Life’s a picnic
Having a picnic is about so much more than just eating. Sharing food is a wonderful way to introduce children to healthy foods and to the joys of shared eating. It is also an opportunity to relax yourselves and share time, conversation and support from your own friends and family. Like all the best activities, it can be done on a small or a grand scale.
Keep it Healthy
Planning and packing food gives you a great opportunity to create a healthy feast. This may be influenced by your cultural background, by what’s currently growing in your garden, what came in your vegie box, or what you have in the fridge and pantry.
Start with lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, so the food looks inviting and fresh.
Add some kind of protein; meat, chicken, nuts for the bigger kids (and if no one attending the picnic has an issue with nuts), cheese, vegan cheese (there are some truly delicious products available now), vegetarian dips containing legumes, fish etc.
Carbohydrates such as breadsticks, crackers or wraps can be useful to put it all together, but are not essential. I know many children who will eat these crackers or bread, whilst NOT eating other food on offer. If this is the case in your family, then experiment with a variety of different foods and leave the bread at home
Do know that a meal consisiting of a “bit of this and that” can be a very healthy way to eat? Providing a variety of foods (as long as the choices are food and not “food-like substances”) can definitely constitute a delicious and nutritious meal.
Presentation matters (a bit)
On beautiful days, given enough time to organise a picnic, you may have a chance to bring some cute platters, a nice tablecloth or a picnic blanket, plus cutlery, cute cups and plates etc… On other days you may just manage to scramble together the last apple, an open packet of crackers, a slice of cheese and some leftover chicken. It might be enough of an effort to just gather these things, and then you end up eating with your fingers because you forgot the utensils! It doesn’t really matter. What matters more is sharing food, sharing laughter, enjoying good company and going home tired, but with a smile on your face and some memories in the memory bank.
If you have a choice of food laid out on the ground, be aware of kids kicking, sand or dirt over it all. If you’re under trees you may get leaves, seeds or even bird pooh if you’re lucky!
Put all the food out as best you can, so it looks appealing. Eat with your fingers, or grab a plate. Then let the kids eat what they like. If all the choices are healthy, you can’t go too wrong. Too easy.
It is quite common for kids to under-eat at a picnic, and for adults to overeat! Kids spend most of their time running around, whilst adults sit down and graze. Your kids may require you to help them out with eating enough, or your may decide to leave a portion for them to eat on the way there, or on the way home, whatever works. You may need to work hard in the short-term to develop healthy long-term habits, but sometimes you might need to do whatever you need to do to get through the day. Don’t worry about the odd slip-up. Over time, and with many positive experiences, your kids will learn to eat when food is available and to regulate their choices and amounts.
If you need the kids to sit and eat, why not grab a plate and encourage them to make their own artistic display of food. Monsters, faces and gardens are always popular, but let your imaginations run wild and go with whatever inspires you or your child.
There are, of course, kids who will sit still, keep eating and not know when to stop! They may need some encouragement to run off and play and perhaps the picnic food is only left out for a short period of time in this case.
To dessert or not to dessert?
A really great picnic does not need to have cakes or sweets! I know others will disagree with me, and many people see sweet offerings as one of the great joys in life! I just like to challenge the notions we all have around food as they can be unhealthy and yet are easily changed. If your children are growing nicely, eat from a wide variety or foods and have no tooth decay or gut issues, then there is no problem with including some homemade cake in your meal. If any of these things are a problem, though, or your kids go “crazy” on sugar, then just don’t offer the sweet, sugary foods. It is very challenging for children to self-regulate their sugar consumption. Fights around how much sweet food they “should” eat can create too much tension, too many tantrums and is unfair on both the kids and their parents! If this is a problem for you, then an easy way to avoid troubles is to just not have any sweet food on offer. It might sound impossible, and may not be all that much fun the first time, so keep giving it a go until it’s your new normal and you’re all comfortable!!
A fruit platter is very common, can be very healthy and is a great way to add “sweet” or “dessert” food to your meal if you really can’t do without it. Put all the food out together, or wait until the savoury food is eaten first.
Picnics are for regular meals, for special occasions, for a few and for many.
Get in the kitchen and play around with some new recipes and then serve the food on the lawn.
Stay inside and have an ant-free picnic on the kitchen table.
Get outside, go to a beautiful, peaceful and secluded park, or head to your local beach or pool.