Afternoons were whiled away with friends, chatting, laughing and tucking into unhealthy food that was filled with gluten, sugar, carbs and preservatives we couldn’t pronounce.
And when we were done, we rolled up our blanket, packed up the empty containers, popped them in our store-issue plastic bag, dumped the whole lot in the closest dustbin, and headed home. Plain and simple.
Then we had kids.
Now a picnic is a full-scale operation. Nothing is plain or simple.
For a start, I can’t afford to buy yummy picnic foods for kids from the shop down the road anymore (for a family of 5, I’d have to remortgage my house first) so I have to make them myself.
Then there’s the sarmie problem: regular sandwiches just don’t cut it for picnic fare. This means taking out my school lunchbox brain and putting in my super creative Supermom brain (you know, the one that pulls rabbits out of hats? Yeah, that one).
And finally, the bags. Oh the bags! There’s the food bag, the drinks bag, the cutlery bag, the nappy nag and clothes/costumes/towels/picnic blanket bag.
The amount of time spent packing each of these bags is disproportionate to the amount of time it takes the kids to totally decimate their contents.
Of all the planning, I find dreaming up picnic foods for kids the hardest. Not only do they want something different, but it needs to be quick and easy to make, affordable, as mess-free as possible, and must travel well. Those are a lot of boxes to check!
So it was with some trepidation that I boldly declared at the beginning of the month that we were celebrating spring with a family picnic.
Because we live near the sea, we often throw some raw veg and a tub of hummus in a bag with bottles of water for an afternoon on the beach. I knew I couldn’t fall back on these old faithfuls and had to up the ante.
So I turned to Pinterest – a search for picnic foods for kids seemed easy enough. Let me just say now, that as my go-to social media platform for creative pursuits, I love Pinterest. But my word, it’s easy to get swept away by picnic perfection! If I didn’t stop myself, I’d still be sitting there drooling over colourful antipasto skewers, chocolate filled strawberries and deconstructed smores puddings.
After thoroughly interrogating my options, and taking into account all our adventurous (and some not so) palettes, this was the picnic food for kids I settled on.
I love fruit at picnics. I always go for seasonal produce and where possible, support local farmers (there is an abundance in the Cape). The problem is, fruit gets bruised and soggy quite easily. I also think the kids find it a little boring, as they eat fruit during the week already. Enter the fruit skewer.
I know this is nothing new, and has been a party favourite for years, but it was a first for us to make them.
I saw a lovely pic on Pinterest, where instead of simply skewering various fruits, you actually cut them all the same size and shape and then thread them. I thought that looked pretty awesome, so gave it a bash.
As usual, it looked much easier than it was (I had to have some choice words with a kiwi, which wasn’t very partial to being skewered), but got there in the end. Instead of long braai skewers, I used shorter cocktail skewers made from all-natural bamboo. These are a good size for little hands!
I went with the seasonal fruits on the shelves of my local farmer’s market: paw paw, strawberries, bananas, kiwi and pineapple. I sliced the fruit into pieces of a similar thickness, and then used a shot glass (a remnant of our life before kids) to cut out circles of fruit.
I opted to serve mine with Greek yoghurt with a swirl of natural, untreated honey. The Middle Child tucked into this with gusto, abandoning his skewers and leaving the rest of us with just the dregs of honey yoghurt for our fruit.
Verdict: Takes a little longer than expected to make, so allow extra time. Mine almost didn’t survive the car ride, as it was a hot day and they weren’t right up against the ice-pack. My advice? Make them just before you leave the house, treat them to their own ice-pack in the cooler box, and make them the ‘starters’ on your picnic menu.
You’d be forgiven for thinking these got squashed in the picnic basket on the way over. While that’s normally the case in our family, this time they were actually supposed to look like this.
Pressed sarmies are quite popular at the moment and I can see why. They’re made from ciabatta rolls sliced open, lathered with olive oil, stuffed with all your favourite fillings, and then pressed overnight under suitable weights (don’t laugh, but my perky ciabattas wouldn’t surrender, and eventually I had them squashed under a baking tray with the ceramic sugar canister, a full bottle of olive oil, and the stove top kettle strategically placed on top!)
The theory is that all those delicious juices soak into the bread, filling it with flavour. Because ciabatta is a chewy, holey bread, it easily sucks up the olive oil without comprising the integrity of the sandwich.
Ciabatta rolls can also be a little difficult to get your mouth around, especially for kids, so pressing them helps to make them more manageable. To help things even more, especially for the 4-year-old, I cut the rolls into fairly small pieces, and tied them with baker’s twine to hold them together.
I used artisanal ciabatta from our local bakery in Wilderness, and stuffed them with butter lettuce, basil, salami, cheddar cheese, sliced jalapenos and gherkins for dad (with a Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing).
For the kids I did a slightly snazzy take on a traditional ham and cheese zarm, with butter lettuce, basil, gypsy ham, cheddar cheese and gherkins. To make it even more kid friendly, I swapped the olive oil for mayo.
And for myself, I made sundried tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil (the two on the left), using the oil from the sundried tomatoes as the dressing.
Verdict: The kids loved these, although the bread did get a bit too chewy for them after a while. The ciabattas soaked up all the flavours in the olive oil, elevating these sarms to heavenly heights.
These were probably my favourite meals of the whole picnic! I’ve been watching mason jars’ rise in popularity over the past few years, and so wanted to buy some and use them for something. Anything, really, just because they looked so cool.
The picnic offered the perfect opportunity, because there is nothing I hate more than soggy salads (especially soggy salads in plastic containers).
And that is the joy of the mason jar salad – it’s not soggy at all. More than that, because it’s in glass, it travels well and keeps for days afterwards, coming out fresh as a daisy every time you pop the lid and toss out the contents.
The secret is in the layering. This is the combination to follow:
Verdict: A real winner! The kids ate just what they wanted, and the rest stayed fresh to eat the following day. The portion size was perfect for the adults, and the best part was I was able to customise the salads to suit each person. As far as picnic foods for kids go, this one came out tops!
I decided on these puddings as I wanted to keep the food in glass, and had seen some great-looking mason jar desserts. If you’re a pudding freak like me, check out mason jar puddings on Pinterest; you’ll be in heaven!
To keep things simple, I bought a couple of brownies from our local country café (they are quite possibly the best brownies in the world). Crumbled these in the bottom of the jars, and topped them with whipped cream, fresh raspberries and mint.
Verdict: These worked really well, with the glass jars ensuring the whipped cream stayed cool and fresh. The best part was that there was no spillage (even when these little guys fall over, the cream stays put!), and the jars are the perfect size for little hands.
I love the idea of a zero-waste picnic, so couldn’t resist when I saw lidded drinking jars on sale a few months back. I knew they’d be perfect for summer drinks, with the straw adding some real festive flair.
As a rule, we don’t buy fruit juices or coldrinks in our house. Our boys all drink water. But admittedly, that’s not much fun for a picnic, so I thought of adding a new spin on this old favourite with fruit and herbs.
Infused water, also called spa water or detox water, has also been around for a while, but I had never tried making it for the boys. What I really like about using drinking jars, is that the necks are wide enough to allow you to cram all those fruits plus ice into the jar, ensuring you have a cool, fruity drink by the time you’re ready for a thirst quencher.
Another bonus is that you can customise the flavours to suit individual palettes. We used the following combinations: strawberry and basil; cucumber, lemon and mint; lime and mint; and strawberry and mint.
Verdict: Quick and easy to prepare, super refreshing, and because it was a first and still a novelty, the kids happily sucked on theirs throughout the afternoon. I found the lemon a bit overwhelming by the end of the picnic, and thought the lime was better as it was subtler. Perhaps just a small piece of lemon in such a small container would have been a better idea!
What’s on your list of fun picnic foods for kids? Drop me a line and let me know!
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