Picnic Perfection

by in Food Network Chef, June 20th, 2013

Melissa d'Arabian's Picnic PerfectionIt’s summertime and we are blessed with days filled with trips to the beach or museums to meet up with friends, and we’re usually grabbing something to-go on our way to the destination. Every Sunday evening, everyone in our community in Coronado, Calif., loads their kids and a picnic into their red Radio Flyer wagon and heads to Concert in the Park. So when many of you lamented the challenges of packing a summer picnic, I heard you. The ant’s time as the biggest picnic woe is long gone — now we worry about packing healthy, delicious food that our kids will actually eat, while keeping the food in a temperature-safe zone, without spending too much time. Is that too much to ask? No. So here are four tips to help get you there:

1. Start with the protein
The protein is the trickiest part of the meal because it often involves meat, which can be a challenge to keep in a safe temperature zone. My secret picnic weapon: non-meat protein. And by this, 99 percent of the time, I mean quinoa. Make a quinoa salad, subbing quinoa for rice, pasta or other grains. It is full of protein, fiber and complex carbs, and it will probably work in your favorite recipe (for inspiration, try my Quinoa Tabouli). Quinoa can be served chilled or at room temperature, making it my perfect picnic protein. My second non-meat protein insider secret: Use white beans and whole-grain pasta to make any pasta salad you like. Try a salad made with roasted veggies, feta and vinaigrette.

Melissa and Philippe on a Picnic2. Help out that over-worked ice pack
Keeping your food at the right temp (usually cold) can be a tall order for an ice pack that isn’t huge and heavy. A great strategy is to include a few frozen food items that can thaw in your picnic basket. Pop a few wrapped slices of cheese (or string cheese sticks), or even thinly sliced chicken, into the freezer for an hour or two before packing. Or for dessert, bake, wrap and freeze my Black Bean Brownies or my Fruit and Veggie Mini Muffins, which thaw beautifully (and pack in a little extra protein and fiber — a bonus for “nibblers” like my twins).

3. Sometimes it’s not the food you pack but what you pack it in
If your lifestyle means you take food on the go often, but you are sick of sandwiching it, then nirvana is only a good bento box away. The bento box singlehandedly turns traditionally, non-picnic food into perfect picnic food. Suddenly almost anything you want to eat can be to-go friendly. Of course there are also compartmentalized boxes, plastic lidded containers, reusable pouches (like Lunchskins), and the list goes on. Don’t overlook the impact of this tip! I spent one evening with a coupon at The Container Store and my life was never the same. I’ve found some fantastic containers at the dollar store and in big box dollar bins (right now I’m loving the cute thermal 1-liter drink jugs I bought a few weeks ago — for a buck — to use at my Alex’s Lemonade Stand). They may not be as durable, but I can throw them away if needed, like if I am on a hike. (When do I hike? Turns out, never. Still, I like having the option.) Another fun idea: I love to layer complete meals into Mason jars (buy food-safe jars at craft stores with the 40-percent Sunday paper coupon), and each person just grabs one and a fork. (See my Picnic in a Jar, or layer in bean-filled Tuna Panzanella.) My picnic packaging philosophy: Get out the coolest containers I can find and the menu (almost) takes care of itself.

4. Take a lesson from years of diaper-bagging
Our family goes to the beach or pool several times a week, and every Sunday we do our concert picnics. Yet for some reason, it was only last summer that I started to follow my diaper bag golden rule: Always stock it when coming back from an outing, not before heading to an outing. Now I keep a grab-and-go bag ready for any family activity we do frequently. For picnics, that means all the essentials are packed (in reusable bags): napkins, plates, silverware, a blanket, sweaters, wipes, one metal butter knife (which can cut surprisingly well), and (an unexpected item!) a small cutting board, which serves as a platter, plate, cup stabilizer (try balancing a paper cup of lemonade on grass), or even just a cutting board. The picnic bag (or basket) doesn’t have to be fancy, just packed and ready. In fact, my picnic bag is a canvas Food Network tote. Perfect, right?

My final thought this week on the summer picnic: If you have little ones, consider eating at home before you go. Picnics are exciting and distracting for my kids, so I like the freedom in knowing that if they are too busy dancing to the ’80s cover band rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the park to eat a full meal (which might have been the case with my kids this weekend), then at least I know they’ve eaten something healthy that day. Pressure’s off — which is what summer is all about anyway.

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Comments (38)

  1. Guest says:

    I could not believe that Food Network took Paula Deen off the air, she helped to make Food Network. This incident was a long time ago!!! She has helped a lot of people to learn to cook, boost their spirits and you just take that away from everybody. NOT FAIR!!! As most people has said so far, let's check into their pasts to see if they would be kicked off of Food Network for what they have said in the past. Probably!! Just one more comment, Paula helped to get the Neely's on Food Network, which I miss by the way, so how could you kick her off of your Network??

    • Bonnie Clark says:

      Good for you shame on the Foodnetwork for being cowards and not backing Paula. We have all said things we wish we did not in our past we have all made mistakes. Look at the person how she has lived her life. The foodnetwork has lost a viewer here I do not like cowards who think we should all be perfect. Why all of a sudden everyone has jumped on the discrimination band wagon too over done,
      let things go everyone has said things about all races including black people about white, we have become a knee jerk society that has let the press rule our lives. Look at the person and how they really have lived their lives instead of one dumb statement that they probably did not even realize what they said.

  2. Linda Drion says:

    I think it is great she told the truth and I love her on tv. but I think there is more to her than that and she has the old south thinking. This was a choice she made to speak like that and now she pays the piper. There are consciences to our actions whether they been now or later. She has to face that just like anyone else. She needs to step back and make sure she is doing right. I pray she takes time to step back and reflect and then make it right! My prayers are with her .

  3. Doggie DD says:

    He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. (John 8:7)

  4. cathycw says:

    I too agree with all of the above posts–I started watching Food Network because Paula Dean drew me in–it is her recipes I use and check–along with Rachel Ray and Ina and Giada's! We have gone so far with PC–that we are forgetting who we are–and what is truly right. We all grow and change as years go by–and if we stayed the same as we were 30 years ago–that would be wrong and indefensible! I too will say that I will refrain from the Food Network with the loss of Paula. And anyone who measures my 50 something self by my 20 something self–certainly does not understand life, growth and human nature! It is a sad day–I sure hope someone from my 20's doesn't find some error in my young judgement to now ruin all that I have worked to be a good citizen humanity. We can not rewrite history, we can only learn from it and grow!

    • Linda Nigro says:

      We are all sadden with the decision the Food Network made. I LOVE Paula Deen as well as 4 or 5 other chefs. Its really too bad. I also will also refrain from Food Network. I will buy all of Paula Deen's magazines and anything else that represent her. Two wrongs do not make a right and something NEVER change.

  5. Debbie says:

    Most of you do not know how this really happened. Paula and Bubba were in depositions, and they both admitted that the have use the word. It has not been thirty years, since she said it. Some of her own employees have said that paula threw around that word a lot in the restaurant. How and why would anyone
    knew that she spoke that word 30 years ago. I am not surprised that Paula and Bubba speak it now. Her grandfather was a slave owner, and after they were freed, he killed himself. My point is that she has heard that her entire life. I am glad that the Food Network fired her. I would not be able to see her, and not think of her saying nigger.

    • Guest says:

      She did admit it in the deposition saying, that it was 30 years ago. She went on to say that she would never condone using that language now. If she does in the restaurant, we don't know that unless we hear it from her. I don't condone it either, but at the same time non of us know whether she uses it or not now or if any other Food Network employees use it outside their work either. This is a hard place to stand but, I don't think she needs to be fired for this by FAR!!!

  6. Mrs. JAC says:

    Food Network , you did the right thing firing Paula Deen. I am a former fan of Paula Deen. She has fooled enough people too long. I have watched Paula Deen from the start. I loved her shows and recipes. I do not cook, just fun to watch. Please know this is not only about something she said 30 years ago. She had recently been accused of asking for little n-words dressed in bow ties to serve at her brothers wedding. This just sickens me that in 2013 in America we have forgotten the hate dished up to black and brown people in the South.

  7. Willie Kennedy says:

    We are frequent viewers of the Food Network. I can not believe you fired Paula Dean. Why is it when Jessie Jackson ( calling the president an uppity n word), Al Shapton, or Charles Barkley, are never taken to task but rewarded for their bigotry? Yet you people fired Paula Dean for being honest. I don't agree with that language, but I don't think she should have been taken off the air. I guess you will never have a rapper on your network. I know you lost about 10 households and counting in my neighborhood.

  8. Lucy says:

    Food Network you absolutely did the right thing. I strongly urge everyone who is criticizing you to read the entire lawsuit which can be found on Yahoo or Google. You will then understand the ugliness of this situation and Paula's part in it. All is not what it seems on the surface. I'm glad she has been removed even though I too was a big fan.

  9. pamela fetty says:

    If God forgives people, then people should forgive people for their mistakes. Nobody is perfect. I watch many shows on the Food Network including Paula Deen. I would like to see her back on the Food Network.

  10. JB from RI says:

    Paula Deen is the only reason why I watch the food network. Her appearance on the Today Show this morning was heartbreaking, if you have not made a mistake EVER, go and throw that stone, was true 2000 years ago and it is true today. Instead you hide behind Corporate "blinds" that show how inferior you really are, step up and deal with society. Step up and recognize that until cultures respect and build integrity within their own race that this will always be a sensitive issue. Have you listened to music lately? You are trying to pin this on Paula Deen, …DEAL WITH IT FOOD NETWORK, don't just try to erase it like it never happened, embrace the issues. Run more Black commercials on your network, Bring in more Black or Indian or Chinese Cooking shows, SHOW YOU DIVERSITY, EMBRACE SOCIETY…and you will see that Paula will fit in with it ALL.

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