As we work through reopening parks, trails, and outdoor recreation sites, picnics and family mealtimes in the park are becoming more and more appealing. Here are my recommendations for creating simple foods and drinks to enjoy on a blanket or bench in the great outdoors. 

On a stick: You can put almost any food on a stick, and wooden skewers come in a variety of lengths. You can layer tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella balls with a balsamic dipping sauce for a traditional caprese treat, or mix it up with juicy blackberries, basil, and cheddar cubes (courtesy of Tina Vandenheuvel on Facebook). You can also stack cooked chicken pieces, roasted jalapeno halves, bacon, and pepper jack cheese for a deconstructed popper meal. Serve with ranch dressing. 

In a jar: Cold soup and salad are a perfect picnic combination. Try a raw, sun-cooked tomato soup. Combine soaked sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped fresh tomatoes, minced garlic, and fresh herbs in a jar and set in the sun, covered, for 3-4 hours. Season, run through a blender, pour into jars, and top with a drizzle of olive oil or chunks of avocado. Layer salad ingredients in another wide-mouth jar, starting with wet ingredients like chopped tomatoes and dressing and ending with greens on the top. Include some cooked quinoa or a nut and seed mix for added protein. When you’re ready to eat, just shake, open, and enjoy.  

Fill your cup: Whether you’re packing for two or a larger family, it helps to pre-mix creative drinks and just pour. I make my own simple and shrub syrups, from “Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times by Michael Dietsch, and mix them with soda water and ice in an insulated travel mug. Just be careful when opening—the carbonation builds up with heat! You can also steep some sun tea on your back while hiking to your destination. During quarantine, we also discovered how easy it is to make cocktails to go in a bottle, jar, or mug. Just keep in mind that some parks don’t allow alcohol.

Orginally published as “Get Out & Picnic” in the July-August 2020 issue.