LISA LELAS: Easy tips for fun summer picnics

Since the state has loosened up the reigns on social distancing, Connecticut residents are eager to begin gathering this summer, even if in small groups of family and friends.

The secret to organizing all your summer entertaining this year is to keep things simple. Think “rustic basics” for a casual theme that’s no-fuss for the host!

Dig up lots of “make-the-day-before” recipes so you can get out and enjoy the party with your guests and not be working in the kitchen. Even your chicken and steak can be kept marinated in the fridge from the day before.

Keep side dishes simple. Fresh fruit cut-up, potato salads, etc.

A great tip for family entertaining with a combo of adults and small children- consider feeding the kids ahead of time (with basic hotdogs or hamburgers) in a separate area or picnic table and get them involved in an after-dinner game, puzzle, or a lawn activity while the adults sit down for their dinner.

Make sure you have ample waste bags and recycle containers on hand at the start of every backyard party you host.

Decorating for evening picnics can be as easy as setting mason jars with votive candles throughout your backyard, even on rocks in the garden or attached to trees.

Use a big tin bucket, a wheelbarrow, or even a child’s wagon to hold ice and beverages. It makes a nice beverage station and keeps guests out of the house, going into the fridge for every drink.

Don’t be afraid to use paper plates and plastic flatware. Simple basics are very acceptable these days for outdoor picnics and it makes clean up a breeze for the host.

Keep a black permanent marker out by the stack of plastic or paper cups for guests to label their drink cup with their name.

Consider using empty terra cotta clay pots (lined with a gingham napkin) to hold all your flatware or napkins.

If it’s a breezy day, you may want to opt for small kitchen towels or cloth napkins instead of paper napkins that will fly off the table.

For a quick and easy cold lunch picnic, make several pre-wrapped sandwiches draped in colorful bandanas and piled into a pretty wicker basket. You can line the outside of the basket with cold beverages and fruit to keep the sandwiches cool. A nice, easy one-basket lunch for everyone!

Hot-glue shells or silk flowers to clothes pins for use as table-cloth weights, clipped to the edges of the fabric.

Kids party idea: make a beach theme picnic (even if you don’t live on the beach) with small inexpensive beach pails at each setting (containing their silverware) and wrap (with a piece of twine) each napkin around a beach shovel with their name personalized on each.

Clean-up tip: while your outdoor grill is still hot, clean the grids with a wire brush. After the guests leave, you can soak the rack in water and baking soda if needed. Always clean out coolers with water and baking soda after each party to eliminate odors. Make sure you leave them open to dry well.

Don’t forget the music! A small blue-tooth speaker for your cell phone or even cranking up tunes from an old boom box in the yard does wonders for the ambience of a summer picnic. Enjoy!

Connecticut Media Group