By SARA ARTHURS
With the right venue and the right menu, a picnic can be a special way to celebrate summer. Do it right and it may be something your children will remember for decades to come.
Karen McDougall, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistant at Ohio State University Extension, Hancock County, suggests “bringing something totally unexpected” to a picnic, such as a creamy grape salad, which is “nice and refreshing” but a little different than usual picnic food.
Melissa Hehmann, an Indianapolis-based healthy living adviser and dietitian for Meijer, also recommended a grape dish. She said fruit kebabs are one fun possibility. Grapes can be frozen, then put on kebabs “so they’re almost like a popsicle,” she said.
It doesn’t cost much to have a picnic, and can be as simple as peanut butter and crackers, McDougall said.
She recommended looking at MyPlate, the federal government’s nutrition recommendations, for food groups to include. A protein can be chicken salad or egg salad, among other things, and grains should include some whole grains. She said it’s hard to take milk, however, on a picnic.
Andre Grotrian, manager at the Great Scot grocery on Main Cross Street, said a trend is more salads with items like baby spinach, and less interest in potato salads.
“The fresh salads have become a lot more popular,” said deli/bakery manager Nicole Tipple.
Shredded chicken is popular, while other lunch meats “not so much,” she said. She said smoking meats is also a picnic trend.
When it comes to weekend picnics, self-lighting charcoal is more popular than the kind that requires fluid, Grotrian said.
And for dessert, people love cheesecake, Tipple said.
In the summer, Great Scot packages cookies onto Frisbees, so a family can eat the cookies and then play with the Frisbee.
Hehmann also suggested Mason jar salads, with dressing on the bottom, then lettuce, then other ingredients. Close the jar, then shake it once you get to the picnic.
Adults might have sparkling wine and children might have sparkling soda with fresh berries in it. “Even making sandwiches into shapes … Stars or flowers,” Hehmann said.
Hehmann said food possibilities can be a balance between the healthy and the indulgent. Fresh fruits and vegetables are important but there is room for dessert, too, she said.
“Charcuterie is a big thing now,” and cut cheeses and meats can be easily put into containers, along with breads, she said.
McDougall said it’s important to pay attention to food safety to avoid food-borne diseases. “Keep hot things hot, cold things cold,” she said.
Shawn Ochs, extension educator, family and consumer sciences at OSU Extension, said a picnic doesn’t need to be grandiose. She recalled during her childhood how her father would purchase meat, hoagie rolls, cheese and chips, then head off with the children. “Spontaneity is so important,” she said.
Ochs suggests keeping a picnic blanket in the car for when the urge to have a picnic strikes. She also suggests keeping wet wipes.
Hehmann said the most memorable part of a picnic when she was a child was not necessarily the food but “who you were with.” She encouraged families to get the children involved in helping come up with a theme and perhaps having blankets or foods that go with the theme, as well as games.
And spend time interacting with one another, she said. “Turn off the phones,” she said.
Elizabeth Beidelschies, reference librarian at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, organizes the library’s cookbook club, which featured picnic cookbooks in June. The cookbooks discussed were “A Perfect Day for a Picnic” by Tori Finch; “The Picnic Cookbook” by Annie Bell; and “Picnic 125 Recipes” by Dee Dee Stovel.
Beidelschies said three people attended the cookbook club meeting, which has been typical.
“They reminisced a lot about picnics they went on as children,” she said.
Those attending, most of whom were grandparents, said their own grandchildren were not as interested in picnics as they had been when they were young. The club members also noted that the picnic cookbooks they discussed were “a lot fancier than what they had experienced,” Beidelschies said.
McDougall said a picnic venue could be as simple as sitting in a family’s backyard. But Findlay and surrounding communities offer many other options. “I think Riverbend is a beautiful park,” McDougall said.
Tifani Boltz, marketing manager for the Hancock Park District, said many local parks could make good venues. Riverbend Recreation Area is “awesome” and there’s “a beautiful shelter” at Litzenberg Memorial Woods, she said. She said Oakwoods and Riverside parks would also be good choices.
Jamie Mehaffie, village administrator for Bluffton, said both Buckeye Park and Village Park have shelterhouses available for picnics. Shelterhouses can be reserved ahead of time, but this is not necessary. Mehaffie said the Village Park’s large shelterhouse has a kitchenette and is often used for larger family gatherings.
Buckeye Park is attractive for picnics because of its proximity to a playground, swimming pool, shuffleboard courts and the lake. Village Park, with baseball and soccer fields, is “more of an active recreation park,” Mehaffie said.
McDougall also touched on recreation, pointing out that adults need 30 minutes of physical activity each day. She recommended that, after eating, the picnickers go for a walk.
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