Picnic lunches can be one of life’s simplest pleasures, especially with little kids in tow. Fresh air, sunshine and no kitchen cleanup! Since Lilian’s preschool lets out at 12:30, a handful of parents have developed a pretty regular habit of picnicking on the lawn after school whenever the weather permits. Rather than each family packing and eating their own individual lunch, most of us have started packing things potluck style. I refer to it as the “stone soup” method of picnicking and I absolutely love it.
Instead of simply packing a few sandwiches and chips for our own kids, each parent contributes a large quantity of a few items and we count on the group to collectively create a cohesive meal (just like the old folk story about Stone Soup). One person might have a dozen string cheese sticks and a bag of clementines. They bring those. Someone else brings roasted almonds and popcorn. One mom who lives near the school is famous for walking down the street with a freshly baked Tombstone pizza, cut into tiny squares.
We spread out our blankets, hand out paper plates and the kids politely help themselves. Even if a parent didn’t get the picnic memo (word typically spreads at morning drop off or via text), there’s always plenty to share. Extra kids and parents are always invited to sit down and dig in.
Packing is so easy for these impromptu gatherings. Just check the fridge or pantry for whatever items you have in quantity. Finger foods and single serve items seem to work best with little kids in a picnic format, so I use that as my guide. Typically, I try to bring at least one item from each food group to help ensure we’re all getting some balance. Pack bulk items in large, shallow food storage containers that are easy for little hands to grab from without tipping.
I love watching as the kids try new things too. Picky eaters seem more open to new foods when they see their besties chowing on them. This past week, I brought roasted chickpeas and fava beans as one of our offerings. They’re loaded with fiber and protein but have an appealing salty crunch that kids love. Lillian ran up to each friend and said “here…try a fava bean!” to my utter amazement, each child complied and nodded their approval.
The one item we each pack for our own family is water. The kids usually spend most of the picnic running around, climbing equipment and generally working up a sweat, so I’m always sure to pack an icy cold bottle of water for each of us.
With the school year winding down, I’m hoping we can keep our stone soup picnics going throughout the summer at our favorite parks and the pool. If you’re planning you’re own picnic, following these tips for giving the “Stone Soup” Method a go:
Stone Soup Picnic Pointers:
- Set Your Intention: When coordinating your picnic, be sure to suggest the stone soup method before folks start making sandwiches or it won’t work out. Tell folks to pack whatever they have in large amounts (its a great way to clean out the fridge).
- Get Creative: I love that mom who brings frozen pizza. It may not be typical picnic fare but its always a hit with the group.
- Finger Foods Rule: Think of it like a cocktail party at the park. Cut up fruit, veggies, cheese cubes, chips and dip are great choices. Keep in mind that kids will likely be running/crawling/rolling through the picnic zone, so pack things in sturdy containers that can be covered up to avoid spills.
- Cover your bases: Even if you’re only contributing a few items, make sure they cover a variety of food groups. I tend to bring vegetarian proteins (roasted chickpeas, Chobani yogurt tubes, Snappea Crisps) and veggies since I know those are two areas that aren’t always covered by others.
- Drink UP!: Don’t rely on the group for beverages. Sometimes someone might bring juice boxes but with all the running around the kids are doing, those don’t go very far. Water bottles are a must (we love our Contigo bottles!).
- The More, the Merrier: If you notice other friends in the area sans picnic, be sure to speak up and invite them to join you. Even if all they can offer is their company, there will be plenty of food to go around and you’ll all feel happier as a result.
- The Extras: In addition to a picnic blanket and a sturdy, insulated lunch sac (I love the ones from PackIt that can be left in the freezer overnight), throw some sunscreen, hand sanitizer and baby wipes in your bag. Trust me you’ll be thankful you did.
Note: Some of the picnic gear shown in images was provided to me free-of-charge for an upcoming article I’m writing for TheInspiredHome.com. I was not otherwise compensated for this blog post and all thoughts and opinions are my own.