Saturday in the Park
It doesn't have to be the 4th of July to celebrate Saturdays in the park this summer. Take the family-friendly fun outside and use our ideas (and recipes) to ensure that good times are had by all.
Location, Location, Location
A neighborhood park—with picnic tables, grills, and restrooms—may be the most convenient setting for an outdoor gathering for large groups, but why not explore other options for a party with friends and family? Consider a different scenic location such as the beach, zoo, museum grounds, or botanical gardens.
Pump Up the Volume
Music is one of the most crucial mood setters for a party, so don't neglect it at your outdoor shindig. Make a few mixed CDs of your favorite party tunes to play on a portable CD player, or charge your iPod and dock, select "shuffle," and let it do its thing. You'll be glad you did, especially when DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" starts playing.
Make Yourself Comfortable
If picnic tables and benches are available at your chosen locale, by all means take a seat. However, bring along a few colorful blankets, quilts, and outdoor pillows to set the scene and make the space your own. Lounging outside is always more pleasant with soft, comfy pillows and blankets, which also provide a more festive backdrop for photos.
Impress your pals with more creative, upscale picnic fare and leave the basics for the kids (see next slide). Prepare a delicious trio of light, yet filling (mayo-free) salads such as Cold Noodle Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing, Curried Couscous Salad and Dried Cranberries, and Light and Fresh Potato Salad. Supplement the menu with seasonal sweet, juicy watermelon slices and ripe strawberries so no one goes home hungry. Make it easy on yourself by assembling, wrapping, and refrigerating everything the night before. And, don't forget the essentials: napkins, paper or plastic plates, cups, and utensils.
Since there's no guarantee of a grill at your picnic site, play it safe and keep the children's menu simple. Forgo hotdogs and hamburgers for kid-approved Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey Sandwiches or Turkey Wraps. If you have the time and inclination, make both to allow for options. Pack a few bags of chips, apple slices, and carrot sticks for additional snacks.
If the location selected doesn't prohibit alcohol, whip up one of these thirst-quenching summer libations for your Saturday in the park: Pomegranate Cocktail, Pink Lemonade Cocktail, or Raspberry Lemonade. (The latter drink becomes cocktail-like with the addition of chilled vodka.) These can be prepared ahead of time in a plastic pitcher and poured over ice when it's party time. Make a kid-friendly "mocktail" pitcher sans the alcohol; just be sure to label the pitchers correctly!
See life through the eyes of a child again: It's limbo time! Since you've already planned for music, the only other thing needed is a yardstick. Make a blue ribbon for the winner to take home as a memento of the party. Other fun outdoor activities include kite-flying, blowing bubbles, volleyball, and badminton. Throw in a few Frisbees and hula hoops too. Best part? No Internet access required.
No picnic would be complete without sweets, but in the summertime the last thing you need is sticky, melted ice cream or a chocolate dessert that's turned into a sauce in your bag. So Good Brownies are quick to make, so give it a go versus the boxed route. Or make a batch of soft, chewy, always crowd-pleasing Sugar Cookies.
Sending the Party Home
Impress guests by handing out cute, creative (and budget-friendly) party favors. Head to your local party supply store for sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and Frisbees, and wrap them in clear plastic bags tied with colorful ribbon. Another party favor idea: Take digital photos of guests at the gathering, print your favorites, and drop them in the mail.
Make a List, Check It Twice
In the fun of planning what to eat, drink, and do at your outdoor gathering of friends and family, don't forget safety. Pack a first aid kit; always keep perishable foods in the cooler; avoid sunburns by using sunscreen and wearing a hat; and don't forget to bring lots of drinking water to avoid dehydration. Lastly, have a great time!