How to have the perfect waste-free September picnic

Build one of these beautiful, delicious, environmentally conscious treats, and soak up the last of the warm weather.

The problem I have with picnics is that they are sometimes very waste-heavy. The plastic forks, plates, napkins, etc. are often thrown in the trash and sent to landfills. This can make a person who has grown up with the constant reminder that global warming is changing the world faster than we can sometimes manage a little anxious. My solution to this was to invest in a few reusable items in which to store and serve food.

This one-bowl meal is amazing because it doesn’t even use plastic wrap or tin foil to cover the food while it is being transported — a large pot lid fits snugly on the top of my shallow wooden bowl. I use metal cutlery I bought at the dollar store to serve the food and cloth napkins to wipe my face if the food is messy, so this meal is completely, 100% waste-free, save the wine bottle (if you brought one), which you can chuck in the recycling. That’s something everyone can feel good about.

Below are the contents of my cupboard that I emptied into this bowl one sunny, sweltering afternoon. I was hungry. I was hot. I was in no mood to go to the grocery store or prepare any sort of cooked meal, but I wanted to do something fancy and didn’t have the cash to go out for dinner. So I did what I always do when I feel this way and turned to my pantry and fridge and asked myself, “What can I do with what I have?” This usually ends in me making some sort of sad pasta dish with the last package of gluten-free noodles from the cupboard with olive oil, sea salt, pepper, parm, and whatever fun canned thing is lying around. But I decided to rise above that this time and challenge myself creatively.

LOL. JK. I had no choice because there was no pasta in the cupboard. Here’s what I came up with:

Those crackers? They’re the end of a bag of Ace Mini Crisps we bought for entertaining weeks ago. The dried fruit and nuts have been in my pantry for months. The Gruyère was the end of a block we’d taken camping the day before. The parmesan was around from before I left for Ireland at the beginning of August. Someone gave us that apple when we left their cottage a few days ago. And, you know what? It was delicious.

All you need to create the scrumptious insides of this bowl are a few substantial elements – like meat, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, and/or bread – that have been kicking around (or, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even LEAVE THE HOUSE and go grocery shopping for them) and a couple less substantial elements, like fruit and veg, to add that gorgeous colour, flavour, and (…oh yeah) balanced nutrition.

I felt like having wine that afternoon, so I built a bowl around what would pair well with a Rioja we had. I’ve provided a couple examples below to get you inspired, but you could also experiment with different themes or flavours (e.g., Mexican or Vietnamese) or different colour palettes if you’re looking for a great photo. Take this opportunity to challenge yourself. Build new flavour combinations you wouldn’t think to try before.

Now, go forth, young Padawan. Build one of these beautiful, delicious, environmentally conscious treats, and soak up the last of the warm weather.

Chardonnay Bowl

  • Sliced peaches or mangoes
  • Seedy crackers/bread
  • Tuna (fresh or from the can with a touch of olive oil and chopped green onions) and/or shrimp you had in the freezer
  • Macadamia nuts, cashews, and/or walnuts
  • Torn up basil leaves
  • Leftover or preserved asparagus and/or squash

Pinot Grigio Bowl

  • A couple pickles hanging around in your fridge (alternatively: olives, eggplant, or artichokes)
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes (they’re in season right now!)
  • Half a cup of ricotta cheese
  • Torn up basil leaves
  • A handful or two of fresh baguette (or re-toasted-from-frozen bread drizzled with olive oil)
  • A dollop of Gigi “Bomba” Calabrese tapenade (available in many grocery stores in Little Italy)
  • A handful of sliced fennel

Malbec Bowl

  • A handful of Manchego cheese slices
  • A few sprigs of fresh coriander
  • Any sort of fruity, savoury preserves you have lying around, especially if it contains plums
  • Green apple slices
  • Toasted walnuts
  • A terrine or a few slices of pros

Chianti or Sangiovese Bowl

  • A chunk of fresh parmesan and/or pecorino broken into small pieces
  • Charcuterie sausage (especially if it happens to be Wild Boar)
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • Torn up basil leaves
  • Crostini made from old baguette (slice, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt, and toast in oven at 400 C for five minutes) or any crunchy bread crackers