Picnic panic? Try these easy, low-cost ideas

A picnic doesn't have to be expensive to be festive. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)A picnic doesn't have to be expensive to be festive. (Rebecca Isenhart/Gazette Reporter)

Gazette Reporter

A summertime picnic always seems like a great idea until I open my refrigerator. How does one construct a meal that’s both small enough to carry and varied enough to satisfy multiple palettes?

This is compounded by the fact that I mostly subsist on cereal and frozen veggie burgers, neither of which travels well.

The dilemma usually results in a trip to the grocery store, where everything looks delicious, so I spend $60 on an incoherent assortment of snacks that could feed twice the number of people I’m planning to meet.

I figure I’m not the only one who encounters this spiral of picnic-packing panic (I’m not, right?), so I prepared a few versatile menus for the next one that comes up. All are meant for two and will cost $20 or less. Stick this in your fridge to avoid asking yourself later why you bought so many mangoes.

No. 1: The Second Date

Imported cheeses and chilled white wines are so cliche. Go classy but low-key by slicing a fresh baguette from the bakery ($3) ahead of time. Pack raspberry preserves ($4), Nutella ($4) and either fancy hummus or veggie cream cheese ($3) for sweet and savory variety. Wash it down with classic sparkling water or a pair of retro-style sodas in glass bottles. Then go ahead and plan your third date.

No. 2: The Babysitter

Put the Lunchable down. Yes, you. Homemade mini pizzas are healthier and way more fun. You’ll need a pack of whole wheat English muffins ($5), a jar of pizza sauce ($2), pre-shredded mozzarella ($3) and pepperoni ($3) or other toppings. A pair of fruit cups ($3) and a pack of juice pouches ($3 for six) are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth while giving kids and grownups the energy to keep playing.

No. 3: The Health Nut

Veggies are just much more fun when dipped. Skip the ranch dressing and pick up some hummus ($3) instead. Veggies for two are most affordable when gathered up and cut at home, but most grocery stores sell trays of pre-cut vegetables in a perfectly shareable size for $10 or less. Finish off with a dessert of ripe summer peaches ($1 for two) and some Cool Whip ($3).

No. 4: The Purist

Dress up plain PB&J or egg salad by removing crusts and downsizing into finger sandwiches ($5-$7 for supplies). A couple of apples ($1), yogurt cups ($3) and a package of Oreo cookies ($4) will have you feeling nostalgic in no time. Bonus points for chocolate milk ($3 for two single serving bottles).

This Summer Days story originally appeared at dailygazette.com.