The picnic is one of the annual joys of warm-weather (and sometimes cool-weather) eating, and our guide to packing the best picnic ever will ensure you have a perfect time, wherever you are.
1. Go enamel.
Enamel plates are light, easy to pack and carry, and practical—you can load them up with baked beans and salad, let it sit for 20 minutes, and they won’t sog out and collapse. They also look and feel cooler than plastic, and are way better for the environment than disposable dishes. See some of our favourite handy-dandy eco-friendly picnic gear here.
2. Bring something to do.
Even scintillating conversation can lag after a while. Plan for boredom by bringing activities: board games, sandcastle construction gear, books, and colouring books, adult or otherwise. These are easy to pack in and out, and easy to make an afternoon of delicious food even tastier.
3. Take the food you can pick up easily.
Stuff with built-in handles, like chicken drumsticks, fruit on skewers, and corn on cobs, is all inherently picnic-friendly. As much as you can minimize forks, spoons, and knives, you want to.
4. Have a bug plan.
Flying critters and creepy crawlies will assail even the most urban picnic. Plan for this. Have a strategy. That could mean packing and/or serving food and drinks in containers with lids (Mason jars, for instance), packing mesh covers, and toting plastic wrap. Shower caps can even come in handy for both covering bowls and keeping them chilled.
5. Don’t skimp on salads.
We all like something seared and crispy off the grill, but the spirit of most picnics is sylvan, meaning that salads are always appropriate. Make and pack as many as you think you’ll eat: green and grain salads for sure, but don’t forget fruit salad, chopped salads, or potato salad either. A whole spread of salads is fresh, colourful, light, and versatile. Bring any dressings in small jars and add them when you get there.
6. Travel light.
Sure, folding tables and camp chairs and hassocks and tents and dishes look cool in the movies, but those were scenes of millionaires or Roman generals, with an army of servants to carry and set up. Keep your picnic swag as concisely edited as possible. When you find the perfect spot, all you’ll need is a blanket and your portable feast.
7. Shell out for a good cooler.
A Styro cooler might be a good option when you’re in college, but come on: Nobody wants to tote a fragile, unwieldy container of plastic foam filled with ice and beverage bottles onto a beach. Pay a little extra for a great cooler—you’ll use it year after year. In other words, it’s an investment that delivers dividends.
8. Pack more wet naps and garbage bags than you think you’ll need.
They’re effortless to haul home, and when you need them…you need them.
9. Bring blanket weights and other wind deterrents.
Few things are as annoying as setting up the perfect al fresco spread, only to find the weather conspiring to scatter stuff. Have weights and tethers in mind: nearby rocks you can weight blankets with, stakes, simple napkin holders. Mother Nature can be cruel.
10. Don’t even think of packing anything messy.
You’re in the woods. Or on a picnic table in a city park. Even if you can run to a public restroom to wash your 8-year-old’s face of BBQ sauce or cake frosting, you’re not going to want to have to play scrub-down. Think of un-messy picnic foods: sandwiches, frittatas, oven-fried chicken. (Still, refer to #8 and pack plenty of napkins).