When the weather is nice, dining al fresco (in other words, eating outdoors) is the way to go. Decks and patios are lovely settings for warm-weather meals, but for a true adventure, why not plan a picnic?
Our chefs and other experts gathered some of their favorite tips for healthy, safe and delicious picnics.
The Ultimate Picnic Planning Guide
You may think of picnicking as merely taking food outside onto a blanket, but a little extra preparation can take your picnic spread to the next level. Here is a rundown of what to consider.
The ideal picnic spot could be any outdoor space, whether it’s a playground, a park, or a beach. Look for a flat area so you and your belongings can stay steady. Shade is also key to protect both you and your food from the sun’s rays.
Other “nice to haves” include bathroom access and space to run around if you have kids in the mix.
Trash and recycling receptacles are also a welcome bonus; otherwise, you should take everything home with you. No matter where you plan to picnic, check the hours and rules before you go. Permits may be required for larger groups.
Finger food is not the only ingredient for success here! Pack plates, bowls, and any necessary serving ware. You can limit the need for utensils with the right menu choices (more on that below).
Try to avoid any food items that need a knife. Enamel and metal dishes have the benefit of being lightweight, reusable, and eco-friendly. If you choose disposable items, go with biodegradable or compostable options. Avoid anything glass, which can break easily.
To keep it all together and at the right temperature, invest in sturdy coolers or insulated bags or baskets (one for food, one for drinks). A foldable tray or small table can also come in handy come serving time. All that said, try to pack as lightly as possible. The equipment can quickly add up.
As for seating, go with a picnic blanket that is both thick and water resistant in case the ground is damp. (It’s better yet if it’s machine-washable!) You can use light stakes or even rocks to hold down the corners so the occasional breeze doesn’t ruin the festive mood. If any members of your party cannot sit comfortably on the ground, bring along some folding chairs or find a spot with picnic tables.
Don’t forget napkins (again, reusable if possible) plus hand wipes or sanitizer to keep things clean. Pack garbage bags so you can be sure to leave nothing behind. Last but not least, remember the sunscreen and bug spray to stay fully protected!
Your picnic spread can be as informal or as fancy as you wish. The key is to choose foods you can eat with your hands, that travel well, and that can be served at room (or air) temperature.
Food can be held up to two hours without refrigeration and even less when it’s really hot (only one hour if it’s 90 degrees or more).
Complete as much prep work as possible before you head out, from opening cans to slicing produce to separating foods into individual portions. All the prep will save you so much hassle later. You’ll be happy you didn’t skip this step!
The perfect picnic doesn’t have to be a meal in the traditional sense. Think beyond entrées and sides to assemble an appealing line-up of snacks, appetizers, and sweets.
Here’s some inspiration from our Feed Your Potential 365 recipes:
- Watermelon Tomato Salad
- Pasta salad
- Green salad (pack dressing separately)
- Kabobs or other skewers
- Corn on the cob
- Hummus or other dips
- Energy bites and balls
- Pinwheels, pita pockets, or wraps
- Brownies or blondies, cookies, or biscotti for dessert
- Canned or pouch drinks (or serve large-batch drinks with reusable cups)
For great food safety recommendations, check out the FDA website: Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors.
Food may be the main event, but it helps to bring something else to pass the time. Kids like to keep busy, as do adults who are kids at heart! You could pack board games (the fewer pieces, the better), playing cards, books, or coloring books.
If you have enough space, plan to play catch or Frisbee, or fly a kite overhead. And there’s always the option to take a short walk or hike—to work up an appetite.
You’re not the only creature eyeing that delicious feast! Be prepared to fend off ants, bees, and other insects that might try to crash the party. Bug repellent spray is a good start, and you can bring lids, plastic wrap, or mesh covers to protect your food.
Some natural bug repellents include citrus peels, citronella candles, or a spray bottle filled with water and one tablespoon peppermint oil.
Mason jars are great for keeping a lid on beverages. For best results, keep your food secured until it’s time to eat. Toss or repack everything promptly once you’re done.
Grab and Go
The outdoors is beckoning, so get out there and enjoy it any way you can! We hope these tips inspire you to plan a picnic in the great outdoors. Snap photos of your epic spread and tag us @aramark on Instagram.
Note: Since everyone’s health history and nutritional needs are so different, please make sure that you talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian to get advice about the diet and exercise plan that‘s right for you.