One often overlooked way to get away from the stove is a picnic. Whether you pack it in a backpack for a hike, a fancy picnic basket for a park or evening concert, or just under a shade tree in the back yard, this is a great way to relax with family and friends in the summer.

A picnic spread doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. Serving up cold food items makes the menu easier to control. There will be less things to carry and fewer cleanups afterwards.

Sandwiches are a preferred picnic item. It used to be that a sandwich consisted of two slices of bread and lunch meat. Sandwiches have been given a face lift in recent years.

To add variety to ordinary sandwiches, choose from numerous breads. Sandwiches are being made from pitas, flatbreads, and tortilla wraps. Cut the bread the night before and store in an airtight container.

Purchase meats from the deli counter at the grocery store. Fresh turkey breast, ham, chicken breast, and salamis are available. Store the sliced deli meats in the freezer. The morning of the picnic, take them out so they can slowly thaw but stay cool until they are ready to be devoured. For variety take along some salsa, cheese or vegetable dip to spread with the meat.

You can run into trouble with condiments at a picnic, especially anything that is made from dairy products. Refrigerate mayonnaise derived foods and sauces until ready to head out for the picnic. To avoid having condiments containers sitting out without refrigeration, use condiment packets like the ones they give out at fast food establishments. They can be mixed in with the ice without getting water-logged.

Salads of all types are great cold picnic food. Macaroni or potato salad is best when served cold. If your gathering is large, investing in single serving plastic cups with lids will avoid bringing too much to the picnic. Note of caution: when mayonnaise based salads approach room temperature or warmer, they begin to get soupy and could spoil so keep in a cooler with ice.

Rather than a fruit salad, bring along whole fruits. Fruit doesn’t have to be refrigerated. It can be cleaned off before you leave the house and kept from the light in a paper bag. Choose a selection: apples, peaches, oranges, plums, and etc. Fruit makes a health-conscious dessert alternative to ice cream or candy, plus it’s naturally sweet.

Individual pouches of chips and other snacks prevent everyone’s hands from dipping in the same bag, dirty or clean. There will be no opened bags of chips to transport home. Picnickers get more variety this way without spending a fortune on snacks. It also allows everyone to choose the snacks or chips they prefer so everyone gets what they prefer most.

Nuts are an easy treat for a picnic. They do not need refrigeration and can be transported easily. For easy handling by others, separate nuts into individual snack bags. Any bags that are not eaten can be poured back into the can to be eaten later.

Cold food options equate to a quick and simple picnic menu. There is no need to use a cumbersome grill, and packaging foods individually allows for less mess and easier serving.

For more excellent hints for the kitchen and recipes from Christine Steendahl, “The Menu Mom”, log on here

Picnics can be simple, nutritious and fun with a bit of planning and smart shopping!