Tuesday, May 21st, 2019
A big part of Danielle Binns' summer family fun is taking her three kids on day trips in the city. Parks. The beach. A museum.
But her secret to making it enjoyable — not to mention nutritious and wallet-friendly — is to pack a family picnic. And that's not just lunch, but also snacks, bottles of icy lemon water, plus a few homemade seed-butter cookies as a treat.
Binns, a Toronto family nutritionist and picky eating expert, says she sees more and more families doing the same thing as food costs mount.
"Food prep and snack prep feels like a small savings at the time, but it all adds up," she says.
Not only does packing a moveable feast allow her to avoid one of the great summer fast-food money pits, but she also makes sure her kids, one-and-a-half, 4 and 6, get the high-quality food fuel they need to take them through loads of adventures on hot and sticky days.
She points to an outing last summer to the beach. She took hummus and veggie sticks for snacking along the way. Once at the beach, she spread a picnic blanket on a shady patch of grass and served up homemade chicken fingers and a huge chopped salad with peppers, cucumbers and avocado, dished out in individual plates with a side of cold water.
What if she'd bought the food? It would have been an easy $40 for lunches alone, plus $16 to answer the inevitable call for ice cream and another $2 per bottle for water for everyone, bringing the total to more than $60. Add in a few pre-packaged snacks grabbed at convenience stores along the way, and it would have been a pricey day.
Multiply that by an outing every week or so, and it comes to serious money.
Emma Rohmann agrees. The environmental engineer is looking forward to summer outings with her two kids, 4 and 7. One of the financial strategies that makes those trips work is to plan elegant picnics.
Last year on a family trip to Toronto Island, she filled her backpack with snacks like cheese slices and baby carrots because, as she says, her kids never stop eating. She figures she would have spent upwards of $100 to buy food onsite if she hadn't packed her own. Buying groceries and making her own snacks instead came to roughly $20. That's a hefty savings.
"If you're going on excursions every week, that could add up to saving hundreds of dollars over the summer," she says.
Apart from saving money, there's the bliss factor of spending great family time seated on a picnic blanket, enjoying a homemade feast instead of spending that time in a fast food lineup or looking for a restaurant that pleases everyone.
"It makes it fun for everybody," Rohmann says. "If hunger strikes, we've got options. Days in summer can be long and hot. Taking one of those stress points away can make for much more enjoyable family time."