Picnic Perfection

Find everything you need to pack for a picnic at local grocery stores.

Warm weather is slowly but surely making its way to Minnesota. By the end of the month, summer will be in full swing. One of the best ways to take advantage of these golden days is by wining and dining alfresco, and with Plymouth’s many scenic parks and lakes, there are few better places to do so than right here. When picnic time strikes, you’ll want something that’s easy to make and pack that can withstand the summer heat as well as being both delicious and nutritious.  Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and Whole Foods Market offer our readers ways to help you pack the perfect picnic.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market

With its emphasis on organic and healthful food, Fresh Thyme blends the spirit of a farmers market with the convenience of a grocery store, so there are plenty of delicious, healthy options  for your picnic.

“Especially for picnics, the more color you have in your diet, the better,” says regional marketing director Becca Rowe. With all the fresh fruits and vegetables throughout our stores, it’s easy to get a whole spectrum of color. “Fruit skewers are really simple,” Rowe says. “We make them in-store sometimes, but they’re also really easy to make. You can create a rainbow of fruit—strawberries, raspberries, mango, grapes. ”  Since the skewers can lay flat, they also make for an easy-to-pack choice.

When it comes to salads, whole grains are a good option. Quinoa goes particularly well with both roasted and fresh vegetables. “If you want to make it a little creamier, you can add avocado,” says Rowe. Rowe recommends adding healthy fats like nuts, or using coconut oil instead of canola or olive oil. “Experiment with things and see what you like best,” Rowe says.

Rowe also recommends steering away from mayo-based salad dressings and opting for a vinaigrette or using a mayonnaise substitute instead. “If you do want a creamier salad, you could use plain Greek yogurt as a substitute. It has a lot of good probiotics as well, so you get a double dose of good things.”

And, don’t forget about dessert. Though  usually the more indulgent part of a meal, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your sweet tooth. Rowe recommends the bulk foods department as a great place to start. “There are a lot of great antioxidants in dark chocolate, and in our bulk section, we have a big variety of chocolate-covered fruit,” she says. “We have yogurt-covered pretzels, yogurt-covered peanuts and raisins, too, which is another great way to make dessert feel more indulgent than it actually is.”

For a dessert that’s as fun to make as to eat, try Mason jar parfaits. Rowe suggests angel food cake with strawberries and a whipped topping. “It’s a lot lighter, and it doesn’t have that heavy cakey feel to it.”  
It coudn’t be easier to pack—just bring along  spoons. Your bowl is already there.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market is known across the country for its abundance of fresh organic produce and wide selection of quality foods. Culinary expert Ani Loizzo says that if you step into any Whole Foods store, you’ll find a range of items, all perfect for a picnic. “Depending on the kind of picnic you want to have, there are hundreds of items to choose from,” she says.

Fresh bread is always an excellent choice, and Whole Foods bakes baguettes and other classics in-house daily. Bakery staff can slice any bread, so it can be always ready-to-go. Whole Foods’ breads pair especially well with their selection of cheeses. “Aged cheeses are always a great choice, because they tend to stand up a little better in the heat. My all-time favorite is Parmegiano-Reggiano. Everyone seems to like it; it’s wonderful paired with all sorts of wines and beverages, and it’s great with fruit. You can grate some onto something like a pasta salad, so that’s always a winner,” Loizzo says. Looking for something that gets a little gooey? Loizzo says she loves  Wellspring Creamery’s goat milk brie. “It’s delicious, and it goes perfectly with the really delicious strawberries we start to see in early summer.”

Though picnics are typically an afternoon or evening activity, Loizzo says she’s a big fan of the mid-morning brunch picnic. “If you don’t want to wait in line for brunch, that can be a really great option. Grab some bagels, cream cheese and toppings, and that can be your picnic along with some cold-brewed coffee.”

No matter the time of day, if you’re looking for a quick but healthful meal, Whole Foods has a variety of grab-and-go items. From made-from-scratch deli items to the olive bar’s fresh offerings to the bakery’s delectable cookies, every course of your meal can be covered with minimal work on your part.