Plan the Perfect Picnic

Plan the Perfect Picnic

Put a creative spin on this summertime classic.

Picnics don’t need much to be perfect—and shouldn’t cost much more than a bit of time and planning, says blogger and mom of two Kate Moran of Kate from Scratch. “A picnic is a small escape, an idyllic retreat from the ordinary.” Moran puts picnics in frequent rotation in summer—at the park, the zoo, even local theme parks. But her family’s favorite spot? Their own backyard. “There’s added comfort in being able to run inside should we need extra napkins or sunblock,” she says. “We play games, relax, talk, and enjoy each other’s company.”

No picnic need be fancy or hard to pull together, but if you’re stumped for ideas and tired of the same old to-go foods, pack up one of these summer-fresh suggestions and transport it from backyard to beach to anyplace in between.

Sandwich simplicity: Pack whatever ’wiches your family loves, but keep them easy. Moran prefers cold, crisp sandwiches or wraps served with icy lemonade. No ice packs? Skip mayo in favor of condiments that stand up to a warm day, such as grainy mustard, basil or sun-dried-tomato pesto, or white bean puree. “I also pack lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to accompany our meal,” says Moran.

Wrap happy: To make your picnic feel like a special occasion, skip plastic bags and instead wrap sandwiches in wax paper tied with colorful string. Or place each wrapped sandwich in the center of a cloth napkin, add a piece of fruit and a cookie, and gather the edges up and tie them in a knot to create a hobo-style meal purse. Label each bundle with a handwritten or decorated tag, or write directly on the wax paper with a Sharpie. Sweet idea for dessert: Moran packs layers of sweet, ripe peaches between whipped cream and crunchy granola in individual chilled mason jars. 

Packed by Panera: Who says picnic fare has to originate in your kitchen? Swing by Panera Bread on your way to the beach, pool, or park for convenient and fresh fare to tote with you, such as the Roasted Turkey & Avocado BLT or New England Lobster Roll (available seasonally in select markets). Add enough Frozen Lemonades and Summer Fruit Cups for the family; then all you need to provide is your own blanket. 

Here are a few other ideas:

  • Transport homemade lemonade and iced tea in mason jars. To add extra flavor, toss in a few ice cubes infused with bits of citrus zest or made from fruit juice. 
  • Fill scooped-out orange rinds with diced fruit or corn salad and sprinkle with chopped herbs. 
  • Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into shapes—animals for an outing to the zoo, flowers and butterflies for a picnic in the park.
  • Nestle food in your picnic basket or canvas tote between layers of unshelled roasted peanuts. They’ll cushion your items during transport, as packing peanuts would, and make a great snack once you reach your destination!