Take Your Picnic Basket from the Playground to the Vineyard

Summer is here so take advantage of the longer days, warmer nights and relaxed summer schedules. Spend time with family and friends outdoors at playground playdates, local Loudoun County wineries and concerts under the stars. Once we figure out where to go we’re still left with the question, what to eat? A few simple tips will help you make the most of your time dining “out.”

When planning a trip to the playground for a picnic with the kids and their friends, avoid crowds and have a better chance getting a picnic table by visiting in the early morning or later afternoon. Hand sanitizer, wet wipes or extra water and paper towels to clean the little fingers are a must. Have some fun packing lunch for the kids and break the school lunch box monotony with a snack lunch.

Whole grain crackers, mini pitas or pita chips.
Chicken or tuna salad with relish not heavy mayo.
Cheese slices or Laughing Cow cheese wedges.
Grapes, apples, seasonal berries.
Mini veggies like carrots, peppers or cucumbers with humus or guacamole cups.
Animal crackers or fig newtons that won’t melt in the heat or get crushed at the bottom of your bag.
Freeze yogurt tubes to keep foods cold and as a sweet treat.
Choose those with less than 8 grams of sugar per serving like Stonyfield or Chobani.
Hydrate with water or 100% fruit juice. Watermelon is a great choice, too.

We are fortunate in Loudoun County to have a lot of wineries just a short drive west on Route 7. Most allow you to bring your own picnic, some even serve food, but none allow outside alcohol. The Virginia wineries have become so popular many have expanded their seating, but grab a picnic blanket and a few chairs, just in case. Relaxing with a wine flight or a bottle of your favorite vintage can encourage snacking your way through the day so here are some pointers to enjoy without overindulging.

Spend time with family and friends
outdoors at playground playdates, local
Loudoun County wineries and concerts
under the stars.

Crunch healthy. Studies have actually found that women are more likely to snack when they drink wine. Crazy, isn’t it? Choose crunchy raw veggies like carrots, celery and snap peas and fruits like apple and pear slices and grapes. Taking longer to chew will slow you down, and no one wants broccoli in their teeth!

HYDRATE – once you’ve done your tasting and especially if you are sitting in the sun, alternate a glass of water with each glass of wine.

Heading to Wolf Trap for a concert under the stars, you will want to get there early. Lawn tickets are typically general admission and available to grab as soon as the gates open. Check their website for your particular event, but usually the gates open 90 minutes before the show. And yes, there are people waiting in line 2 hours early to snag the primo spots on the lawn. Assigned seating in the barn does not allow any outside food or beverages. But, you can still pack a picnic to enjoy on the lawn before heading to your seat.

Make the most of your night dining under the stars by following these tips.

Wolf Trap has no rules on what to bring so be creative with your food and beverage choice. Beer, wine or the new low sugar spiked seltzer – my personal favorite.

Don’t forget water to drink and a way to clean your hands.

Bring a large sheet or blanket to claim your footprint on the lawn.

Once the sun goes down you may need a flashlight to see what you’re eating or find your car keys under your blanket.

Kale Salad
(go to, hands down, kale-converting crowd favorite)
1 bunch kale stalks removed, leaves thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt
2 t. honey
Freshly ground black pepper
2 c. fruit (diced mango, diced strawberries or blueberries.)
½ c. red onion, thinly sliced.
½ c. toasted pumpkin seeds
In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little kosher salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the honey, ¼ c. oil and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss. Add the remaining ingredients. Serve or refrigerate, it’s better as it sits.

Red White & Blue Salad
(doubles as a dessert)
1 lb washed and quartered strawberries
1 lb washed blueberries
1 cup white chocolate chips
Gently combine all ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate before serving.

Chopped Caprese Salad / Bruschetta
10 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
8 oz mozzarella, small dice
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2-3 T balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Gently combine all ingredients and refrigerate. Serve as salad or with baguette or pita chips

Crudite and Hummus
Pint containers of pre-cut fresh fruit
Pre-sliced block of cheese and crackers
Mixed nuts or trail mixes
Pre-made chicken salad and mini-croissants
Fresh sushi or sashimi tray
Lemon, ginger or oatmeal cookies – less likely to melt or crumble

Nando’s (online ordering)
You have to try their fresh spiced Peri-Peri chicken and the variety of Portuguese-inspired sides.

Panera’s (online ordering)
Their 100% clean menu makes healthy choices easy!

Cafe Sano (online ordering)
Serving a variety of fresh foods based on the delicious Mediterranean diet. They have a Gluten Free menu also.

Wegmans & Whole Foods
carry pre-made appetizers, sides and meals.
Rotisserie chicken and fresh sushi are my favorite picnic grab-and-go.

Wherever you go and whatever you eat, enjoy it. Use these tips and recipes to make the most of your summer days at the parks and nights under the stars.