for individual water-tight containers for storing salads, sandwiches or ingredients for grilling. Is there anything more disappointing on a picnic than discovering that your sandwiches are waterlogged from melted ice? Heavy-duty, reusable containers are best.
  3. Try reusable dishes and flatware on the road, too. Heavy-duty plastic or melamine plates and cups are perfect for picnics, along with metal flatware. And they lend a little elegance to your al fresco dining, too. Contain the dirties in a large plastic bag and wash up when you get home.
  4. Keep a small wooden cutting board and sharp paring or pocket knife on hand for last-minute food preparation.
  5. During the summer, keep a light, oversized blanket in the back of your car for impromptu dining on the ground. A plastic ground sheet is also a good idea to protect the blanket — and your backside, for that matter — from ground moisture.
  6. Two tea towels, one damp and one dry, sealed in plastic bags will ensure you're well-prepared for almost any picnic mess. A roll of paper towels is handy, too.
  7. If you have the room, folding campstools or other outdoor chairs are always handy for outdoor meals.
  8. Thwart hungry ants by drawing circles around your plate with chalk. Talcum powder works equally well if dining on the ground. Ants can't stand the smell and texture of either.
  9. Garbage bags take up very little space and are essential. (Don’t forget to recycle what you can.)
  10. Stay hydrated. Have plenty of liquids on hand and remind everyone to drink often, especially kiddos and the elderly. Water is always best, but 100% fruit juices or juice mixed with natural sparkling water are great, too.

Eats! Packing Up the Good Stuff When it comes to preparing summer picnics keep two words in mind: simple and good. Keeping things easy and using the best ingredients are key to on-the-go recipes. And with all the juicy, fragrant and bountiful summer fruits and vegetables to choose from, we couldn’t ask for anything more. To keep stress levels low and enjoyment high, the majority of your picnic dishes shouldn’t require additional preparation when you’re ready to eat.

Here are 10 of our picnic-perfect picks for munching, scooping, dipping and savoring:

  1. Look for dips and spreads in the prepared food section of the store or make a few of our favorites: Baba Ghanouj, Black Bean Hummus, Cream Cheese and Cashew Nut Dip, or Guacamole. Pack them with corn chips, sliced cucumbers, baby carrots or sticks of jicama for dipping.
  2. Cut your favorite hard or semi-hard cheeses into cubes and pack in an airtight container for snacking.
  3. Look for prepared trail mix, or throw together your favorite dried fruits, nuts and seeds from our bulk section to make your own.
  4. Grab-and-go! Pick up assorted roasted nuts — honey roasted, tamari roasted, chile roasted or plain — from the bulk bins or marinated olives, mushrooms and roasted peppers from our olive bar.
  5. Preparing salads ahead of time makes on-the-go meal time a snap. (For green salads, pack the ingredients separately, then assemble and dress the salads just before serving.) Look to these summer salads for inspiration: Carrot Salad with Almond Butter Dressing, Curried Couscous Salad, Grilled Tofu and Melon Salad and Quinoa Salad with Chicken, Grapes and Almonds in a light vinaigrette.
  6. Grab-and-go! Pick up assorted roasted nuts — honey roasted, tamari roasted, chile roasted or plain — from the bulk bins or marinated olives, mushrooms and roasted peppers from our olive bar.
  7. Preparing salads ahead of time makes on-the-go meal time a snap. (For green salads, pack the ingredients separately, then assemble and dress the salads just before serving.) Look to these summer salads for inspiration: Carrot Salad with Almond Butter Dressing, Curried Couscous Salad, Grilled Tofu and Melon Salad and Quinoa Salad with Chicken, Grapes and Almonds in a light vinaigrette.
  8. Sandwiches are handy (and handheld) solutions to use up leftovers in the fridge. Think chicken, grilled veggies or steak.
  9. Stuffed Chard Leaves are tidy little packages of rice, goat cheese, pine nuts and raisins sure to become a picnic favorite.
  10. Picnic Drumsticks with Orange-Mustard Sauce are delicious cold or hot.
  11. If packing a small grill, pre-marinate meats, seafood or tempeh for straight-to-the-grill convenience. (The less time you spend cooking, the more time you spend swimming, playing volleyball or just relaxing. Enough said.)
  12. Invite some sweet treats to the picnic too! Cold, fresh berries make for a seasonal fuss-free dessert. Have time to prep? Homemade brownies and cookies are traditional winners or try something new like Blue Cheese and Walnut Dusted Grapes.

If you're anticipating a summer of picnics — and we hope you are — we’d love to hear your favorite tips and go-to dishes for outdoor dining with ease.

Category: Food & Recipes