Picnics were once green affairs—long before words like eco-friendly were part of the everyday vernacular. Food was packed up in crocks along with silverware, dishes and glassware, and then carted—via horse and carriage—to a nearby park or rural area. In the generations since the late 1700s, when French parks became public and picnicking became a popular pastime, picnicking has become a much more wasteful activity.
Plastic deli containers, paper plates and napkins, plastic silverware, and cups are the go-to items of the modern-day picnicker. Walk through any popular park or picnic spot and trashcans are often filled with cans, plastic, and paper waste.
There are many ways to make your picnics greener, including using reusable containers or even grabbing the dishes and glassware you use at home. Follow these tips—and try these recipes—to make your next outing a healthier, less wasteful one.
5 Ways to Make Your Picnic Greener
Pack your food in reusable containers or compostable packaging. There are a number of brands that make glass food storage containers suitable for picnics. If you’re picking up picnic food at a deli, ask for compostable or recyclable containers. If you’re buying pre-packaged foods, look for the least amount of packaging.
Bring real silverware and plates. Bring your silverware and plates from home. If you’re worried about losing a plate, check out Goodwill or other second-hand stores for low-cost Corelle-type dishes and mix-n-match silverware. Re-useable bamboo plates and compostable plastic utensils are other green options. Bring cloth napkins that you can wash and re-use, or paper towels that can be recycled.
Buy organic or local foods for your picnic. There are several ways to make the food you serve greener. Eating organic is healthier for the planet, farm workers, and you. Produce from small farms may technically be “organic.” However, small farmers can’t always afford to be certified organic by the USDA. Ask sellers at your local farmers markets if their produce is pesticide-free; you may find that much of it is. Locally grown food also has a lower carbon footprint because it’s not transported long distances.
Bike, bus, walk, skate, or boat to your picnic. Think about how you’re going to get to your picnic location. Can you bike, walk, or skate with your picnic goods in a backpack? Can you bus or boat with your picnic in a reusable canvas tote bag? Maybe your picnic is farther away and you need to drive. Can you pack your car full of friends or family and carpool?
Pack it in, pack it out. Leave your picnic area cleaner than you found it. If you’re lucky, there may be recycling containers at your picnic site. If not, consider bringing a bag to take home your recycling, a bag to compost leftover food scraps, and a compostable garbage bag for everything else. Before you leave, look around your picnic area and pick up any trash left behind by previous picnickers. The next picnickers will thank you for paying it forward.
Try one—or all—of these healthy picnic recipes on your next outing.
Red Cabbage Potato Salad
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- 1.5 pounds organic red and purple potatoes*, scrubbed and diced into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
- ¼ cup minced chives
In a large bowl, mix together red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, mustard seeds, and chives. Stir in shredded cabbage.
Boil a pot of water. Add cubed potatoes, return to a boil and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes.
Drain potatoes and rinse with cold water. Toss into cabbage mixture, and mix thoroughly.
Makes 6 servings
Lemon Artichoke Wild Rice Salad
- 2 cups wild rice, cooked
- 1 can quartered artichoke hearts
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
- ½ cup Italian parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- ½ teaspoon smoked sea salt
- zest of 1 lemon
Mix together wild rice, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, parsley, and pine nuts. Mix up dressing and toss over salad.
Makes 6 servings
Green Fruit Salad
- ½ honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch chunks
- 1 ½ cups organic whole green grapes*
- 2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
- 2 organic Granny Smith apples, sliced*
- 2 tablespoons fresh mint, julienned
- 1 lime, juiced and zested
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the lime juice, lime zest, and mint. Gently toss with lime juice. Sprinkle lime zest and mint and toss again.
Serve slightly chilled.
*These ingredients are on the Dirty Dozen list and should be eaten organic when ever possible.