How to Plan the Perfect Picnic

What's the single most important item to ensure a perfect picnic? No, it's not grandma's famous dill potato salad. Actually, the most imperative item is a good food chest or cooler. If you're going on a picnic for two, you can probably skip the large cooler. If you usually picnic with a large group, you might want to invest in a couple coolers of different sizes that will easily accommodate varying shapes of food and allow you to separate the cold and warm dishes. Keep different-sized packets of frozen blue ice in your freezer so that you're ready to picnic at a moment's notice.

Helpful tip: Make a menu ahead of time and keep it taped to your refrigerator. Check off each dish as you pack it into your basket so that you don't forget that one important sauce or salad dressing.

Picnic Necessities

Here's a detailed list of assorted items to help make your picnic easy and carefree:

  • A picnic basket, hamper or tote bag for carrying food and equipment

  • Food chests to keep food hot or cold

  • Frozen blue ice for chilled foods

  • A tablecloth, quilt, sheet or any other cover if you plan to eat on the ground

  • Large cloth or paper napkins

  • Wicker holders for paper plates

  • Plates for appetizers, soup, main course and dessert

  • Coffee cups, water glasses and wineglasses

  • Flatware

  • Serving pieces

  • Bottle opener, corkscrew and can opener

  • Paper towels

  • Plastic bags or plastic wrap for leftovers

  • Large plastic bag for trash

  • Large plastic bag for used dishes and utensils

  • Small cutting board and knife

  • Condiments: salt, pepper, sugar, cream for coffee, mustard, relish, etc.

  • Fuel and matches if you are using a hibachi

  • Ice, liquor and mixes

  • Thermos filled with hot coffee

  • Soft drinks, sparkling water, beer or wine

  • Jug of cold water

  • Whole lemons and limes

  • Candles, candle holders and matches

  • Flashlight

Packing and Serving Tips

Here's some packing and serving tips:

  • Pack the foods to be eaten last at the bottom of the bag or chest and the first on top, so that you don't have to unpack everything at once.

  • Use vacuum-packed containers to avoid leaks and soggy bags; seal the containers in Ziploc plastic bags.

  • Pack soft foods like deviled eggs, tomatoes or fruit in hard plastic containers or egg cartons.

  • If you are serving a hot soup, preheat the thermos with boiling water. For a cold soup, chill the thermos with ice water for several minutes.

  • Divide or cut the portions in your kitchen. It's much easier to serve pieces or slices of grilled chicken or duck than to carve them on the ground.

  • Pack garnishes in Ziploc plastic bags. Parsley, basil, mint and herb flowers should be sprinkled with water before packing. Keep them in the cooler.

Preventing Food Spoilage

And last but not least, strictly observe these practices to avoid food spoilage:

  • Mayonnaise keeps well in a jar, but when added to a salad it can spoil quickly. As a precaution, dress salads or sandwiches at the picnic rather than at home. Keep the mayonnaise chilled in the cooler.

  • Keep eggs, dairy products and uncooked meat well chilled until just before serving.

  • Don't partially cook the food at home and finish it at the picnic site; during transportation the food is at the optimum temperature for bacterial invasion.

  • Pack the food just before leaving for the picnic.
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