Have you ever flipped through the pictures of a Gwyneth Paltrow cookbook? Well, for starters, if the food in those cookbooks will make my thighs look like hers, then let’s get cooking! But what I really covet (and you might too) are the glamorous family picnics she and her kids enjoy: hand-stitched quilts, laced napkins, antique tins, and smiling, well-groomed children frolicking in golden fields…
But, spoiler… real life family picnics are not like this at all! I’m lucky if my kids even wipe their hands on their pants before reaching for the food! And no golden fields for us.
Here’s a typical family picnic for us: sitting at a bird-poop covered picnic table, eating crackers out of a box, scooping rocks out of a toddler’s mouth, and listening to the 5 year old cry because her brother touched her elbow.
It’s easy to fantasize over those idyllic cookbook images. Except, what happens with the desire for a picture-perfect picnic actually prevents you from enjoying regular ‘nothing special’ outdoor family meals?
Don’t let fantasy ruin reality.
You can have a great family picnic without all the glitz and glamour. It’s easy. Make picnics a regular event in your household (… also it’s a simple way to get you and your kids outside into nature more often). Here’s how to plan a simple, but fabulous, family picnic any day of the week.
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Getting your family picnic on!
If your family is eager and excited about picnicking, you’re half-way there.
Build up excitement by enthusiastically announcing the picnic at breakfast or the day before. Make sure to mention the most attractive feature of the picnic: maybe the food, the location, or the company, the epic game of cornhole you plan to have… whatever your family will get most excited about.
Kids are more likely to be enthusiastic if you announce the picnic strategically. Now that they’re eager to go, they might even be willing to help get ready for the picnic.
Planning the simple and easy family picnic
Now that you have the family excited about your picnic, you need to decide what to eat.
Choose foods which can be quickly prepared. Less time prepping means more time picnicking. You can prepare food the day ahead if possible. Choose foods that your whole family likes. A favourite food can be a good selling feature to amp up the anticipation. Don’t be afraid to ask your kids (or your partner) for suggestions.
I tend to choose finger foods for picnics. Since no one’s fingers are ever clean, I suggest bringing along a package of wet wipes. With a finger-food picnic, you can leave the plates and cutlery at home. No risk of forks falling on the ground means less potential for tears while eating.
Some go-to picnic foods for easy family picnics are:
- Sandwiches or wraps: banana and nut butter, egg salad, ham and cheese, or avocado and tomato
- Cheese and crackers
- Granola bars
- Fresh cut veggies with hummus or dip
- Sliced apples with cinnamon, diced melon, berries and grapes
- A large bottle of water, lemon aide, or iced tea with plastic cups for everyone
If we’re feeling ambitious and have access to a BBQ at our picnic location, we might make hotdogs or hamburgers.
Also, we have started a tradition where once each summer we stop in town and order a pizza to enjoy out at a park somewhere. For your family, maybe this could be Chinese take-out or a variety of Indian curries. (Now, that’s an easy family picnic!)
To keep our picnic foods cool in the summer, I like to keep a few frozen water bottles in the freezer waiting to be thrown into the picnic tubs. Ice packs work just as well (we like these little slim ice packs).
The act of picnicking
According to my dictionary, the noun picnic could mean three different things.
Surprisingly, one definition refers to a cut of pork. The other two definitions suggest a pleasant and easy experience or an informal meal eaten in the open air. I like to think of picnicking as being both – an easy and enjoyable meal eaten in the outdoors. The pork is optional;)
You can picnic anywhere! Try parks, street benches, gardens, beaches, forest walks, backyards, and rooftops. Just find a spot, throw down your blanket (or not), and take out your food. Voila, the picnicking has begun!
Don’t get weighed down by pressures to find the perfect spot. Yes, sure, those perfect golden fields are out there, but if getting to it is out of the way, find and appreciate your own nearby nature.
The essential picnic gear
Really, essential is a loose term here… as long as you have food and you’re outdoors I think you can call that a picnic. But, I would suggest something to carry your food is essential.
So, grab your cooler, backpack, wicker basket, or laundry tub and start packing.
These are the things which usually get thrown into our picnic tub:
- Eating utensils, plates, and cups
- Small sharp knife
- Plastic bag for garbage
- Paper towels and wet wipes
- Baby’s diapers and sippy cup (when we were in the baby/toddler stage)
- Bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats
- Our easily portable Australian Flag picnic blanket, like this style (but towels, sheets, and tarps work just as well)
- And of course, don’t forget the food and something to drink
The extras that make picnicking special
Have you heard of Marie Kondo? Well, she advises that people only use and acquire things which bring their heart joy. I like to apply her advice wherever I can. So, when it comes to the family picnic, don’t stress yourself out with all the extras. Instead, focus on what brings you and your family joy. Perhaps that means you’d like to use a beautiful quilt to gather on or maybe let the kids choose a fun set of plastic outdoor dishes to use on all your future picnic adventures?
Or maybe it’s an activity that makes your family picnic special: bird watching, a game of cards, a ball to throw around, or bubbles to blow and catch? My husband insists it is the Frisbee that makes any picnic better.
But, if you still long for that idyllic picnic experience, here are a few extras to make your picnic a little more Gwyneth:
- A lovely handmade picnic blanket
- A large wicker basket or fancy insulated picnic tote
- A specialized wicker picnic basket complete with matching picnic accessories
- Fun and colorful serving ware (paper, plastic, or even china!)
- Mason jars, tins, and vintage linens
- A table cloth if sitting at a picnic table
- Shade umbrellas or canopy
- Portable music
The simple and easy family picnic really does exist. I would hate for you to shy away from a shared meal outdoors because you didn’t own any tin bento boxes!
In fact, we’re camping this weekend and there will be hoards of filthy kids eating unglamorous foods off the un-blanketed ground. Yes, sometimes I wish for the photogenic and glamorous picnic adventures of Gwyneth, but we can’t all be movie stars. So, for us regular folk with dirty kids and peanut butter sandwiches, I suggest you just pack up your food and get outside. Make family picnics a regular this summer.
What should you do now? If you are interested in getting a weekly email kick int he butt about nurturing your family’s love of nature, go ahead and join the club. You’ll get tips, freebies, and interesting news sent right to your inbox.
P.S. I really do enjoy Gweyth Paltrow’s cookbooks, and to be fair, I would guess they’ve enjoyed their share of simple and easy family picnics too!
Read more about getting your family outside: