7 Steps for Preparing the Perfect Summer Picnic

by | Updated: July 17th, 2018 | Read time: 4 minutes

Warm weather and longer, leisurely days of summer call for more outdoor activities. When you head out for a refreshing dip in the water, or perhaps a park visit or outdoor concert, extend the fun and plan to set up a picnic.

Family Enjoying a Well-Planned Summer Picnic | Vitacost.com/Blog

From simple snack breaks to gourmet dinners with wine, eating food outdoors always makes for better-tasting meals. The foods and beverages you choose to pack will vary depending on family favorites and cultural traditions.

Besides what’s in the basket, there are a few other things to think about before you nail down the menu. Ask yourself the following questions to help you get organized. Then, implement our fun ideas for a few modern twists. Cheers to al fresco dining!

1. Who are you dining with?

Before you can decide what to pack, you need to know who you’re packing for. If you’re packing for yourself and your family, you most likely know what works and if there are any special dietary needs for your group. A romantic dinner for two, a family gathering with kids or a day-long party with lots of friends all require a slightly different plan. 

2. Where is your destination?

You can have a great picnic experience whether you’re on the beach, in a city location or on a mountaintop with a view. Consider the needs of those in the group for the most suitable location. If there are a lot of kids or toddlers think about access to toilet facilities. Is running water important to your group or will you be bringing in water for cooking and cleaning? Depending on how much gear you’re carrying, choose a location where parking is accessible. If you are gathering with a group, make sure your location is easy enough to find or provide specific directions.

3. What will you serve?

Modern day picnics are generally simpler occasions than in the past. Elaborate Victorian era garden parties and country banquets during the Renaissance era included china, silver, linens and servants to take care of every detail. Sure, you can still go there with the right budget, but why?

Depending on the time of day and the event, consider a snack and wine basket, desserts or s’mores to make over the campfire or a spread of various picnic salads, cold meats and breads. If you’re short on time, pick up pre-made spreads , crackers, nuts, olives, breads and cheese for a gourmet feast. How about planning your meal and menu around a theme? International cuisines, such as a Tex-Mex feast, tea party nibbles, Caribbean fare or Southern BBQ, leave plenty of room for creative planning.

4. Keep it cool

Unless you have access to refrigeration, keep in mind food safety when packing your goodies.  As a rule, always keep cold foods cold with lots of ice or freezer gel packs in an insulated cooler and place in a shady spot. Avoid items that spoil quickly. Pack raw meat, poultry and fish separately from cooked foods in tightly-sealed containers to prevent cross contamination. Include paper towels to wipe up spills and a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked to a safe temperature. Once the meal starts, don’t leave food out in the hot sun for too long.

5. Stay hydrated

Pack plenty of clean water to drink. Freeze smaller bottles of water and coconut water in advance and pack in with foods to help keep everything cold. By the time the meal begins, you’ll have plenty of icy cold water to sip. Wine and beer are always favorites so don’t forget a wine and bottle opener. You can also prepare a bulk batch of cocktails (or mocktails!) in a large mason jar to share. Whip up a fruity sangria, wine spritzers, herbal gin and tonics, homemade sun tea or lemonade. For another refreshing treat, blend up a frozen berry smoothie and pack it into an insulated growler to keep chilled.

6. Pack smartly and add unique touches

Pack a soft blanket to cushion breakables during transport. Not only can you lay it on the grass to eat on, but it can also double as a tablecloth. Include a cutting board for slicing fruits and veggies on. This item can also be used as a tray and help stabilize things that tip easily. Pack reusable cutlery and plates, to be cleaned at home or use eco-friendly compostable plates, utensils and cups. Mason jars with lids are great for beverages and keep out pesky insects when you’re not drinking from them. Other good things to pack; a foldable knife, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, a first aid kit, candles, natural insect repellent and plenty of sunscreen.

7. Prepare for minimal cleanup

What you pack your goodies in is a personal choice; vintage picnic basket, insulated cooler bag, tote bags, backpack or rolling cooler. Split up the load so no one has to carry all of the heavy stuff. When your group is done munching, simply shake out your blanket and pack up leftovers in your respective coolers before heading out!

However your picnic unfolds, the most important thing is to get outside and remain present in the moment with loved ones.

Still pondering about picnics? Here are 5 Ways a Summer Picnic Supports Your Health + What to Pack.