The Girls' Guide to Throwing a Memorial Day Picnic

Pack up some finger food and picnic essentials (don't forget plenty of blankets), and you're set for an al fresco party with friends!

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer — and there’s no better way kick off the season than with a picnic in the park. After years of dining al fresco in New York City’s many parks, I think I have mastered the art of picnicking.

Invite Your Friends to Help
Whenever I host a picnic, I make it a potluck. However, I’ve learned the hard way that guests need specific assignments or else you end up with three watermelons, 10 bags of chips and nothing substantial to eat. I like to send invites via Paperless Post, an online invitation service that charges a small fee for elegant virtual stationary. Make a list of specific things for friends to bring and ask each guest to claim an item. This way everyone will know who’s bringing what.

A Forkless Affair
Speaking of the menu, others may wholeheartedly disagree, but I think there’s no place for a fork at a picnic. It’s hard enough to eat sitting on the ground, let alone balance a paper plate to spear a piece of potato salad with a fork. Instead, opt for a finger-food menu. As host, you can bring sandwiches and wraps, like Focaccia Sandwich with Tomatoes and Peppers, rosemary chicken salad sandwiches and veggie wraps. Guests can tackle items like store-bought fried chicken, fruits, chips, pickles, precut crudites, cheese and cured sausages, all of which make for excellent picnic fare. Chocolate chip cookies are the perfect end to the meal.

Location, Location, Location
Scout your picnic location in advance of the event and be very specific in your directions to guests (“near the bottom of Sheep’s Meadow” may not be enough of a description for your friends to find you). Look for ground that is level, dry and partially covered by shade. For a festive touch that doubles as an easily spied marker, I like to buy a huge bunch of balloons tied to a weight to mark the spot on the day of the event.

Pack Like a Pro
The real secret to a great picnic is to pack anything (and everything) you might need. First, you’ll need a good blanket; I prefer a two-sided blanket with a soft side for sitting and a waterproof side to keep away dampness, like ABO’s Ground Hog Rug. I also bring extra blankets for friends who come without one. Next, a real picnic basket is a must; a hardtop model like mine (above) acts as a makeshift table during the picnic. Instead of paper napkins, I bring along a huge stash of dishtowels for guests to use as napkins.

Other items in my picnic kit include: a small cutting board, a few paring knives (I love Kuhn Rikon's Paring Knife Set for its bright colors and plastic safety sheaves), premoistened wet naps, a designated trash bag, a roll of paper towels, gallon-size Ziploc bags for leftovers and a flashlight (even if you don’t plan to stay until dark, you might). Last but not least: Bug spray is a must for every picnic — mosquitoes love outdoor diners.

Laura Fenton is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including Country Living, Family Circle and Good Housekeeping. She is also a regular contributor to ShelterPop and the author of The Little House In The City.

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