Menus & Entertaining

How to plan the perfect picnic

By: Natalie Whyte

©iStockphoto.com/petrenkod Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/petrenkod

Menus & Entertaining

How to plan the perfect picnic

By: Natalie Whyte
There's something about dining al fresco that makes everything taste better. Add in the laidback vibe of a weekend picnic and you have the makings of a great casual party. A picnic can be as simple as an impromptu take-out dinner in the backyard or a more planned out event with family and friends.

Get organized
First, determine how many people you would like to invite and plan for blankets (if dining on the grass) or portable picnic tables and chairs. If possible, check out the park the day before and look for areas that feature flatter plains and possibly a few trees to provide some shade.

Take into account the time of day you'll hold your picnic. By midday the sun will be at its highest point and it might be too hot to enjoy being outside eating or taking part in activities.

If you don't already own a portable cooler you'll want to buy or borrow one for the day. Also, try using reusable dinnerware, such as Tupperware or Corelle, instead of paper plates and plastic throwaway containers to avoid making extra garbage. If you can, bring a large plastic garbage bin with a lid to dispose of waste throughout the day and dispose of it either en route or at home.

If you want to barbecue at your picnic, check with the city to see if it's allowed in the park and what the law stipulates (such as keeping a fire extinguisher nearby). It's better to avoid barbecuing altogether, though, as keeping meats cool for an extended period time can be difficult.

Plan on making many sharable, party-style dishes, some of which you can prepare the night before and store in the fridge. If you'll be offering liquor, purchase it a few days in advance. And remember: You need a way to get everything there and back home again, so make sure someone is driving and has lots of room in the trunk!

The menu

When planning your menu, take advantage of seasonal ingredients and think of dishes that can be enjoyed at room temperature or even cold, like salads. Traditional picnic foods include fried chicken, potato and pasta salads, watermelon and cold-cut sandwiches. Do make sure to offer some vegetarian options, as well as snacking foods that are great for grazing on throughout the day, such as chips and dip, veggie sticks and crackers.

"Always pack the bottom of the cooler with reusable ice packs and keep the cooler out of the sun," suggests TV host, author and chef Jo Lusted. "If I have cooked proteins, like sliced steak or chicken, I freeze them and pack them in the cooler frozen. Don't bring raw proteins to barbecue unless you plan on cooking them within an hour. Pack raw proteins very well and store them on the bottom of the cooler," she says.

Lusted shares several picnic dish ideas and her tips on how to prepare them.

Muffuletta sandwiches
"The ultimate picnic sandwich! It's perfect for making ahead, great for sharing and you have to squish it anyway, so it travels well. My fave!"

Potato salad
"I like a vinegar-based dressing. There's less worry about spoiling and it's much lighter than a mayo- or sour cream–based salad."

Quinoa salad (or any salad with whole grains)
"They hold up well and often taste better the next day."

Pickled veggies

"Small jars are perfect for packing them in and they can sit out no problem."

Charcuterie and cheese

"So simple and perfect for snacking. Just be sure not to leave it out for more than an hour. Put out just enough and replenish from the cooler as needed."

Hummus or any bean-based dip with whole grain crackers and veggies for dipping
"There's no dairy, so there's a low risk of spoiling and everyone loves it."

Bean salad
"A great make-ahead, tastes better the next day and, again, no dairy."

Fresh fruit
"Whatever is in season served straight up. Simple and refreshing."

Homemade infused waters
"Slice lemon, lime, cucumber, melon - whatever you like - and then add a little mint to a jug. Fill half with water and half with ice."

Veggie pizza
"Add meaty vegetables, like portobello mushrooms and roasted peppers, as well as feta and olives, and serve cold."

Activity ideas

Picnics can be as relaxed as you want them to be or they can be an opportunity for lots of physical activities. Do bring a radio or have speakers for your smartphone so you can play some music. Don't forget magazines to peruse or a few good books, board games and a deck of cards.

A soccer ball, volleyball, Frisbee or badminton set can make for hours of sporting good fun! And a few old pillowcases from home are the perfect accessory for a kids' potato-sack race.

This is also a great time to try out simple crafts with the kids or to do some nature painting. Other people love nothing more than to lay out in the sun while knitting or crocheting the afternoon away.
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How to plan the perfect picnic

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