Your Guide To The Perfect Picnic

Now that summer is here, it is a great time to get outside and enjoy nature. With a plethora of outdoor dining establishments, you can easily partake in a meal alfresco. But if you are craving a more intimate affair with friends and family, then it might just be time to plan a picnic. Of course, there is definitely an art to crafting a wonderful picnic or pique-nique.


Once an 18th-century French custom and word, a picnic was a grand social affair with only the finest eats and primarily for the French elite. In fact, it was not until the 19th century that the concept of an outdoor feast became popular with the masses, well beyond just the French. Today, a picnic can be whatever you make it, and this laissez-faire approach to eating alfresco has extended to the picnic's overall theme, menu, and suggested attire. Now, picnics do not need to be fancy or over-the-top to be great. But they still involve some forethought — so if you want to plan the perfect picnic from basket to entrees to finish, here is your guide.

Choose a theme

From "Alice in Wonderland" and "Bridgeton" to boho chic and vintage, there are many picnic-approved themes out there to choose from. Special occasions (birthdays, bachelorette parties, holidays, anniversaries, and so on), especially, make good building blocks for the possible design and feel of your outdoor meal. That said, even if you are not celebrating something special, you can opt for a variety of whimsical, thoughtful, and festive motifs that suit your fancy.


If you opt for a classic or traditional-style outdoor affair, you can still take advantage of the location for that extra flare. A lovely meadow, greenhouse, garden, open field, and city park all make for a beautiful picnic or a unique setting for a spot of afternoon tea. Utilizing other outdoor spaces like iconic landmarks, vineyards, and beaches are also popular. Not only can your chosen location inspire your décor, menu, and more, but it can also provide the perfect backdrop for an alfresco meal. Other fun themes for your outing include movie night, rustic adventure, carnival, and music festival picnics. No matter what you decide on motif-wise, you can cultivate a memorable outdoor dining experience for you and your picnic guests by simply being detailed in your approach and putting your own personal twist on a classic concept.


Grabbing the right basket or picnic bag

Once you settle on a theme for your picnic, your next step should be figuring out what kinds of accessories you need. If you already own a picnic basket, it is perfectly acceptable to use it. However, if you are in the market for a new one or are interested in any recent upgrades, then when shopping for your star accessory, you should consider a picnic bag or backpack instead. This is especially true if you are leaning toward a rustic adventure motif or might need your hands free for carrying any other picnic must-haves.


In general, picnic baskets have definitely become more functional over the years. With the invention of insulated picnic bags, fully equipped wicker handbaskets, and more, there is a wealth of options available. That said, regardless of your desired picnic location, you will likely need something insulated to ensure the food does not go bad. So, if your current basket is more aesthetically pleasing than functional, then it just might be time for an upgrade.

Create your menu

Filling your picnic bag, backpack, or basket should be your next move after figuring out the details mentioned above. Finger foods, snack items, and miniature desserts are usually good choices for an alfresco meal. When creating your menu, it is highly recommended that you draw inspiration from your desired theme. For instance, if you have opted for a rustic motif, picnic eats like grilled veggies, charcuterie board fixings, sliced meats and cheeses, fruit, and a few loaves of artisan bread are sure to please.


For beach picnics, seafood, fruit, and other beach-approved snacks are great additions to your menu. For vintage or classic soirées, tea sandwiches, simple salads, quiches, fresh fruit, and more can easily make your alfresco meal top-notch. Likewise, picnics that capture the spirit of a favorite book, film, or show deserve foods that also emphasize the main idea or subject matter of said work. Even if you stick to the basics when creating a picnic menu, if you want to have a full dining experience alfresco, then you definitely want to have more than just cheese and crackers handy.

Plan your refreshments and cocktails

Much like any other dining experience, the cocktails and refreshments for a picnic are a whole separate menu. Whether it's fancy sips and wine or homemade lemonade and healthy drinks, your beverages should complement your select eats. Of course, your beverages can be what you like, but they should be easy to throw together outside and include portable ingredients. So, in addition to chilled bottles of wine and water, grab a few refreshing juices, some garnishes, beverage ice, and your favorite summertime spirits.


Popular picnic drinks that you can whip up in no time at all include cucumber punch, white peach sangria, mint tea punch, margaritas, and a Kalimotxo or Calimocho, which is one part cola and one part red wine. Sparkling wine with some fruit to garnish is another picnic go-to that is easy to make and a simple option if you are not big on mixology. You can also get creative with some refreshing drink-like options such as Boozy Watermelon. To make this particular picnic cocktail, you only need three ingredients  — one small watermelon diced into pieces, one cup of cachaca (a Brazilian sugar cane liquor) or a white rum, and Turbinado sugar to taste — simply combine the ingredients and let it soak overnight in the fridge or freezer, then serve at your outing via a glass or with toothpicks.


Select enticing apps

When it comes to nibbles and appetizers that are picnic-approved, the good news is they do not have to be over-the-top or made-to-order. In fact, there are a handful of foods that make the perfect picnic apps, including Caprese salad skewers, fruit kabobs, savory tartlets, mini meatballs, spring rolls, and much more. Offering a variety of mini bites to start is the perfect way to entice your picnic guests and gives them something to munch on while sipping on your crafted drinks and refreshments.


Opting to make items like salads or fruit assortments via a skewer is definitely a picnic hack, as it is much easier to bring along a few sticks of yummy goodness than it is to tout around an entire starter or appetizer spread. Not only does serving up kabob eats just feel like summer, but it also makes your alfresco meal more user-friendly for everyone. And you can turn just about anything into skewers or kabobs, including the charcuterie snack board, if you so desire.

Pack quality entrees and small plates

For your main course, it is important to pack quality entrees and small plates. Of course, you should provide your guests with something substantial here. But that does not mean you cannot make it a little easier on yourself. Grabbing some sushi rolls on the way to your picnic location, for instance, can feed a hungry group and save you much-needed prep time.


In general, sticking to foods that you can eat with your hands or without using a slew of utensils is the most appropriate here. Thus, chicken wraps, veggie and Italian subs, assorted tea sandwiches, or your personal take on pinwheels are all excellent choices for your picnic. Picnic sides like homemade fries, chips, sliced fruit, corn on the cob, and pasta salads are nice to have as well. But essentially, whatever works well with your overall theme, is hassle-free to put together, and does not create too much of a mess is definitely worth considering for your main course.

Add desserts and sweet endings

Certainly, no alfresco meal is complete without something sweet. So, you should have more than a few desserts stashed away in your picnic basket or bag as well. Miniature sweets like lemon tarts or bars, chocolate-covered strawberries, cupcakes, macarons, or mason jar pies will only add to your outing. Most bakeries and grocery stores have a large selection of petit fours (mini or bite-sized desserts). Therefore, finding a handful of sweet treats should not be too difficult.


Alternatively, if you want to make your own tiny desserts, then opt for a sweet dish that you can quickly make, such as mini tiramisu cups, petite brownies, and no-bake cheesecake bites. Gooey cookies and even jazzed-up Rice Krispie Treats are also picnic-friendly. What's more, cookies and cupcakes, especially, can easily be turned into a dessert that is on-brand with your theme. With some icing and a little creativity, you can serve heavenly sweet treats that pull your entire picnic together and put a smile on everyone's face.

Put it all together

After planning, making, and baking, you need to put it all together in your picnic basket or bag. Packing your picnic will involve your good storage containers, several freezer packs, and more. That said, there is a proper way to load your basket. You want to start by placing the heavier items and chow you will get to last at the bottom of your bag. This means desserts will likely be at the bottom since this course is served after the main meal. Being able to grab what you need in the order in which you plan on using them will ensure that you are not constantly digging in your basket, losing precious cool air.


Once your food is properly sorted, you will want to make sure everything stays cold. But, instead of throwing a bunch of ice in your bag, it is highly recommended that you place a few freezer packs atop it all since heat rises. You can also use any frozen items like bottles of drinking water to help preserve your food in transport. And if you notice that you have quite a bit of food or a lot of items you need to keep on ice, you may need to use a bigger basket or bag. You should have an additional cooler for drinks, too, especially if you want to keep juices, wine, and other picnic goodies cold for the entire outing.

Present the perfect spread

Packing all your picnic goodies is really only half the battle. When you arrive at the location of your picnic, it is time to get to work in more ways than one. Everything from laying out your blanket and creating seating areas involves a little forethought and attention to detail. For starters, you want to make sure you have some shade, if possible, so you and your guests are not being hit with direct sunlight.


Not only does shaded seating ensure you and your picnic guests will be comfortable during the outing, but it also is the best place to keep your perishables (away from the sun). Yet another key component of a perfect picnic is presentation. Putting everything together, honoring your theme, constructing an inviting dining area, and having your spread look appetizing will take you some time. Still, the finished product will be well worth it. Plus, with the right accessories, including a serving tray and a few cutting boards, you can create a feast for the eyes as well as the palette.

Use the right accessories

As suggested, you can easily elevate your picnic outing with the right accessories. In terms of the essentials, items like a waterproof blanket, plating boards, a portable picnic table, linen napkins, chic cutlery, and plates are musts. You will also need travel-friendly drinkware, including wine or cocktail glasses, cups for other beverages, and pitchers. Adding on to this list may be necessary as well. For instance, if you are off to a location that lacks shade, say, like the beach or a picture-perfect meadow, then an umbrella will most likely come in handy.


Other picnic accessories that can transform your alfresco meal include pillows, fresh-cut flowers, picnic-time appetizer plates, bottle openers, and a collapsible food tent or two. Similarly, if your food requires condiments, specific utensils, bowls, and more, then do not forget to pack those essentials. And if you plan on entertaining your guests as well, then games, conversation starters, and any other relevant extras you can think of should be on your list, too.

Have a backup plan

Unfortunately, even though you have cooked, planned, and created the ideal outdoor dining experience, you cannot control the weather. A beautiful beach picnic might get rained out, an unexpected cold front could put your picnic on ice, or a hiking trail might take longer than expected, leaving no room in your schedule to eat outdoors. Things happen. And the weather may outright cancel your alfresco meal and afternoon in the sun. As a result, having a plan B is just par for the course.


It does not have to be an extensive plan, either. Instead, you just need temporary, dry shelter in the event of a light summer rain shower. On the other hand, if it gets a little chilly, then making sure everyone has brought a jacket just in case and providing extra blankets can keep your picnic on track. But if you have lost good daylight or there is no sign that the weather will improve, then you may have to seek another venue — your car, a park pavilion, or some other partially covered or enclosed space. Remember, a nighttime picnic can be romantic or relaxing — just make sure it is in a safe location and that you have a light source to see what you are doing, then you can proceed as planned.


Host in style

With all the major and minor details taken care of, the perfect picnic is so close you can almost taste it. But, before indulging in all your hard work, you may want to consider making your outing a little more exciting for yourself — by hosting in style. Of course, it is not a requirement for the host to be all decked out for their alfresco meal. But it adds to the overall experience by dressing for the part. You can dress with your theme in mind, and make sure you have a few outdoorsy accessories for yourself — sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen, and so on.


Likewise, as the picnic planner and host, there is no reason you shouldn't treat yourself. Something as simple as packing an extra dessert, cocktail, or both with your name on it is important. As you execute a thoroughly thought-out and wonderful dining experience, you should reward yourself for all your creativity, cooking, and time spent.

Savor the moment

Picnics are a great way to enjoy a bite to eat, celebrate an occasion, or just make lunch more of a grand affair. Seen as largely an informal outing, picnics are the perfect opportunity to simply kick back with loved ones while appreciating nature, sipping handcrafted drinks, and munching on tasty eats. This custom of eating outdoors in good company has stood the test of time and is only becoming more and more popular.


There is just something magical about hosting a gourmet picnic, and being able to personalize such an event makes it so much more than just another bite to eat. In fact, picnics are often and should be a departure from the everyday meal — even if you happen to end up indoors due to unexpected changes in the weather. Regardless of the reason for your semi-impromptu alfresco meal, you should definitely savor it all — the moment, the food, the drinks, the scenery, and the company — if you do, your picnic will be perfect no matter where you are or what your theme is. So, grab your picnic basket or bag and go create some lasting memories already!