With the warmer summer weather, I’d been aching to get out for a day of hiking with my husband – complete with a picnic lunch. I saw a great article on NPR about how to fix a meal that stays fresh all morning while you’re hiking. But after thinking about it, I realized that not only is it a little bit fancy for my husband’s taste, but I don’t have most of the exotic ingredients that cost more than I what I would want to spend. Inspired by the menu, though, I pieced together some cheaper alternatives, so we could still have a great hike and lunch, but on a budget that works for us.
After a little bit of research, I discovered that I’m not the only one looking to save a few dollars on groceries. Even New York’s Fancy Food Show had some less expensive alternatives, which proves that you can be fancy even if you don’t have the top-notch ingredients. Instead, it’s more about combining several flavors and textures to make a meal that’s well-rounded, visually appealing and that tastes great.
The centerpiece for our meal was a kale salad similar to one in the NPR article but with some twists inspired by another article that I found about gourmet picnic salads. We started with a base of kale, which is very hearty, and I added a can of black beans and some frozen corn to give it a southwestern flair, plus protein and sweetness. Rather than the more expensive walnuts and pecans that are common on salads, I just picked up a bag of sunflower seeds, without their husks, of course, and poured them in. Instead of cheese, I opted for a store brand creamy ranch dressing to give it that smooth, cool flavor.
Our sides were based on what was on sale that week at the supermarket. I had a grocery coupon for a jar of dill pickles, which I managed to get for half price, so we packed those for a strong flavor to enjoy with our meal. Plus, the salt was helpful for retaining water to stay hydrated on the rest of our hike. For dessert, we brought along homemade shortcake with fresh berries that were on sale at the supermarket because they’re in season. We’re not big chocolate fans, but you could also bring a couple of squares of dark chocolate in a plastic bag, let them melt on the hike, and drizzle them over the dessert.
When it comes to beverages, there’s nothing like a cold cup of lemonade when you’re relaxing in the middle of a hike. I love fancy lemonades, but they can be pricey, so I opted for my version, which uses lemonade powder with some fresh mint from the garden for a gourmet touch. Of course, we also brought some water—a critical part of remaining hydrated while hiking.
We had a great time on our hike, and all of the food held up through the morning and was delicious when we stopped for lunch. You can adjust the menu to suit your own tastes, but be careful to choose ingredients that don’t require refrigeration and that won’t wilt while you’re hiking. And remember, use coupons to save on expensive ingredients and on any other snacks you want to bring along like trail mix for that mid-afternoon lull. Having a fancy summer picnic doesn’t have to cost much, especially if you tap into your creativity and resourcefulness!