Is there anything more summery than a picnic? Whether you're sitting at a bench with a deli sandwich or spread out on a blanket with a basket of homemade treats, food always tastes better outdoors. While it may seem to be the epitome of leisure, pulling off a perfect picnic does require some planning. Keep these tips in mind for a successful and truly relaxing al fresco outing.

Pack a go-bag

Cute wicker baskets aren't really ideal for transporting food because they're generally not insulated. They do work well, however, for storing all the little odd items that allow you to kick back and relax, and having a picnic basket set up and ready to go makes it easy to be spontaneous. Keep a basket or tote in the garage that's ready to go with everything but food: plates, cutlery, cups, napkins and a picnic blanket. Other helpful items include wipes, sanitizer, sunscreen, bug spray, corkscrew, picnic knife, small cutting board and a very basic first-aid kit.

Get rolling

In the likely event that you'll have a lot to carry to your picnic site, bring along a wagon or rolling cart to lighten your load. This can also help keep your food intact because it can end up shifting or getting smashed as it's lugged from the car to the picnic site.

Select your menu wisely

While sandwiches are a classic choice, there's a world of other options to consider. Focus on foods that keep well in warm weather and are easy to transport. Whole fruits and veggies will keep better than if they are cut, and foods like olives, cheese and charcuterie are fairly stable. Finger foods like hand pies are excellent choices, as well as quiche and even pizza. Above all, keep it as simple as possible.


It's critical to stay hydrated, especially in warm weather, so be sure to bring plenty of ice-cold water, which is particularly delicious on a hot day when infused with fresh fruit and herbs like mint and cucumber. If you're planning a picnic with adult beverages, choose a light cocktail that can be prepared ahead to avoid carrying heavy glass bottles to your picnic site. Similarly, look for wine in alternative packaging such as bag-in-box and cans. There are some fabulous box wines available now, such as the organically farmed Bedrock 'Ode to Lulu' Dry Rose.

Pack wisely

Frozen water bottles are an excellent way to keep things cool. Line the bottom of your cooler with frozen bottles 15 minutes before you begin packing it with food to pre-chill it. Then place the heavy items and things that need to be kept the coldest on top of the bottles, followed by the lightest and most fragile items on top. Consider transferring cold beverages into a thermos, or packing drinks into a separate insulated bag with ice.

Create a staging area

Keep your picnic area tidy by setting up the food and beverages in a separate, shaded area rather than piling everything in the middle of the blanket. This prompts your guests to get up and make a plate and helps prevent spills. Bring a board or tray to arrange charcuterie on and keep condiments organized. Don't forget serving utensils if needed.

Don't be trashy

Pack along some plastic grocery sacks for rubbish and to pack up dirty dishes. Considering the high price of disposable paper goods, it makes more sense than ever to switch to reusable picnicware like plastic cups and metal plates. Using real dishes will make the whole affair feel more special and reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill.

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

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