Food safety should always be a priority. When packing a picnic lunch, it’s easy to depend heavily on prepackaged foods, so you don’t have to worry about food temperatures. The truth is, you can have the best of both worlds. You can pack a healthy, fun lunch without leaning too much on processed foods that might have less nutritional value. Here are 7 way to pack the perfect spring picnic.
1. Plan for the Weather
Your first step in setting up an outdoor outing should be to adjust your plans according to the weather. If you’re planning a picnic, the weather’s probably at least somewhat warm. You should use the average temperatures to try and determine what kind of safety precautions you need to take for your foods. Insulated bags are a great option to help you maintain proper temperatures, but if you’re going out in the heat, they won’t keep popsicles from melting! There are some great hacks for packing the perfect cooler to keep everything fresh and chilled until you are ready to eat it.
2. Keep It Simple
If your kids are school-aged, you probably pack lunches for them, so you may have already had time to experiment some. In this case, the classics are classics for a reason. They keep better at room temperature for longer! It’s that simple. And if you’re going with kids, you know it won’t be the food that draws them in as much as the novelty. Keep things simple, and you’ll leave plenty of room for fun.
This basic staple is easy to customize to fit anyone’s taste buds, no matter how picky an eater you’re dealing with. Picky eaters are nothing to worry about, but making it easier on yourself and the rest of the family is the best way to cope. Picnics are the perfect time to make sandwiches! If you’re still worried about getting your kids to eat, try using cookie cutters to present sandwiches in fun shapes. Making a sandwich “bouquet” of flowers might be enough to tempt them to try something they’re currently refusing.
As for food safety, try using a filling that doesn’t require refrigeration. If you know the kids will eat as soon as they get there, ham sandwiches would be OK. But if not, options like chocolate-hazelnut spread or peanut butter and honey will keep for a long time in a pack. Make sure to wrap them up to keep the bread fresh!
Fruit is nature’s candy. A lot of it also doesn’t require refrigeration. Specific kinds of fruit work best, though. Whole fruit that’s easy to transport is excellent, and most kids love it anyway because it’s sweet. However, once you cut the fruit up, you need to keep it in the cooler.
Apples, bananas, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, grapes and even slices of watermelon can keep for a decent amount of time. Pretty much nothing will beat apples, but keep them whole if you can. Also, if you bring grapes or raisins, make sure not to leave any lying around. They are highly poisonous for dogs, so any pups that might be out for the day could end up with a trip to the vet ER.
5. Dips and Toppings
Dips can be a little tricky, but with proper planning and a cooler, you should be good to go. Try to focus on dips that don’t have a cream or cheese base, because dairy spoils very quickly in the heat. Dips can include store-bought options like hummus if your kids will go for it. But dips and relishes aren’t often on kids’ list of favorite foods, so it’s OK to make these some adult additives. Something sweet and spicy, like a pineapple-jalapeño relish, can transform your family-friendly picnic into something a bit more sophisticated. That’s something all parents can use from time to time.
6. Nuts and Snacks
Snacks are one area where taking the easy, prepackaged route is a good option. Almost no kid on the planet will refuse to eat chips, and technically, they are a vegetable. The idea of snacks is to keep things light, so while at home you might regularly offer cheese and crackers, the dairy might not travel as well in the heat.
Nuts, on the other hand, are a great option. They’re healthy, travel well and are significantly less packaged than most other options. They also tend to be full of healthy fats, protein and fiber, so they can give you a substantial energy boost to keep up with the kids.
You can’t expect to take the family out or a few hours with food and not bring anything to drink. Sugar helps keep things from spoiling, so juice is a good option. However, anything sweet has the potential to attract pests. Wasps, bees and ants follow sweet smells. You wouldn’t be the first to take a sip of soda and find it full of ants or to get stung on the lip just as you grab some juice. It can make a fun picnic much more exciting, but not in a good way.
If you pack sweet drinks, make sure you bring them in sealed containers. Leaks aren’t a big deal outside, but you do want to make sure nothing can get into them. If you’re keeping them cool, ice in the cooler can play double duty. As long as you thoroughly wash the cooler before you fill it with ice, pull some out for drinks and you’re good to go!
Planning a picnic shouldn’t be stressful. The whole point of the event is to relax and enjoy some family time. Make things easy, and keep everyone safe. If it’s above 90 degrees outside, your food can be at room temperature for about an hour. If it’s cooler weather, you have two hours to eat. After that, focus on play and family time, and save the snacks for at home.
Jennifer Landis is a 29-year-old healthy living blogger who loves yoga, running, and dancing it out with her toddler! You can find more from Jennifer at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or by following her on Twitter: @jenniferelandis.