Spring and summertime shouldn’t have all the picnic time fun. Brisk fall days or even a chilly wintertime afternoon are lovely times to host a picnic as long as you prepare ahead and pack right gear and cuisine to keep everyone toasty warm.

There’s nothing like a clean blanket of shimmering snow beneath a cool blue winter sky to bring family and friends together. There’s solidarity when people are huddled up around a bonfire, telling stories, keeping warm with hot mugs of cocoa while bundled up in chunky wool scarves and comfy blankets.

A wintertime picnic takes a little more planning than one hosted during warmer months since there’s nothing that will end a picnic faster than chilled fingers and toes. With a little pre-picnic game planning, your frosty feast will be a success.

    1. Keep focused on the elements that will keep your family and friends warm by packing cozy blankets, scarves, and mittens. Also bring an insulated pad along to lay down on the ground as the first layer before spreading out your picnic blanket.
    2. Pack binoculars for bird or wildlife watching and a deck of cards or old-fashioned games like Yahtzee for picnic entertainment.
    3. Don’t forget tissues to assist with chilly noses.
    4. If there’s an abundance of snow, pack a snowman kit with a carrot nose and pebbles for the eyes and buttons. Collect twigs on-site for the arms but skip the scarf to ensure your snowman is fully recyclable once he melts away.
    5. If the conditions are right for a bonfire, bring along a bundle of wood, a long lighter, and kindling to get the fire party started.
    6. Continue the theme of keeping warm by packing a thermos with hot soup or stew, another with hot mulled cider, and round it out with a thermos of hot chocolate. Pack small bags of cinnamon sticks and mini-marshmallows to garnish your cider and hot chocolate. For a little adult fun, bring along a bottle of bourbon or brandy to splash into the cider or cocoa before serving.
    7. Pack cloth napkins, compostable utensils, hand wipes, recyclable plates and glasses, and a small rubbish bag to collect trash to bring home at the end of your winter feast.
    8. Bring along a small vase and a sprig of holly or other wintertime flowers to add a touch of unexpected elegance.
    9. Pack robust dips like creamy artichoke, white bean hummus, or roasted red pepper spread accompanied by toasted pita triangles brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with thyme and crunchy sea salt before baking.
    10. Keep sliced bread, cold cuts, cheese, and pickles in separate plastic bags until sandwiches are ready to be constructed to avoid sogginess. Consider wintertime sandwich garnishes such as lingonberry spread or cranberry chutney.
    11. Prepare hearty wintertime salads such as an ancient grain like amaranth or barley studded with roasted butternut squash or sweet potatoes garnished with toasted hazelnuts and mint.
    12. Conclude the meal with a sweet finish such as homemade chocolate chunk cookies or chewy brownies.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Skinny Taste

Heat this dip up just before leaving for your picnic and keep it warm in an insulated container. It’s the perfect way to kickoff a winter picnic and will keep everyone warm from the inside out. The creamy texture and melted cheese surrounding the bright green spinach and velvety artichokes are ideal for toasted pita triangles sprinkled with crunchy sea salt. Get the recipe.

Balsamic Butternut Squash Barley Salad  

Food Babbles

Barley is a hearty grain that stands up to the chill of a winter day. This salad could be served cold but is even better when heated up just before leaving the house for your picnic. The tender butternut squash with its earthiness is brightened by the addition of balsamic. Add a little freshly torn mint for even more nuanced flavor. Get the recipe

Beef Stew

Daily Dose of Pepper

A thermos of this hot beef stew will keep everyone warm while quelling hunger pains with its rich and comforting flavor. The beef is coated in flour before it’s cooked to give the stew a thick, velvety texture. Get the recipe

Roast Chicken, Apple, and Brie Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

With the crunchy texture of the toasted bread, vibrant apple, and silky melted brie, this wintertime sandwich is a guaranteed picnic crowd-pleaser. The flavors are sophisticated but the preparation time is minimal. If you would like to keep them warm in transit to your picnic spot, wrap each sandwich up individually in a double layer of aluminum foil right after grilling. That should keep them toasty but even served cold, they’re sandwich masterpieces. Get the recipe

Mulled Apple Cider

Chowhound

This cold weather classic is the warm beverage of choice on a brisk picnic day. The cider is infused with seasonal favorites like orange peels, star anise, cinnamon, and even ginger for good measure and it evokes comfort sip after sip. Pour it into a thermos while it’s still hot and kick off your picnic with glasses of it to keep everyone toasty. Don’t forget the cinnamon sticks for a fun wintertime flourish. Get the recipe

Chewy Chocolate Caramel Brownie Bars

A Treats Affair

Don’t unveil these decadent brownies until the very end. They’re sure to elicit delight from even the most dessert-averse in your group. Their chewy texture and generous chunks of chocolate are made even more luxurious drizzled with ribbons of amber caramel. Get the recipe. 

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jody Eddy is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. She has cooked at Jean Georges, The Fat Duck, and Tabla and is the former editor of Art Culinaire Magazine. Her most recent cookbook was "Cuba! Recipes and Stories From a Cuban Kitchen", published by Ten Speed Press. Her cookbook "North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland" was published by Ten Speed Press in 2014 and won the 2015 IACP Judge's Choice Award. She is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook "Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants" and her upcoming book for Ten Speed, "The Hygge Life", will be published in November, 2017. She is writing a cookbook for W.W. Norton profiling the cuisine and food traditions of monasteries, temples, mosques and synagogues around the world which will be published in 2019 and a cookbook with the Food Network chef Maneet Chauhan profiling the cuisine of India via an epic train journey throughout the country. She writes for Travel+Leisure, Saveur, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, Plate, and VICE, among others. She is the author of JodyEddy.com, leads culinary trend tours for food and beverage corporations in Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Ireland and Cuba and is the Vice President of Marketing, Partnerships and Events at Hop Springs, an 85 acre agritourism destination opening in Nashville in May, 2018.
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