Dinning Alfresco- 4 menus to help up your summer picnic game

Unless you live in Texas or someplace tropical, spring and summer present the ideal time of year to dine alfresco. Between ball games, movies in the park, and outdoor music festivals we all have ample opportunity to soak up lots of vitamin D the natural way. The unfortunate part is that with all those summer fun activities you can end up spending absorbent amounts of money on fast food that’s let’s face it, not very good for you. So, why not a summer picnic or two?

Picnics are the perfect way to have more control over what you’re eating and enjoy some luxurious bites while you’re relaxing in the shade and listening to jazz in the park. They are also great for exploring new cities and tasting their regional flavors without the full restaurant cost. Below we’ve laid out some picnic essentials and four menus you can try for your next outing. Your local grocery story is bound to have a few of these already made to keep things even more simple and carefree.

The Essentials:
  1. Large blanket or foldable chairs
  2. Picnic basket or cooler bags
  3. Cups, dinnerware, cutlery, and napkins
  4. Fresh-cut fruit
  5. Water

These are the essential items you’ll need no matter what menu you decide to go for.

French Style – As you can imagine, the French have a delicate and simplistic palette in comparison to some other cultures. They like to mix salty with sweet for a more savory experience.

Image: Ham and Camembert sandwich from chowstatic.com

What to pack

  • 2 Cheese: creamy and spreadable (Examples: brie or chevre) and hard sliceable (example: Cheddar or Pecorino)
  • French Baguette (this version is much harder than the Italian version)
  • Meats: Roasted Chicken sliced or cured ham
  • Salted butter
  • Preserves (raspberry, apricot, quince, or fig are divine)  
  • Wine or Sparkling cider
  • Yogurt Pound Cake

All American Style – The American menu is much heavier compared to its international cousins. With many more savory notes than sweet. It includes traditional fair you can make ahead of time for the day of the event.

Image: All American Picnic from Carissashaw.com

What to pack

  • Picnic Chicken – Fried chicken cooked that morning or the previous evening
  • Cold Salads: Potato Salad, Pasta Salad, Tuna Salad, or Egg Salad
  • Watermelon or Watermelon Salad (try: watermelon, basil, feta cheese, salt, and pepper)
  • Cold cuts and sliced cheeses
  • Pimento Cheese
  • Crackers or sliced bread
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Potato Chips

Italian Style – If you can imagine the warm scents of basil and tomato cooking, think about how magical an alfresco Italian picnic would be on a nice hot day. Italian picnics are also savory in nature with hints of sweet and freshness from fruits and herbs like tomato, peppers, oregano and basil.

Image: Italian picnic from Sunset Magazine

What to Pack

  • Italian baguette or bread (Softer than French bread)
  • Charcuterie – something like sliced Prosciutto, Salami, pepperoni, etc.
  • 2 Cheeses: pecorino, manchego, or marinated mozzarella
  • Caprese Salad (Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar)
  • Marinated Stuffed Peppers or olives, or tapenades
  • Bean Salads
  • Panzanella “bread salad”- (Mix day old baguette with fresh tomato, cucumbers, basil, olives, and onion with Italian dressing)
  • Lemon pound cake

Mediterranean Style This menu is full of fresh heart-healthy items that will definitely help you stay cool in the heat. The Mediterranean diet is generally lighter and thus this is an easy alfresco mix of things you can pick up in small quantities premade at your local grocery store, or if you’re well versed in their cooking, make them at home.

Image: Mediterranean picnic from allevents.com

What to Pack

  • Pita, Pita chips, or tortilla chips
  • Hummus – this is made from ground chickpeas and usually, has a wonderfully creamy consistency
  • Dolma- better known as wrapped grape leaves filled with rice and other spices marinated in oil Tabbouleh Salad – made from bulgar wheat, garlic, and herbs
  • Roasted chicken
  • Garden Salad with feta- dressed with olive oil and vinegar
  • Marinated Feta and Olives
  • Fresh raw veggies, like cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and celery
  • Dried Fruit
  • Baba Ganoush – a spread made from eggplants and garlic
  • Beet Salad

From these menu options, you can always mix and match or pick as many or as few things as you like depending on what you love to eat and how many people you’ll be dining with. If you’re the make at home type, many of the recipes for items mentioned can easily be found online and you can always make things to your taste specifications at home.

Tip: Frozen water bottles can serve double duty as the perfect ice pack to keep things cold and keep you refreshed and hydrated when you need a drink.

Tell us what you like to pack for your summer picnics?

Jamila Taylor

World traveler, strategic planner, stylist, and food enthusiast. Jamila loves to travel the world tasting new flavors, and exploring local cultures. When she's not traveling on her magic carpet she's helping small businesses through her boutique consulting firm, Enjoy the Day Consulting. Follow her travels @justjamila


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