Philacatessen | Distance Picnicking: The New Normal

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picnic family pic
(Photo courtesy of Keri White)

As we adjust to life amid and post-pandemic, we have had to grapple with how to socialize with friends and family in a way that maximizes safety and enables us to connect. Father’s Day, graduations, even weddings are happening, though they look nothing like they did in the past. 

As a social creature and one that loves to host with food as a central focus, the current situation has presented a challenge, but we managed to figure out a way to gather in honor of my nephew’s college graduation this past week. No, it was not the family bash in Boston, complete with a cruise around the harbor and brunch at a nice restaurant, but after two months of not seeing each other, it was a welcome celebration nonetheless.

As the weather warms and we are able to spend more time outside, depending on individual health risks and appropriate distancing, a distance picnic with individually packed meals may be a reasonable way to gather in small groups and spread out at appropriate distances in yards, parks, blocks, etc. 


We road tested this and it worked well.

We drove to my graduating nephew’s home in New Jersey with several coolers packed with individually portioned picnic lunches catered by the good folks at Reading Terminal Market. My sister had arranged clusters around her back yard with appropriate numbers of seats for each group, spread 6 feet apart. She had sanitized the bathrooms in her house, then earmarked one for the grandparents’ use, one for ours and one for her family.

The key is to select a manageable number of guests — ideally one or two families to ensure that there is sufficient space for all to spread out. A completely BYO food and drink concept is also the best way to limit exposure.

Here are some ideas for “make and take” menu kits:

Picnic lunch/supper: Remember lunchboxes? Most American kids had one. Mimic this concept with a sandwich, fruit, sweet and a drink. Be sure to include hand wipes, utensils if needed, and napkins in the kit. If you are carb-avoidant or gluten-free, pack a salad, yogurt, cheese, fruit, nuts, etc., in a sealable container.

Cocktail kit: There’s no law that those ubiquitous reusable water bottles have to contain water. Mix up your favorite cocktail or mocktail, maybe even throw some hummus, veggies, cheese, olives and crackers in a bag and meet a friend for a distant drink.

Coffee talk: I’ve been doing “coffee calls” with friends since this all started — old school phone calls while we catch up over a morning cuppa joe. As safety and weather permit, take this show on the road. Meet a friend on neighboring park benches or backyard chairs spread at appropriate distance and have your own little coffee klatch. 

In the end, it’s not so much what you eat, rather that you grab and go and gather if you are in need of socializing. But above all, do it safely!

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