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Redefining the staycation

By Stacey Stein

As the weather warms up and the days get longer, it’s hard not to think about waylaid summer plans. But just because we have to skip our cross-country road trip or we might have to wait longer to take our kids on their first rollercoaster, we can still recreate fun summer experiences at home while making lots of great memories.

Here are some ideas to help you plan the ultimate summer family staycation.

Staycation theme: Picnic at the park

The scene: Lay out a blanket on the grass, pack your food in a picnic basket, and you’re all set!

The eats: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may be a picnic staple, but you can be a little more elaborate in your sandwich-making when your fridge is nearby and you don’t have far to travel. This herb marinated chicken focaccia sandwich is packed with protein and features a diverse mix of herbs. No fresh herbs on hand? No problem – just use dried herbs instead.

For those of us looking for a lighter option, registered dietitian Shannon Crocker recommends “salad on a stick.” Skewer chunks of iceberg lettuce along with chopped up peppers, tomatoes and cubes of cheese, then drizzle with your favourite salad dressing or serve with this blue cheese and spinach dip. “It’s a different way of eating a salad,” says Crocker.

The drink: Orange pop pairs well with picnic food – make your own healthier version by mixing sparkling water with orange juice.

Sweet ending: For dessert, get the kids involved in making homemade gourmet S’more shortbreads, complete with homemade marshmallows (there’s no shame in store-bought marshmallows if you don’t have enough time to make your own). The perfect finishing touch? A dollop of Gay Lea toasted marshmallow whipped cream.

Staycation theme: Weekend at the cottage

The scene: Pitch a tent in your backyard, grab a deck of cards and some board games, and set up a telescope for star gazing once the sun sets.

The eats: Sharing casual comfort food over a game of cards helps recreate that breezy, laid-back feeling we associate with the cottage. This chicken and bacon flatbread and these loaded sweet potato fries fit the bill – both are shareable dishes that don’t require any cutlery.

The drink: Adults will enjoy this pineapple Caesar with halloumi – nix the vodka and you can turn this into a mocktail for kids, or simply serve little ones plain pineapple juice.

Sweet ending: For dessert, put out a platter of chopped up fruit and pair it with this protein-rich chocolate almond dip. Cap off your evening with some star gazing while roasting marshmallows – sub in your barbecue for a campfire.

Staycation theme: Backyard barbecue

The scene: Backyard barbecues are a quintessential part of summer. Set up a table and a few chairs, fire up the barbecue, and grab a ball to toss around later.

The eats: Many of us have elevated our cooking game over the past few months, making this the perfect time to jazz up the pedestrian burger. Try this cheese-laced black river burger – an onion-wine jam topping lends it an extra kick of flavour. No ground beef on hand? You can make the same recipe using ground turkey or ground chicken. If you have vegetarians in your family, these Mediterranean Halloumi sliders are a great alternative.

Potato salad, a classic side dish, gets a makeover in this herby version that uses grilled potatoes and sour cream instead of mayonnaise. Crocker recommends grilling some asparagus – in season at this time of year – to complete the meal. Drizzle some melted butter over the spears for a simple and tasty side dish.

The drink: Crocker recommends putting out a jug of fruit-infused water. Fresh local strawberries are available in June – infuse a bunch in water for a light, refreshing drink.

Sweet ending: Few things scream “summer” like ice cream. And what can be more divine than sandwiching a scoop of your favourite flavour in between two chewy cookies? Even better: try making your own shortbread ice cream sandwiches (feel free to make these in either a mini or regular size). These mojito shortbread trifles are another great dessert option – you can prepare a few without the rum to make them suitable for young family members.

Staycation theme: A carnival day

The scene: Set up your backyard with carnival games that you either have at home or can assemble yourself – for example, you can arrange mixing bowls on your lawn and assign points to each one (those further away will have a higher point value). Kids can then take turns throwing a ball or bean bag (whatever you have on hand) into the bowls. Another idea is placing a bunch of smarties (or gummy bears – anything will do) into a mason jar and everyone takes a turn guessing how many are in the jar.

The eats: It’s hard to imagine a carnival without hot dogs and fries. Crocker recommends getting creative and setting up a “DIY hot dog bar,” laying out various condiments on a table outside. For a different take on French fries, you can make your own oven-baked fries and serve them with this jalapeno horseradish dip. Poutine is another carnival favourite – this gourmet spin on the homegrown classic uses grilled potatoes.

The drink: A glass of lemonade – filled to the brim with ice cubes – is the perfect way to wash down your hot dog and fries. You can make your own by mixing together water, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Sweet ending: After a day spent playing games in the sun, what could be better than cooling off with a refreshing milkshake? Take this fruit-filled banana split shake to the next level by topping it off with a squirt of Gay Lea toasted marshmallow whipped cream.

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