A little preparation can go a long way when eating under the sun, writes Roz Crowley. 

PICNICS make memories. And for parents of young children I have some tips from years of idyllic days— not all of them in good weather. 

It’s what you do to make the best of the day that matters and keeping the menu simple will help.

Top priority should be to keep everyone well fed, with some protein that will sustain them while playing. 

They will get tired if they are running on empty calories generated by carbs in the form of biscuits and salty snacks.

Include cheese, fish, meat, eggs, and yoghurt for a healthy, happy day out.

It’s worth doing some preparation and avoiding processed foods. 

Seasonal fruit is always welcome, with raspberries coming along nicely now and melons at their best — cube them before setting out and keep in a chill box.

Bananas are useful when energy is low. Children can have half each — a large whole one is often excessive. 

Place soft fruit in recycled tubs to pick at. There is no need for cream or ice-cream.

Five quick ideas

1. Mini omelettes

These are easily made in muffin tins the day before the picnic.

Mix 6 eggs with 2 dessert spoons each of chopped ham, chopped tomato and spring onion. 

Half fill muffin or bun tins (you don’t want them to be tall and break) and bake in an oven preheated to 180C 350F Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes or until just firm. 

Allow to cool, turn out and store in tin foil.

Vary with added sweetcorn, roasted peppers, grated courgettes and carrot, finely chopped raw broccoli. It’s also a good way to use up leftover mashed potato. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t add salt if serving to children (not good for kidney function), but bring along a pinch for adults.

2. Catch of the day

My food of the month is Sally Barnes’s Woodcock Smokery’s smoked albacore tuna. This is a locally fished, sustainable product which is far superior to tinned versions. 

It is lightly smoked so children like it, especially when mixed with crème fraiche.

Mash one tuna pack, €5.80, with a tub of crème fraiche (Glenilen is delicious) and a teaspoon of horseradish sauce. I use this on bread, but also as a dip for sticks of cucumber.

Bring some washed baby gem lettuce leaves in a sealed bag or box and use as a base for the paté. 

Our lettuce survey showed there are good, small leaves in Tesco and Marks & Spencer to make good finger food.

See www.woodcocksmokery.com for your nearest stockist or to buy.

3. Sticks of cheese

Hard cheese is best for warm days and it’s difficult to beat local cheeses such as my current favourite, Hegarty’s Farmhouse cheddar, made in Whitechurch, Cork. 

Serve it in straight sticks to have in the hand. Of course it can be served in bread or on crackers.

4. Hard boiled eggs

These are known to be eaten at picnics by children who have little time for them otherwise. 

Boil eggs before leaving home (the day before is fine) and shell them at home or at the picnic. They can be halved and eaten in the hand, or sandwiched in a bread roll.

A blob of mayo is a good addition. Chutney is delicious too. 

If you want to go further, make a Scotch egg. Coat the eggs in sausagemeat, then egg and breadcrumbs and fry. Delicious cold!

5. Fake icecream

This is the best invention of my daughter-in-law for her two-year-old son. He thinks yoghurt is ice-cream and once it’s in a cone, it’s a big treat. 

She uses Glenisk organic most often, as the texture is a little firm, and sugar content is relatively low. 

A few blueberries mixed in goes down a treat, but the blueberry yoghurt version is good too. 

Just take a mini pot of yoghurt, and fill right to the top — there may be a little to spare for yourself. Don’t bother with toppings.

Cones are widely available and the lightest ones are best, not the waffle type which are a little hard for smaller children. 

While wafer cones have some sugar in them, it’s not much, and yoghurt a good source of protein and dairy in a celebratory format.

And don’t forget to take all your rubbish away with you!

Top 5 tips for picnic food

1. Keep it simple

Don’t complicate the food by having to heat dishes or keep them very cold.

A coolbag is as far as you need to go, but don’t depend on it to keep anything frozen.

While barbecued food can be fun, it’s also often full of fat and best avoided for young children.

2. Keep it small

Cut food into bite sizes where possible — it makes it easy to serve and eat. Choose small apples, segment oranges, cubed watermelon is also cooling and can be kept kept cool in the coolbag

3. Butter bread

Before leaving home It is best to butter bread to avoid spreads melting in the packet. Bring olive oil for dipping chunky bread, but beware of dribbles on clothing.

4. Crisp choice

Choose crisps that are not very salty or coated in additives. Read packs to avoid high salt that will generate a thirst. Popcorn is a good alternative if made at home. Bought versions are often far too salty.

5. Bring water, not minerals

Dehydration is easy when kids are running around and sugar promotes that. Many soft drinks contain salt too, so they are best avoided.

Stick to water, providing sparkling to vary the sensations. Half sparkling and still water is good.


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