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May 22, 2024

Family Picnic Dinner – al Fresco!

A family picnic dinner is a fun family outing anytime the weather allows and is also a great solution for when your kids' sports games and practices clash with dinnertime. Bringing a picnic to the game or practice helps you plan an easy and wholesome homemade family dinner. Plus, if a treat is offered after a game or a practice, your children can enjoy it after they eat their dinner instead of having a sweet treat before dinner and ruining their appetite.

Here are some ideas to help you get your picnic dinners planned and packed.

Setting Up Your Family Picnic

Caterina De Falco with her family picnic basket easy family dinners

The first step is to gather what you will need, and store everything together so it's ready to grab at picnic time. You can pack your picnic in a picnic basket, or a cooler with wheels is also handy. Then, stock your favorite tote bag with a picnic blanket, washable non-breakable plates, silverware, and napkins so everything is ready to go. I also tuck in two bags, one to use as a trash bag and one for the dirty dishes. After your picnic, wash the plates and silverware and put them back in the tote so they are ready for the next time.

To gather your picnic items, start by looking around your house. You may already have many of the items you need. If you don't have everything, you can find non-breakable plates, cutlery, and food containers at a dollar store or discount home goods store. Also, consider choosing a water-resistant blanket to protect you from the damp grass. One that's washable makes cleanup easy. Here are some examples on Amazon.


Your List of Picnic Meals

Next, make a list of menu ideas to plan your picnics. Keeping a list of ideas for first courses, main dishes, and third courses allows you to mix and match them to create new and exciting meals without constantly coming up with new ideas. Picking a few different courses will also offer variety and ensure there is something everyone will enjoy. Here are some ideas for first, second, and third courses that can be prepared ahead of time—many don't require any cooking.

First Course Ideas

Veggies with Homemade Dip

Pesto is fabulous dip for vegetables, and it's packed with nutrients. It is also quick to make using a mini food processor. Pesto can be frozen, so you have it on hand when needed.

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Chilled Soups

Chilled soups like tomato and cucumber gazpacho are excellent picnic ideas that are delicious chilled or at room temperature. You can make them ahead of time, store them in the fridge, and they are ready to serve.

Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho easy family recipe
Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho

Summer is a great time to make roasted tomato soup with ripe summer tomatoes. It's delicious cold, family-friendly, and it freezes well, so you can enjoy it warm in the winter, too.

Chilled melon soup made with merely melon, basil, and lemon makes a refreshing summer soup and is as effortless as making a smoothie. 

melon soup easy weeknight dinner for famillies
Melon Soup

Simple Combinations

A first course is as simple as combining a few fresh ingredients. The classic Italian dish of sliced melon and prosciutto doesn't require any cooking and is fabulous in the heat of summer. Just pack the sliced melon and prosciutto, and this course is ready to go.

Caterina placing a platter of cantaloupe melon and prosciutto on the table in the garden easy family dinners
Melon and Prosciutto

Something as simple as grapes and gouda cheese is a delightful and wholesome first course. Placing them on toothpicks is lovely and useful when entertaining, but for a family picnic, just pack them in containers. Kids love this.

A Tray full of green grapes and gouda cheese on toothpicks easy family appetizers
Grapes and Gouda

The easy-to-prepare options for picnic salads are endless. For example, fresh arugula with watermelon and lemon dressing: just pack up some arugula and chopped watermelon, along with a container of lemon dressing, and toss everything together at the picnic. 

Watermelon and arugula salad with lemon dressing healthy family dinner
Arugula Watermelon Salad

Second Course Ideas

Roast Meat

Cold roast meat is an ideal choice for summer picnics. In the south of France, this is a typical main dish idea for summer parties, and for good reason. It is suitable for the summer heat, satisfying, and can be made ahead of time, so it's convenient. You can roast meats like sirloin, pork, or chicken and serve chilled as is, or with pesto, aioli, or a good Dijon mustard on the side - and have a feast! Remember this idea for summer entertaining at home, too.

pan seared steak and pesto easy weeknight family dinner
Roast Sirloin
ham steak and dijon mustard easy family dinner
Ham Steak and Dijon Mustard

Savory Breads

Savory quick breads made with cheese, vegetables, or sausage are a delightful main dish and a kid favorite. They are also convenient to make because quick breads do not need to rise. Just mix the ingredients together and bake—it's like making a savory muffin. You can make a batch or two of savory bread to freeze; then, it's ready for your picnics when you need it.

Gruyère Cheese and Sausage casserole easy makeahead family breakfast
Ham and Cheese & Spinach and Feta

More Main Course and Side Dish Ideas

Cold pasta salad is hands down a kids' favorite, and you can add anything to it, such as fresh basil, sausage, tomatoes, peas, ham, and parmesan cheese. The possibilities are infinite, and they are simple to make. Toss cooked pasta with your choice of additions, a bit of olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper, and you'll have a delight.

To please everyone, place your cooked pasta in two containers and add different ingredients to each. You don’t need much more time to do this, just a few yummy ideas.

Italian Sausage, Tomato, and Basil Parmesan pasta salad easy family dinner
Italian Sausage, Tomato, and Basil Parmesan
Ham, Pea, Mint, and Parmesan  pasta salad healthy family dinner
Ham, Pea, Mint, and Parmesan
Pearl Pasta with Parsley, Lemon, and Tomato or Tabouleh easy family dinner
Tabouleh or Pearl Pasta with Parsley, Lemon, and Tomato, and Olive Oil

Classics - With a French Twist

Of course, we can't forget about classic picnic salads such as potato salad and coleslaw. To make these salads extra special and nutritious, toss them with a simple homemade vinaigrette dressing. You can make a potato salad with potatoes only or add green beans or cooked Italian or German sausage to create variations.

French potato salad. Potaotes, green beans parsley and French vinaigrette easy family side dish
Potato and Green Bean Salad with Vinaigrette

Something Special and Simple

Have you ever thought about bringing chilled shrimp for your family picnic dinner? If everyone loves shrimp, why not? It's easy and a delightful treat!

I discovered this dish at a friend's party, and it has been on my family menu ever since. Whipped avocado served with shrimp is a wonderful summer picnic idea. Here's the recipe.

I came up with the following idea by combining leftovers, and now it's a summer go-to: toast with herbed butter, cucumber, and shrimp. It’s simple to make: Mix fresh herbs and butter for your herb butter. I also like to add sea salt, some garlic, and maybe a touch of lemon juice. Spread your herbed butter on toast and top with what you like!

Shrimp with Cucumber and Herbed Butter on Toast easy family side dish
Shrimp with Cucumber and Herbed Butter on Toast

Use Your Leftovers

When you are thinking of what to pack for your picnic, remember you can pack leftovers and other ingredients you have on hand to make a few courses. Maybe you can pack some shrimp, veggies, and pesto or leftover steamed veggies and pasta tossed with olive oil to make a cold pasta salad. Pack up what you have, and everyone can choose what they want. 

Are you starting to think of courses you would enjoy together? I would love leftover roast chicken and leftover steamed asparagus with an easy Dijon sauce. Or, with this next easy idea, a Clafoutis.

Asparagus and dijon sauce easy family side dish
Steamed Vegetables and Dijon Sauce

Clafoutis

Clafoutis is one of my favorite picnic dishes. It's like a crustless quiche, delicious warm or at room temperature, and you can put just about anything in it — ham, cheese, vegetables, chicken and asparagus, or any combination.

Ham and cheese clafoutis easy weeknight dinner family
Ham and Cheese Clafoutis

Ratatouille

When you are planning your courses, remember you can easily modify them to please everyone. For example, if everyone loves the savory vegetable stew Ratatouille, you can pack some plain Ratatouille and also some Ratatouille mixed with pasta to give everyone a choice. I love it plain, and my kids love it with pasta. Add to that some charcuterie to offer some meat for those who care for it and a third course, and you will have a magnificent meal to please everyone.

a bowl of ratatouille and pasta with basil easy family dinner weeknight
Ratatouille with Pasta
Dried sausage for charcuterie board easy family picnic
Charcuterie - Dried Sausage Rolled in Herbs de Provence

Third Course Ideas

Fruit Salad

Fruit salad makes a fabulous and healthy third course. Make your fruit salad the night before, and it's even better the following day when the fruit juices have blended. Fresh orange juice is a secret to making a fabulous fruit salad. You can also add a sprinkle of French orange water to create something new and exciting. Orange water is an exciting ingredient to add to your kitchen. You can learn more about orange water here.

A bowl of fruit salad  easy weeknight side dish
Fruit salad with fresh orange juice, zest, and basil.
Mixed berries with orange water easy weeknight dessert family
French Orange WaterMixed berries with orange water.

Fruit Clafoutis

Clafoutis can be savory, as implied above, or sweet, and they make a divine summer dessert. I often serve a clafoutis with a light dinner to round out the meal and satisfy everyone. You can make a fruit clafoutis with in season rhubarb, plums, pears, or berries.

Clafouti with strawberries, cherries and rhubarb easy family dessert
Cherry, Strawberry, and Rhubarb Clafoutis. Made with what I had on hand.
Plum Clafoutis easy weeknight dessert family
Plum Clafoutis

Clafoutis are divine and so simple to make. They are proof that simple food can be delectable and divine, as is this next idea.

The French Cheese Course

Cheese and baguette isn’t only for picnicking along the Seine River in Paris, it’s a great family picnic idea. All you need is a few slices of good after-dinner cheese and baguette, and that's it.

Fresh Fruit

The perfect third course can be as easy as fresh fruit of the season. There's nothing quite like sweet cherries, juicy plums, or melon at its peak freshness.

Rainier cherries in a bowl

When you want to mix things up a bit, chilled fruit soup is divine and simple to make by simmering berries for a few minutes. With fresh, flavorful ingredients and easy ideas like this, you will make the most amazing picnics.

A bowl of fruit soup made with strawberries, bluberries and raspberries easy family dessert
Fruit soup made with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, fresh orange juice, and zest.

Make Your Family Picnic Menu

Start planning your family picnic today. Write down what supplies you need to get and then make your ideas list. An easy way to list your meal ideas is to begin with three columns on a piece of paper and label them First Course, Second Course, and Third Course. Then, write down all of your ideas. If you need some more inspiration, you can search for ideas based on the ingredients your family likes. For example, if everyone loves cucumbers, Google "What to make with cucumbers." You will find suggestions for cold cucumber salads and chilled cucumber soups. When I didn't have many first course options, I found a sliced cucumber with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh dill or basil is divine, and you can pack this in a picnic.

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Cucumber, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Freshly Ground Pepper, and Fresh Dill
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Cucumber, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Freshly Ground Pepper, and Fresh Dill

Remember, your delicious ideas can be very simple and require little or no cooking.

Once you have a few ideas, you can mix and match them to create different menus, and your picnics will always be exciting. Investing a bit of time upfront will pay you back for years to come.

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My daughter with homemade pizza at my son's baseball game.

Everything is possible! Be a trendsetter this summer, and have fun sharing your ideas with envious onlookers at your next ball game.

You may also be interested in:

Caterina DeFalco and her family eating at their table outside

The Benefits of Eating in Courses

  • It is easier to eat slower.
  • It helps with weight management.
  • It offers a wide variety of foods, creating nutritionally balanced meals.
  • It helps with portion control.
  • It is relaxing, which can reduce stress.
  • It increases the enjoyment of food, helping you become more emotionally and physically satiated and less likely to snack later.
Two peppermills on a wooden table outside with vines in the background and tellicherry peppercorns on the table.

Tellicherry Peppercorns - Discover why freshly ground pepper is best.

The type of pepper you use can make all the difference in taste and nutrients. Black pepper has a long history of use in traditional medicine, with many health benefits attributed to its consumption. It is said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may even help improve digestion. Some studies have shown that black pepper can help increase the absorption of certain nutrients from food.

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Celtic Salt - A Healthy Salt

Choosing the right salt can significantly impact your health and the taste of your food. Celtic sea salt is more nutritious than table salt due to its natural balance and spectrum of minerals. It provides over 74 vital trace minerals and elements to the body. Celtic Sea Salt also contains significantly more calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and less sodium than iodized table salt.

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Easy Tomato Sauce for Your Pizza

Tomato sauce is an essential ingredient for quick and easy home-cooked meals, and homemade sauce offers a vibrant flavor that jarred sauces just can't match. It's remarkably easy to make, and once you've tasted the difference, you'll never go back to the jar.

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