With summer weather, many of us are heading outside and are anxious to reconnect with family and friends. Actually, now might be a good time for a picnic. Especially since we seem to find ourselves in a weird in-between world — not quite quarantined, but not free to mingle either.
Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, you can still enjoy a picnic while adhering to social distancing recommendations.
Think about the location of your picnic. Considering having it in your backyard or a neighborhood green space instead of a popular park or tourist area that is more likely to be crowded. If you are going to a popular destination, considering going at an off-peak time to minimize exposure to crowds.
Don't forget to bring personal protective equipment like face masks and gloves as well as hand sanitizer and other supplies.
Public picnic tables could be closed temporarily, so plan to bring blankets or lawn chairs to sit on.
Gather with a limited number of people, preferably family members in your immediate household. Limit your gathering to no more than 10 people. (Abide by the rules of your local jurisdiction!) If you do invite people outside of your household, be sure to set up at least six feet apart and refrain from sharing food or utensils.
Once you’ve got a plan together to meet the safety standards of the pandemic, a picnic can be as simple or sophisticated as any other meal. Before you plan the menu and make your lists, think about who's coming, and what vibe you're going for. No matter what kind of picnic you're creating, unless you are in your backyard you'll need to be as prepared as a Boy Scout, with a full-on checklist.
When it comes to choosing the foods for your picnic, you want sturdy, you want simple, and you want food that requires very little hands-on action at the picnic itself. You want items that won't get soggy, that taste great at room temperature, and that are either finger or fork foods.
Most picnics don't necessarily have the appetizer-salad-main course-dessert flow of a regular indoor meal. It's quite acceptable and lovely that someone might be munching on a cold chicken leg while others are eating brownies. But if you plan on a more leisurely afternoon in the great outdoors, you may want to put out some things to nibble on before the main course.
Indoors or out, there is never anything wrong with a great cheese board, with sliced bread or crackers and maybe some olives, cornichons, Bellisari’s Blistered Jalapeno and Fig Spread, nuts, and dried fruit. Dips and an assortment of cut-up vegetables for dunking are also an easy way to kick off a picnic spread.
When it comes to sides, hardy salads with pasta, rice, or whole grains, made with an oil and vinegar-based dressing rather than a mayonnaise-based one are great for adding to a picnic meal. This can serve as a main course for any vegetarian participants as well.
The most important thing about the main course at a picnic is for the item to taste great cold or at room temperature. Classics like fried chicken, ham, or other sandwich meats hold up really well and taste great at any temperature.
Finally, don’t forget dessert! Fresh summer fruits are a great sweet addition to any picnic. Also, cookies and bars are easy to eat with your hands and easy to transport.
Speaking of transporting, perhaps you have a wonderful old-fashioned picnic basket — or maybe you'll just go for some sturdy, flat-bottomed canvas bags and a cooler. It's good to have at least one container that will keep things consistently chilled, preferably insulated, with the addition of some frozen ice packs. Plastic bins and boxes are also possible alternatives to sturdy bags.
It’s always a good idea to lay out everything you are bringing so that you can pack it with the heaviest and sturdiest things on the bottom, and the lighter and more fragile items on top. This is the only sure-fire way to make sure that you don’t find yourself needing to unpack and pack again, or putting the watermelon on top of the cupcakes. If possible, put the picnic blanket on top — that’s the first thing you want to unpack! And when you are packing perishable foods in a cooler, make sure they go in chilled, and with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep them cold. Make a checklist a few days in advance — it's the best way to guarantee you won't forget anything. What could be worse than preparing and packing a delicious meal, only to realize once you get to your destination that you forgot the plates or forks or the all-important wine opener?
Ultimately, a picnic could be as simple as grabbing a blanket, a bucket of chicken, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine, but it can really be fabulous with a little planning and preparation. Do you have favorite picnic recipes? Do you know of a really beautiful place to picnic? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!