Why eating outside is the way forward for family mealtimes this spring
Picnics represent all that kids love about food. Variety, informality and plenty of opportunity for seconds! Sitting down to a lunch is all well and good, but toddlers and children are quick to tire of the same foods and surroundings, with a strong tendency to become impatient and whiney. Taking mealtimes outside when the weather permits is a sure fire way to reclaim their interest in food, and spare your own sanity when chaos and tantrums prevail. They also have the added bonus of naturally removing technology and other distractions from the mealtime equation - something that no amount of remote hiding and bribery can succeed at within a lounge context.
So why are we not eating outside more often? There are many myths surrounding picnics which might be partly to blame. These include:
You need to leave the house to have a picnic
It's always nice to take a hamper to a destination site, such as a riverside or park, but picnicking in the garden can be just as fun, and it's even easier as you don't have to go very far for that forgotten jar of mayonnaise!
Picnics require lots of preparation
It's possible to make a picnic that kids will love out of even the most limited range of foods. Sandwiches, crudities, fruit, pitta breads, dips and cold meats or falafels make for a perfectly satisfying lunch. And don't feel you need to do the prep beforehand. Pack some bread rolls and a few packs of sliced ham and cheese, plus a couple of pots of sandwich filling and a plastic bread board (or sandwich-making station) and making their own sandwiches can become part of the fun!
You can only picnic at lunch time
Any meal can be made into a picnic, including breakfast and dinner, and even snacks. For toddlers who want for nothing more than to get outside the moment the sun rises, a breakfast picnic will be just up their street. Roll out the blankets and pack up some croissants, sliced fruit bread or home made muffins and fresh fruit and give them the opportunity to get an early morning dose of fresh air and vitamin D.
You need a blanket and a hamper
Neither are necessary, and you can improvise with an old bed sheet, throw, tote bad or cool bag.
The benefits of picnicking with the kids are many and varied. They include:
Picnics have a knack of turning cold finger food into a satisfying feast. You can lay out a mixture of vegetables, fruits, meats, pulses and bread and nobody will question it's meal status.
Minimal clearing up
Using plastic cutlery and paper plates means no washing up, which is always a bonus during the chaos of the hours leading up to bedtime.
Fresh air and sunlight
The health and wellbeing benefits - for kids and parents - of vitamin D and fresh air are undisputed, and just one of the incentives for taking your mealtimes outside more this spring and summer.
Being outside and away from the TV and other household distractions creates an opportunity for social interaction, which is important for children's development and strengthening family bonds.
Picnics help present healthy food in a different stance to when it is simply served up on a plate. Firstly, the mezze style set up lends children an element of control in their food choices, which in turn makes them more inclined to broaden their horizons. Also, the nature of picnic favourites such as potato, bean and rice salads means they naturally impart a higher nutritional intake. Many parents also find that picnic staples such as dips and salsa mean children are more likely to reach for the raw vegetables crudités which, under normal circumstances, might get pushed to the side of the plate.
In all, there is much to be said for eating al fresco with the family, so when it comes to TV dinners and such like, why not throw in the towel (or blanket) and get outside instead this National Picnic Day!