For our family, 2020 has been the year of many things. One of the brighter sides it has taken on is The Year of the Picnic.
Back in March and April, when we were all staying at home and leaving only for the grocery store, my family and I escaped outside, enjoying nature however we could from the boundaries of our yard.
We took our picnic blanket and spread it out on our front lawn. We piled plastic plates high with sandwiches, carrot sticks, and fruit, and stretched out as our toddlers ran around in circles between bites, releasing some of their pent-up energy.
We built a deck and an outdoor sectional so that when we finally got our children down, we had a place to unwind with a glass of wine that was not in the confines of our four walls. Our girls had s’mores made over an outdoor fire for the first time this year, a post-dinner highlight for both of them after another day spent at home.
As time went on, we grew a little braver and began venturing a little farther from our lawn. We packed enough food for an afternoon out, and left in search of a secluded river or lakeside patch of ground to picnic on.
We started out with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, and apple slices, but as I became more skilled at packing picnics, I began to elaborate on my menu. As April turned into May, I began making baguettes from scratch for Italian sub sandwiches, homemade granola bars that could be pulled out at the summit of a hike, and biscotti and chocolate chip cookies, wrapped carefully so they wouldn’t lose their shape during the journey.
We went outside in search of a change of scenery, a new perspective, the warmth of the sun on our faces. I think we were also looking for some semblance of our life before the lockdown, a place that was indifferent to pandemics or new policies or restrictions. We wanted to be part of a place, just for a little while, that carried on regardless of what was going on in the world.
So we found ourselves packing up our yellow-checkered picnic basket, turning off our phones, and finding a place that belonged, for that little while we spread out there, only to us.
Fresh Air, Fresh Experiences
What is it about eating outdoors that draws us? For one, I think it is more intentional than eating inside. Even in our homes, a take-out burrito eaten on our porch feels more thought-out and special than one eaten standing at the kitchen counter.
Packing up a picnic to eat in a canoe on a lake, or near a stream, or spread out on a blanket in the middle of a meadow makes me feel like I am nourishing more than just my body. I am giving my family the gift of an experience, and I am giving myself the opportunity to be fed by both my lunch and the beauty around me.
My husband grew up in the area where we live, and we have used this season of more unscheduled time to explore some of the places he went as a child. We visited a state park his great aunt used to take him to when he was young, and our daughters skipped rocks in the same creek he used to while we drank our cold brew coffees from our camp chairs. My husband taught our oldest how to fish while I munched on homemade hummus and pita bread.
In a season when life with small children has felt restrictive—there are so many limitations on play, parks, gyms, and libraries—spending so much time with them outside has felt freeing. We’ve watched our daughters explore, practice swimming, and try new foods, and we’ve had candid conversations we didn’t often get to before, amid our usual busyness and routines at home.
Some picnics have not gone according to plan. The lake picnic we packed for an afternoon on a rowboat we rented probably would have tasted good, had my 1-year-old not thrown the sandwiches into the water as we were launching. And maybe it would have been peaceful, had we not also discovered that afternoon that my 3-year-old gets motion sickness.
But overall, we have never regretted the extra effort and thought that goes into packing a meal to enjoy outside. It is a gift to be able to step away from all the demands and distractions of daily life and spend time together in such an intentional way.
Eating together outside offers new perspectives and opportunities to connect. To be outside together reminds me once again of how much beauty remains in the world: both in nature and in my own family.
Tips and Suggestions for Picnicking With Kids
However or wherever you decide to picnic, make the intentional choice to spend time with your family or friends and go outside. You won’t regret it.
Pack Some Kid-Friendly Foods …
I always try to pack foods my children will enjoy, to ensure they get a proper lunch. The go-tos in our house include clementines, cheese sticks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and of course, chocolate chip cookies.
And Some Fancier Foods for the Adults
Our picnic game goes up a level any time I pack cheese and crackers, a sandwich on homemade bread, or a frittata. Slice and assemble everything beforehand so that it’s easy to eat outside.
Bring a Book
Sometimes I bring a classic chapter book to read to our girls while we eat. We’ve been working through Beatrix Potter’s stories lately, and it’s been fun to read them in a place where we might actually spot a rabbit, frog, squirrel, or perhaps even a fox.
Most of our picnics this summer have finished up with us in the water. Discovering a new swimming hole or creek to dip in on a hot day makes for a memorable experience.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com.