How to Plan a Picture-Perfect Picnic

Make this The Summer of Picnics by setting the scene, packing wisely, creating a transportable menu and more.

If aliens ever decide to visit Planet Earth, a nice introduction to the human race would be to happen upon a picnic—leisurely body language, minimalistic aesthetic, lots of laughs and all the best finger foods. The good vibes would surely halt any plans of intergalactic attack, and hey, when it comes to picnics, the more the merrier.

Picnics are a worthwhile way to spend the time until we “make contact,” anyway. If you’re ready to throw down (a blanket) and Get To ‘Nickin™ this summer, don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity of eating outdoors. Once you’ve left the house, you’ll be happy you thoroughly planned every last detail.

Set the scene.
The particular spot where you hunker down is crucial to your picnicking experience. Don’t just plop on the first flat area you find—take your time in scoping out the perfect location for whatever atmosphere you’re going for. After all, a stellar view pairs well with every type of cheese.

Get a blanket for the picnic you want, not a picnic you’re settling for—as in, one with a waterproof lining. Nothing ruins a picnic faster than wet grass, and even if you can’t tell it’s wet at first pat, sometimes that dampness creeps up on you. Lay the proper “groundwork” and your picnic will prosper.

Consider also bringing a Bluetooth speaker and making your own Nickin’ Jamz playlist. Games like bocce ball or even a good old fashioned deck of cards can turn a simple picnic into a full-blown afternoon extravaganza.

Pack it right.
Crucial tip alert: Pack everything in reverse so that you remove items in the order that they are needed. In other words, put anything you’re “not sure you need but are bringing just in case” on the bottom to avoid the fatal condition known as Blanket Clutter.

Martha Stewart has a great gameplan for packing a picnic basket, because of course she does. Take it away, Martha:

“Use two big canvas bags, one for room-temperature food and an insulated one for anything that needs to stay chilled. After you pack a layer of food in the bottom of a bag, place a small cutting board over it. Then add another layer of food. The board will act as a shelf and prevent the food from toppling over. When you get to the picnic area, place the cutting board in the middle of the serving area and use it as a makeshift table for drinks. Pack a large paper bag, and use it to line one of the canvas bags when toting home dirty dishes.”

That’s right, there will be dirty dishes. Consider skipping throwaway containers, plates and flatware while picnicking, because if you’re going to be dining outdoors, the least you can do is respect it. Enamelware is as lightweight as it is easy to pack—after all, it’s made of powdered glass.

For cold items at larger shindigs, consider packing two coolers: one for drinks and perishables, another for everything else. A cooler should be three-quarters ice, and the fuller it is, the more efficiently it functions. Scoot coolers into the shade for maximum chillin’.

Cookware or glass dishes with lids will pull double duty as a line of defense against bugs—more on that later. Plus, toting dishes in their original cooking vessels is a no-fuss way to keep them warm. You can even adorably secure the lid for transport with a dish rag.

P.S. Don’t forget the serving utensils, hot sauce, salt and pepper!

Eat conveniently, but also well.
The menu should be picnic-ready, but that doesn’t mean you have to stoop to PB&J levels. Foods should be either hand-held or eaten easily with a fork or spoon. (Steak is famously difficult to saw on one’s lap.)

While conversations are free to get saucy, heavily sauced foods should be avoided as they could get soggy. If you simply must, consider packing the sauce on the side. Bonus: Are you the type to hoard takeout condiment packets? A picnic is the ultimate time to bust those out.

On the same note, tender lettuces can easily wilt in the heat, so opt for a green-free Caprese or quinoa salad instead.

As The Picnic Planner, the best gift you can give yourself is an accurate headcount to avoid leftovers that you have to either despondently toss out or cart back home. After all, you deserve to enjoy every aspect of the experience just as much as the lucky ducks you invited.

Keep the bugs away.
The afternoon and early evening are prime times for bugs, and they’re certainly going to be interested in the tasty treats you brought. Mosquitos love water, so if you’re considering dining near any, do be prepared. Bugs hate citrus (their loss) so citrus candles or a variety of essential oils should do the trick. Tiki torches also work if diners don’t mind a little smoke.

When choosing your OOTP (outfit of the picnic), consider this insight from Inspect-All: “Many flying pests use colors to pinpoint where nectar or other food may be. Although bright-colored summer clothing is in style, it's a good idea to avoid bright colors and floral patterns. Colorful, bright clothing just makes it more likely that bugs will stop by to investigate.” Save the Hawaiian shirts for another luau, dude.

Humans have likely been eating outdoors since, well, they lived outdoors. Get back to your roots through a well-planned, delightful picnic that will impress your guests—and, who knows, maybe the aliens are already watching.