Just about everyone loves a picnic. Whether you decide to eat in the backyard, on the deck, in the park, or on a rocky ledge overlooking a distant valley, your outdoor meal will be better than ever with a little advance planning.
Picnics can be as simple as a few turkey or bologna sandwiches and a jug of lemonade carried to the beach, or as elaborate as cold smoked salmon and Champagne eaten on a park's lawn before a concert. Plan yours according to the occasion, the group, and your own ambitions.
Your next picnic will be a great success with just a few tips.
1. Plan the menu. Impromtu picnics can be fun, but well planned ones are even better. Decide on a menu, choosing dishes you can make ahead of time and that will fit in your cooler. Remember that foods high in protein and moisture spoil faster than others. These include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
2. Supplement your menu with store-bought items. These could be a few good cheeses, olives, salamis and sausages, pâtés, crusty loaves of bread, and robust mustards and relishes. If you live near a good bakery, take advantage with some good cookies or small cakes.
3. Pack and wrap foods well. Cheeses, meats, and fish (smoked salmon or trout, for instance) should be wrapped separately in plastic wrap. Carry salads and cut veggies in rigid, lidded plastic containers. Wrap sandwiches in wax paper and plastic wrap, or stow them in sandwich-sized plastic bags or containers.
4. If you plan to grill hamburgers, hot dogs, or steak at the picnic site, wrap the raw meat carefully in plastic wrap and a then pack it in a plastic bag so that juices won't leak. Be sure to prepare the raw food seperately from the other food to avoid cross-contamination. Wash all surfaces and utensils used to prep the raw meat before working with other foods.
5. Keep all perishable food in the refrigerator until just before you leave. The cooler food is when you set off, the better.
6. Transport all perishable food in a well insulated cooler. Pack the cooler with frozen gel packs. Cans of frozen juice work well in a pinch. Don't cram the cooler with food, but a full one will stay colder than an empty one. The goal is to store the food at 40°F. or cooler.
7. Bring only enough food for the meal. No cooler will keep leftovers in perfect condition for longer than a few hours, although as long as the ice packs last and the food feels cool, it should be safe. Try to get any leftovers into a refrigerator within two hours of packing them up. When in doubt, throw out.
8. Pack non perishable food in roomy tote bags or baskets. You may not have room in the cooler for bread, condiments, and whole fruit and vegetables. These can be carried to the picnic without cooling. Use your common sense to know what you can pack ahead of time.
9. Bring enough water, juice, lemonade, or soda. Being outdoors often means physical activity. Be sure you have plenty of water so that no one gets dehydrated.
10. Don't forget utensils, plates, napkins, and cups. This list can get long! Make your own list of what you need to bring. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at your picnic site without a large knife to cut the watermelon or a corkscrew for the wine. Remember a blanket for sitting and, if you are going to be in the sun, an umbrella for shade.
11. Bring extras. Pack a few extra plates, cups, and utensils. Don't foget about a plastic garbage bags so you can leave your picnic site in pristine condition. Bring some extra plastic bags for leftover food. Some moistened wipes (baby wipes work well!) are useful, as is a roll of paper towels, if you have room.
12. Remember to bring sunscreen, hats, towels (if swimming or boating is in the plans), frisbees, cameras and other items that may not be related to the meal but will make the day more enjoyable.
13. Keep the cooler in the shade. When you picnic, don't leave the cooler in the direct sun or in a hot car. This is especially important if you plan to hike, play a game of softball, or take a long swim before you eat.
14. Select your picnic spot carefully. Can everyone in the party sit on the ground or should you look for a picnic table? Would folding chairs help?
With good planning and sensible forethought, your picnic will be a smashing success. If only you could control the weather!