If you’re the one responsible for putting food on your household’s dinner table, I’ve got a great tip for you. If you’re not the cook in the family, the same tip works even better — because you can relieve the cook, for once! And if you’re travelling, this tip works better still.

First, consider your usual options for dinner:

  1. Eat in. This is the cheapest, most time-consuming, most demanding and, potentially, the most monotonous option for feeding everyone who shows up for dinner at your house.
  2. Eat out. This is the most costly, hardest-to-agree-on option.
  3. Take out. And this is the least healthy way to go, unless you’re a smarter shopper than much of the fast-food industry expects.

What about a picnic?

It might seem like a childhood fantasy, but picnics can also be practical and easy to arrange. You don’t need the big picnic basket, checkered tablecloth or bulky cooler.

A picnic can be as simple as grabbing a sandwich and an apple and munching them in a quiet corner of a park. At the other end of the spectrum, you can pick up delightful prepared foods at fancy delis and eat them in an exotic location.

The forgotten meal option

I’d almost forgotten about picnics, when our son and daughter-in-law reintroduced us to the idea last spring. Adam and Carolyn were living in London, England then and we had agreed to meet them at Borough Market, the city’s most renowned food market. The food looked so good, we decided to pick up amazing cheeses, breads, sweets, fruit, sliced meats — even glasses of chilled bubbly and Somerset cider! After a short walk, we enjoyed our picnic on a park bench just outside the London landmark, St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We’ve had lots of picnics, since then. Some have been remarkable and memorable affairs that we planned — but others have been impromptu moments that were simple and inexpensive.

At-home picnics

Some of my favourite at-home meals are really just picnics we eat at home. Last night, for instance, I cracked open a few walnuts while my wife thawed some shrimp. We added a bit of cheese, a bit of leftover roast, and some dried figs and raisins we brought home from a trip to Portugal. With a glass of wine, it was a delightful at-home picnic!

Bad weather? Picnic indoors!

My favourite picnic of the past year was in the French city of Dijon, where we had some free time during a bus tour. What started out as an aimless walk resulted in a feast!

We stumbled across the most amazing market (the building was designed by Gustave Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame), where my wife became very excited by the foods we found. We loaded up on a variety of marvellous French cheeses, terrines, baguettes, fresh figs and grapes, then picked up a bottle of Burgundy wine. (Dijon is the capital of the region of Burgundy, so a bottle of Burgundy was the right choice.)

Because the weather was rainy, we had our picnic in our hotel room. Total cost: about what you’d pay for take-out from your local pizzeria.

Picnics far and wide

We’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively in our first year of retirement. We spent a total of six months abroad, spread over three trips, visiting 10 European countries. We picnicked in all 10 countries — even posh Monaco, where we munched some fruit and a pastry in a remarkable botanical garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

In Faro, a small seaside city in the south of Portugal, we picnicked after a visit to the bustling Mercado Municipal de Faro. With no cooking facilities, we turned to custard tarts and cheese (despite a language barrier, the cheesemonger steered us away from cheese he didn’t think tourists would like and recommended some wonderful alternatives), along with fresh and dried fruit. When we walked to the seaside and sat down on a bench, the other tourists were all envious!

With picnics, there are no rules. Choose the food you want and eat it wherever you choose. Bon appetit!