A picnic can be a romantic date for two, a family-oriented outing or a quick break from a hectic work schedule. No matter what the intent, even the word “picnic” invokes the image of a simple, care-free event. You can keep your picnic care-free by limiting the number of items on your menu. Concentrate on bold flavored dishes in large quantities — remember fresh air can stimulate the appetite.


Sandwiches

Sandwiches are ideal for a picnic because they are easy to pack and transport, they don’t require a plate or utensils and when thoughtfully prepared they can be a meal in themselves. Making sandwiches for a picnic does not mean you have to limit yourself to the same old tuna salad or ham and cheese that you would have at home. You can make picnic sandwiches special by including unexpected ingredients such as mashed cannellini beans, olive tapenade, smoked salmon, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil or exotic cheeses. Artisinal breads, pita pockets or mini-baguettes will also add a picnic-worthy flair to sandwiches.

Finger Foods

A variety of crunchy vegetables, chips, crackers, dips and ready-to-eat fruits provide picnic-goers with an easy snack no matter how rustic your picnic location might be. Pack items in air-tight containers to keep them fresh, and any leftovers will be ready for storage when you get home. For a romantic picnic for two, include strawberries to dip in chocolate, a sampling of fine cheeses with apple wedges, olives and a good crusty bread. Baby carrots with Ranch dressing, peanut butter-stuffed celery, deviled eggs and wedges of watermelon round out a more family-friendly picnic menu.

Salads

Skip the lettuce and messy bottles of dressing when making salads for a picnic. Grain-based salads like couscous with roasted vegetables, tabouli with tomatoes and mint or pasta salad with chunks of salami and parmesan cheese hold up while being transported and are easy to eat with plastic utensils.

Desserts

If you crave something more than fresh fruit for dessert on your picnic, remember to keep it simple. Desserts without sauces, delicate decorations or elements that require strict refrigeration are best. Cookies, dessert bars and cupcakes can be purchased at the bakery or homemade. A large bar of high-quality dark chocolate is simple and satisfying for most adults, and kids will enjoy gummy or sweet and sour candies for a treat.

Prepackaged Foods

A quick stop at your local supermarket will provide everything you need for an impromptu picnic. Packaged sushi and a bag of wasabi peas combine well with pre-cut fruit and bottled green tea. For a more traditional menu, fried chicken and a tub of potato salad from the deli counter, a bottle of sparkling juice and a package of your favorite cookies will fill your picnic basket nicely.