Pack a basket of flavor for National Picnic Day

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With the winter quickly passing by and springtime approaching, there’s no better way to welcome the season than with National Picnic Day on April 23. This cherished tradition invites you to savor the warmer weather by breathing in the fresh air and enjoying a delicious meal in nature.

Picnic basket with bread and a red cloth on a blanket with a family in the background enjoying a picnic.
Pack a picnic basket and enjoy dining in the great outdoors on National Picnic Day. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Whether lounging at a local park, basking on a sandy beach or reveling in the peace of your own backyard, a picnic is the perfect way to enjoy alfresco dining. Read on to find out how you can make this your best picnic yet.

The allure of al fresco dining  

Picnics are a break from the hustle of your everyday, offering a moment to relax and connect with the natural world. Their informality and simplicity make them accessible to everyone regardless of age or background. Moreover, the benefits of dining outdoors are numerous and enriching.  

Speaking to the history of picnics, this is a tradition woven through times and cultures. Since the medieval hunting feast, picnics have been a canvas for social expression, adapting to the changing tides of culture. As explained by Saltwater Picnic Co, it was in the 19th century that picnics became a symbol of communal unity as people began gathering in public parks to share meals. This egalitarian spirit continues to inspire the cherished gatherings we still relish. 

Along with their social benefit, the act of dining outdoors is a holistic experience that nourishes the body, mind and soul. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, proximity to nature and exposure to sunlight has been shown to elevate moods and reduce stress. The open air also encourages physical activity, turning a meal into an opportunity for bonding and rejuvenation. 

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Picnic preparation 

Packing for the perfect picnic is both an art and a science. Consider carefully the unique demands of outdoor eating and the practicality of food transport. 

When choosing your menu, aim for dishes that hold well in containers without spillage and don’t get soggy. Sturdy veggie and grain salads, wraps and pastries are excellent choices as they maintain their texture and flavor on the go. Items that can be served comfortably at any temperature, like pasta salads, cold cuts and cheese platters are a great option for excellent taste without the need for reheating. 

As well, keep in mind the logistics of outdoor eating and select foods that aren’t messy or don’t require too much hardware to eat. Finger foods like sandwiches, skewers and hand pies are perfect for a utensil-free picnic experience. Likely, this food will also be out of refrigeration for a while, so choose safe dishes, avoiding things like mayonnaise and raw fish. Instead, choose vinegar-based dressings and vegetarian options to ensure food safety.

Most importantly, make sure to include a variety of sweet and savory crowd pleasers to be enjoyed by a variety of tastes and dietary preferences. Gluten-free or vegan dessert options can be a great way to cater to all your guests needs.  

Food safety during outdoor eating

Food safety is paramount when dining outdoors to ensure that this experience is enjoyable and safe. The challenges of maintaining food at safe temperatures and preventing contamination can be managed with careful planning and the right tools.

Keep food chilled

Investing in a high-quality, insulated cooler to keep perishable items like meats and dairy chilled can safely increase the variety of your picnic grub. Using frozen water bottles as ice packs in your cooler has the dual purpose of keeping your food cold and providing a refreshing drink as they thaw. 

Prevent contamination

Segregating cooked and raw foods using individual containers prevents cross-contamination. In particular, using airtight containers ensures that your food is safe from outside contamination and also avoids spills and leaks. Most importantly, using sanitizers to keep your hands and surfaces clean helps to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. 

Packing and serving smart

When using a cooler, place items you will eat last at the bottom of the cooler to minimize the time they are exposed to warm temperatures. Similarly, use insulated thermos for hot foods and promptly dispose of dishes that have been left out for more than a couple hours. 

Making the most of National Picnic Day

To make the most of this day is more than just enjoying delicious food; it’s about creating an experience that will be remembered fondly. Selecting the perfect location and adding an element of fun is key to creating long-lasting memories and starting traditions with your family.

Choosing the perfect location

The ideal picnic spot is one that seamlessly blends natural beauty with convenience. The obvious and popular choice is local parks, which often offer amenities like tables and restrooms with picnicking in mind. As well, the open green spaces and equal access to shade offer a safe way to enjoy the outdoors. 

Outside of public parks, beaches provide a scenic backdrop with the additional benefit of a refreshing swim. Community gardens can offer a unique, serene and lesser-used setting for picnics surrounded by lush plant life. Least considered, but arguably the most convenient, is your own backyard which can easily and harmoniously be transformed into a personal and welcoming picnic haven. 

Incorporating fun and games

Adding games to your picnic can help to turn a simple meal into an engaging and memorable outdoor event. Classic outdoor games like Frisbee or disc golf require minimal equipment and can be enjoyed by all ages. Similarly, sack races and tug-of-war can be played with household items and foster team spirit. 

Interactive games like picnic blanket bingo, where guests mark off items they see around them, or a scavenger hunt that encourages exploration of the area, add an element of adventure. For those who prefer seated activities, bringing along a deck of cards or portable board games can provide entertainment without the need for physical exertion.

Enjoying the springtime

National Picnic Day is more than just an excuse to enjoy a meal outdoors; it’s a celebration of the simple pleasures in life. As the spring sun beckons, pack your basket with a feast of flavors, find your perfect spot and create lasting memories on this delightful day.

Take advantage of the spring weather with a picnic, where the joys of combining good food, good company and the beauty of nature come together. Whether it’s on April 23 or any other splendid spring day, let the spirit of National Picnic Day inspire you to savor the great outdoors in the most delicious way possible.

Cindy Rainey, an expert home cook with more than 40 years of general cooking experience and 10 years as a plant-based eater, is the creative force behind Veggie Fun Kitchen, a vegan recipe blog.  She has learned through trial, error and ultimately success what works best with vegan cooking. Cindy believes in the power of plants, joy in the kitchen and a delicious meal on the table. 

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