Five Tips for the Perfect Picnic
Writer / Aimee MacArthur
Some of my fondest childhood memories are picnics at the lake with family and friends. We enjoyed Italian submarine sandwiches from our local Italian deli, homemade macaroni salad my dad made, and my mom’s famous brownies with rich
chocolate frosting. We enjoyed our meal and then took turns sailing around the lake in my family’s sailboat. You don’t need fancy food to have a picnic. It doesn’t all have to be homemade. Play to your strengths. You do need a little bit of planning, good food, and friends and family. Here are five tips for enjoying the perfect picnic.
Make a Menu and Invite Your Guests
My parents owned a restaurant and catering company, so I believe it’s important to eat good, high-quality food at your picnic. It doesn’t all have to be homemade. Don’t overdo it. Set a budget. I prefer to provide the food for my guests instead of a pitch-in/potluck. It makes things easier for everyone and you won’t have duplicate items. Also, guests won’t feel added pressure of what to bring and they can enjoy themselves. Who knows – maybe your guests will reciprocate and invite you to the next picnic or party. Set a budget and think of your signature dishes (what you make best), and work from there. I like to serve either fried chicken or sandwiches at a picnic. I like to buy fried chicken from a local restaurant or grocery, or make good sandwiches (ham and cheese on french baguette loaf, or BLTs on French bread). For the sides and dessert, I like to serve fruit (cut-up pineapple, strawberries and watermelon), homemade pasta salad (with a vinaigrette or salad dressing), lemon bars, brownies and cookies. You can purchase the desserts from your favorite bakery. I like to have plenty of water and canned drinks on hand with slices of lime and lemon.
I prefer to keep the number of guests at the picnic to 10 or fewer. It’s a nice number of guests and allows everyone to hear each other talk, and it won’t break your budget.
Picnic Pro Tip: Don’t forget to pack some snacks. Hungry guests will appreciate some snacks at the picnic before you eat the main meal.
Bonus Picnic Pro Tip: Don’t forget salt and pepper, mayo, mustard and other condiments. I like to use packets so each guest can take a few packets if they need to.
Make a List of Picnic Supplies
I don’t want to waste money buying what I already have on hand. Make sure you have enough extra cups, plates, silverware and napkins. Make a list of what you may need to buy, such as disposable tablecloths.
Picnic Pro Tip: Try to use plastic plates and cups if possible. Plastic plates are sturdier than paper plates. If you do use paper, this is the time to splurge on thick paper plates and cups.
Bonus Picnic Pro Tip: Keep picnic supplies in one location. I keep plastic cups, plates, silverware, napkins and tablecloths on a separate shelf in the pantry. I’m always ready to plan a picnic. If you don’t have these supplies, it’s an inexpensive investment for cute, plastic picnic supplies.
Plan Where You Picnic
Look at your favorite city or local park and reserve a covered table or two. If you’re not able to reserve a table, you can always find empty picnic tables and/or a large area of grass to put down extra tablecloths. If kids will be at your picnic, try to find a park with a playground or spray pad so the kids will have something to do after eating.
Picnic Pro Tip: Try to find a local park where you can park your vehicle close to the picnic area. This will make it easier to unload and load up picnic supplies.
Bonus Picnic Pro Tip: Look at your local weather forecast and try to plan your picnic on a dry day that’s not too hot. Plan your gathering early in the day or late in the day for optimal weather conditions.
I like to pack a supply bag (cups, plates, silverware, napkins, paper towels for any messes, wet wipes, garbage bags and tablecloths) in advance. Keep all the drinks and food in the fridge until shortly before leaving to guarantee they will be cold. I pack the food and drinks in two soft cooler bags with ice packs. Pack some bubbles, Frisbees, hula hoops and other toys for the kids. I also like to bring a wireless speaker to play music during the picnic.
Picnic Pro Tip: Allow yourself an extra 30 minutes before you leave, and double check your picnic list to make sure you have everything packed and ready to go. Try to keep everything in a few large, soft cooler bags or coolers so you don’t have a lot of small bags to carry.
Bonus Picnic Pro Tip: Pack a few foldable chairs just in case someone might want to sit in a chair. Pack a couple of spray water bottles with fans. I have a few of these on hand and they are a perfect way to cool off on a hot day. They are usually under $10 at most stores. These are good to have on hand for concerts, sporting events and other outdoor activities.
Don’t stress about your picnic. This is the time to ask any guests who arrive early to help unpack the car, and carry the bags and coolers to the picnic table and set up. Take a break and pour drinks for guests, and turn on the music while setting up the meal. You spent a lot of time planning and now it’s time to have fun, enjoy the food and spend time with your guests. The extra planning makes for a successful picnic party.
Picnic Pro Tip: Don’t forget the games. Let the kids play with bubbles, hula hoops, Frisbees and other toys.
Bonus Picnic Pro Tip: Once you get home, relax and congratulate yourself on a fantastic picnic.