How To Plan the Perfect Spring Picnic

Spring is such a fantastic season. Not only do the flowers bloom and the grass turns bright green but the weather is simply gorgeous, not too hot and never too cold. This is when we all come out of our hibernation and start planning outdoor activities. This is the perfect excuse to get some friends together on a sunny afternoon and have a picnic.

Before you gather all your friends together, there are a few things we need to go over so you will be well prepared for this fun and joyous day. Here is a list to help you start planning the best spring picnic.

  • Date: Obviously you are going to want to pick a day when all your guests can come and join in on the fun. Also make sure to check ahead on the weather forecast. I wouldn't try and check too far in advance, the meteorologists can try to predict the weather, but there's never a 100% guarantee. Just keep your eyes open for any changes.
  • Time: You want to schedule the picnic around having enough daylight for food and activities. If you have it on a Saturday you can pick whatever time you want for the picnic to start. A lot of people don't have to wake up early on Sunday for work so none of your guests will feel pressed for time. However, if you decide to have the picnic on Sunday I suggest thinking about having your guests meet you around 11ish, that way you will have the whole afternoon to eat and enjoy the activities outside.
  • Location: Nothing beats a great picnic in a big fantastic park. Usually parks have a special shaded picnic area for the public. If you have a park in mind, go check it out before you start telling your friends to go there. Also try and find a park with a lot of grass area so once everyone is done eating you can play some fun outdoor activities. If there will be children coming along, having a big playground would be key.
  • Invitations: A simple phone call would work for this type of party but if you decide to send out invitations check out some of these links below. Don't go out and buy invitations when you can just spend a few minutes on the computer and pick out some free printable cards to send out.
  • More than just the picnic basket: Though food is what's important at a picnic, you can also plan on bringing games and planning activities as well to keep your guests happy and having fun on this gorgeous spring day. Here are a few items you should think about packing and bringing with you to the park:
    • Deck of cards and poker chips
    • Football
    • Whiffle ball and bat along with some plastic baseball plates
    • Frisbee
    • Bocce Ball Set
  • You should also have a list made ahead of time with what supplies you need so you forget anything. You don't want to get to the picnic site and realize your forgot something. Here is a starter list for you:
    • Sun Screen
    • Garbage Bags
    • Plastic Utensils (bring extra) and paper or plastic plates
    • Paper Napkins
    • Paper Towels
    • Corkscrew (if drinking wine)
    • Bottle Opener (for the beer drinkers)
    • Insect Repellent
    • Hand Sanitizer
    • Cooler for beverages and food

Now for the important part, the food. Since most parks don't supply you will a grill, assume you don't have one for this day. And considering you will be having a pretty decent amount of people coming, you will want to be able to socialize rather than cook all day. The easiest thing you can do is buy an assortment of deli meats along with French bread rolls and lots of condiments. Not only is this easy to pack but gives you more time to prepare and make some of the side dishes.

Spinach Dip

  • 1 frozen pkg. chopped spinach
  • 1 loaf sheepherder's bread
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 envelope dry vegetable soup mix
  • 3 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small can water chestnuts, chopped (optional)

Put the frozen spinach in a colander and run water over it until it is thawed out (or put it in the refrigerator ahead of time to thaw it out). While you are doing this, cut the top of the bread off to make a bowl. Chop up the top of the bread and save it to use for the dip. Scoop out the bottom part of the bread to make a place for the dip. Wring out the spinach with your hands to get out all the water. Mix all the ingredients together (except the bread) and put in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Fill the bread bowl with the dip and serve with the bread, crackers or vegetables.

Vegetable Dip

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1 teaspoon onion flakes

Combine all ingredients. For Spinach Dip: add 1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen spinach, defrosted, drained & squeezed out excess liquid with paper towels.

Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil Vinaigrette

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

In a large serving dish, alternate slices of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with oil, vinegar and basil. Season with salt and pepper.

  • Yields: 6 servings

Spring Salad

For Salad:
  • 3 cups washed baby spinach leaves
  • 3 cups washed and torn salad greens
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 2 kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup snow pea pods
  • 1/4 cup mandarin orange slices
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
For Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Toss together the spinach leaves, salad greens and other salad ingredients in a large bowl. For dressing, combine the orange juice, honey, mustard, poppy seeds and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl until well mixed. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until the dressing is mixed. Toss the dressing with the salad or serve on the side.

  • Yields: 6 servings

Fresh Fruit Salad

  • 6 cups mixed fresh fruit:
    • Strawberries, Oranges, Pineapple and Kiwis
    • Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries in the summer
    • Oranges, Pineapple, Kiwi, Mango, Papaya, and Star fruit are nicely tropical and good with exotic food like Pacific Fusion or Indian cuisine.
    • Apples, Oranges, Grapes, and Bananas in the winter
    • Watermelon, Cantaloupe, and Honeydew Melon
  • 1 cup Simple Syrup (1 cup sugar mixed with 1 cup water, brought to a boil, and simmered for 5 minutes)
  • Seasonings for the syrup (such as a few spoonfuls of brandy or liqueur, lemon or lime peel and juice, or ginger julienne)
  • A decoratively cut piece of fruit, candied fruit peel, candied ginger, mint leaves, etc. -- for garnish

Prepare the simple syrup. (We make it by the quart and store it in a jar in the refrigerator.) If you like, you can add seasoning to the syrup and let it soak up their flavorings for 60 minutes or more, before adding the syrup to the fruit. Strain the syrup before adding it to the fruit. Cut up the fruit in attractive pieces. Arrange the fruit in a large bowl (we like layers in a glass bowl, especially well). Pour over the syrup and chill.

French Potato Salad

  • 7 potatoes, approximately 2 pounds
  • 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon red hot pepper flakes

Rinse and drain the potatoes but do not peel them. Put them in a large saucepan. Add cold water to cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Cut the potatoes lengthwise in half. Cut each half into thin slices. Put the potatoes in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, including pepper. Stir gently.

  • Yields: 10 servings

Red and White Potato Salad

  • 2 pounds small new red potatoes (about 12)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sliced radishes
  • Hard-cooked egg slices, optional for garnish
  • Fresh dill sprigs for garnish

Place potatoes in a large pot, add salted water to cover, and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and slice while warm. Place potatoes in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix vinegar, mustard, salt, dill, pepper and garlic. Gradually whisk in oil until well combined. Pour oil mixture over warm potatoes, stirring gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Gently mix in onion and parsley. Blend mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth, and fold into salad. Cover and refrigerate from 1 to 3 hours. Just before serving, gently mix in radishes. Garnish with egg slices and dill sprigs, if using.

Pasta and Fresh Fruit

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked spiral pasta (plain, not tri-colored)
  • 1 - 8 oz. can pineapple chunks
  • 1 - 8 oz. carton peach yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
  • 1 cup seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh strawberries, sliced

Cook pasta according to package directions; rinse in cold water and drain. Cool completely. Drain pineapple, reserving 2 Tbs. juice; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, sour cream and reserved pineapple juice until smooth; cover and refrigerate.

In a large bowl, combine pasta, pineapple, cantaloupe and grapes. Just before serving, stir in strawberries and pour yogurt mixture over top of salad.

Tip: To cut down on calories and fat, you can opt to use non-fat yogurt and sour cream. You can add your favorite fruits to this salad and make it even more colorful and tasty.

Italian Pasta Salad

  • 16 oz. rotini pasta
  • 8 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup Italian dressing
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 1/4 sliced ripe olives, drained
  • 1 large cucumber, coarsely chopped

Cook and drain pasta, rinse with cold water. Mix tomato sauce, dressing, basil, and oregano. Add remaining ingredients and toss.

When it comes to beverages, what you need to decide first off is whether you are supplying all the beverages or if you are asking your guests to bring something.

Once this is decided, make sure there is enough pop (diet and regular), water, beer and wine to go around.

Most importantly, right before you get to the picnic site, go to a nearby gas station and stock up on plenty of ice to keep all your beverages and food (if needed to be refrigerated) cold.

Editor's Note: For many more great recipe ideas for side dishes please visit Recipe4Living.com. © 2007 Ampere Media LLC, All Rights Reserved Recipe4Living.com features more than 11,000 user submitted recipes, ideas and recipes from Wolfgang Puck, reference guides, healthy living advice, tips for kids, and much more.

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