You know what I love about this time of year? There are so many reasons to get outdoors and enjoy a meal al fresco. Weekends by the shore, an irresistible rooftop, outdoor concerts and plays, even movies in the park.
A picnic is the ultimate frugal family fun because you can make a meal really special without spending extra money. The very act of taking your meal outdoors can elevate it to something exceptional. Especially if you’ve planned it well. Here’s how.
Depending on the occasion, a picnic can be as rustic or as elegant as you like. It could be a potluck feast for a crowd or a romantic repast for two.
Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is everything. When you select your location be sure you’ll have access to restrooms, especially if you’re picnicking with kids. Consider who and how many people will be with you, how far you’ll have to walk or hike, are there picnic tables or will you be setting up on the ground? If you’re bringing your dog be sure the venue is pet friendly.
For optimal food safety and convenience, divide your picnic paraphernalia into three carriers;
Carrier 1 – Service and Snacks. For serving items (blankets, tableware, etc.) and non-perishable snack foods (like nuts, chips, crackers or trail mix)
Carrier 2 – Drinks and Snacks. An insulated bag or cooler for items that need to be cool but are accessed frequently. This is to minimize opening Carrier 3.
It may seem like schlepping three containers is a pain in the patootie but ultimately, it’s easier this way.
Diva Tip – To make life easier, pack in reverse order so you’re not digging through the food to find the picnic blanket.
These carriers can be anything you have around. If you have a picnic basket, great! Everyone should have a good cooler.
Reusable grocery bags work, especially the insulated kind – Earthwise Large Insulated Collapsible Reusable Box Shopping Grocery Bag w/ zipper top (2 Pack)
Backpacks make it easy to carry your moveable feast but truly anything works, even cardboard boxes.
I do have certain “rules” for planning food for a picnic.
Rule One – It must be easy. Easy to prepare, easy to serve, easy to eat and easy to clean up afterward.
Rule Two – it must be safe to eat. Food can spoil quickly in summer heat if left out too long. You don’t want to go down in history as the person who packed the poison picnic.
Diva Tip – Due to the fact it’s difficult to keep hot foods at a consistent, safe temperature outdoors; it just makes sense to choose cold or room temperature foods. See Rule Two.
If you’re picnicking on the ground, bring several blankets so you can spread out. In lieu of blankets you could use beach towels, woven mats, table cloths or quilts.
If you’re setting up on grass be sure to bring a waterproof tarp to put under the blanket because nobody likes a soggy bottom. This is a great use for an old shower curtain. Plastic garbage bags also work and afterward you use them to remove trash.
Diva Tip – Look for festive vinyl table cloths in the end of season clearance sales for penny-pinching, practical picnic protection.
If you’re arranging to meet people at a crowded venue like movies in the park; bring a banner on a stick or a bunch of balloons to make yourself easier to find.
If you’re picnicking with kiddies choose a spot near a playground. Bring some fun items along like bubbles, a Frisbee, sidewalk chalk, a deck of cards or a board game.
A favorite of our family: Gazillion Bubble Tornado Toy
Bring your music along. Lightweight Bluetooth speakers make it easy to enjoy music from any of your devices.
Divo Bob loves these speakers: GOgroove Portable Bluetooth Speaker with 5W Driver and 32 Hour Rechargeable Battery
If you’ll be out after dark, remember to pack battery-operated lights or flashlights. Like these: LED Camping Lantern Flashlights Camping Equipment – Great for Emergency, Tent Light, Backpacking, 4 Pack Gift Set
If you’re planning a romantic picnic, arrange for dinner at sunset and put out battery operated tea lights for ambiance. Make these chocolate dipped strawberries, too. Chocolate Dipped Strawberries for a Valentine’s Day Treat
Snacks like chips and popcorn usually come in large bags. This means unwashed hands (looking at you, filthy children!) will be reaching into the food. Repackage snack foods in single serving baggies. This makes it easy for folks to grab and enjoy.
Diva Tip – Make DIY trail mix with breakfast cereals, nuts, dried fruit, candies that won’t melt, (like M&M’s) pretzels and popcorn.
I love reusable serving ware because I hate to spend money on disposable stuff just to throw it away. If you picnic regularly, it’s worth your while to get lightweight plates, utensils and serving dishes that can be washed and reused. Look for colorful sets on clearance at the end of summer.
An example – Ikea 36-piece Dinnerware Set, Assorted Colors
Don’t forget your clean-up items! Bring a roll of paper towels, garbage bags for trash and for toting dirty dishes back home. Baby wipes are good for wiping down the picnic table and cleaning dirty hands. Remember the hand sanitizer, bug repellent and sunscreen. Whenever possible leave the area even cleaner than you found it.
Bring plenty of water and other beverages. To save money, bring homemade iced tea or fruit infused water. Or opt for large containers (like two liter bottles of soda or 32 oz. containers of juice) and bring cups.
If cost isn’t a concern, opt for convenience – bring individual pouches, bottles or cans of soft drinks so there’s no need to bring cups. Remember the bottle opener!
If you’re bringing wine, opt for a rosé as it goes with practically any food and is very “picnicy”. I prefer ones that are less sweet. Another option would be a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc or for the red lovers a pinot noir. They can all be served lightly chilled and are very food friendly.
If you’re having wine, remember the corkscrew! We’ve learned to always keep one in the car.
Diva Tip – Freeze bottles of water to use as ice packs. You can drink them as they thaw.
To keep things cold, large blocks of ice thaw slower than cubes. I reuse 2-liter plastic bottles, filled (not to the top, water expands as it freezes) and frozen. They stay cold for hours and there’s no mess when they thaw. You can drink or dump the water.
Choose foods that are easy to eat and not sticky. Some great choices are sandwiches, wraps or pita sandwiches. Cut and individually wrap sandwich portions.
This is a great time to bust out the skewers and make kabobs. You can put practically anything on a stick; cubed fruit, grilled veggies, cooked chicken or sausage. Kabobs are easy to serve and fun to eat.
Mason jars are stylish and perfect for transporting things like green salad, pasta or potato salad, even desserts. Use small mason jars for individual servings or large jars for sharing. The drawback is they’re heavy.
Diva Tip – For last minute picnic fare; head to the grocery store and pick up a cold rotisserie chicken, a loaf of crusty bread, a chunk of cheese, some fresh fruit and a bottle of sparkling wine. Remember to bring a knife and cutting board. Instant picnic!
Don’t forget to bring easy to handle desserts like hand pies and cookies. Here’s a simple three ingredient recipe for peanut butter cookies. 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies
If you’re celebrating a birthday, remember a knife to slice the cake and matches to light birthday candles.
Last but not least, make a check list of all the items you intend to bring and check them off when you pack them in your carriers. Forgetting something can really put a hitch in your plans.
So, are you ready for a picnic? Go gather family, friends, food and a blanket and head to the park.