When you wake to discover it’s going to be one of those rare summer days that leaves you longing for freshly cut grass, sunshine filtered through a big, shady tree and sweet, heady breezes — all noticeably absent from inside your home — don’t even hesitate to head outside.
All it takes to transform the lunchtime routine from mundane to memorable is a change of scenery. Trade grilled cheese at the kitchen table for a summery spread in the park, at the beach or even your own backyard. Turn mealtime into outdoor playtime with the kids or a romantic interlude with your other half. Preparing food and packing it up for a picnic shouldn’t be a groan inducer; with some handy ideas to reduce the amount of stuff you’ll be schlepping, it’s low on the trouble meter.
Sandwich Bag Slushies
A little prep work the day before your picnic, so you can grab and go, will make packing up the next day a breeze. The night before your picnic, pour servings of your family’s favorite drinks into sealable sandwich bags and place them in the freezer. Lemonade, fruit juice, iced tea and other non-fizzy soft drinks work best. If your picnic is spontaneous, put the drinks in the freezer in the morning — lie the bags down flat and they won’t take too long to freeze.
Pack the frozen drink bags in a cooler with the other goodies you’ve prepared. They will not only remain nice and cold until it’s time for the picnic, the frozen bags will also do double duty as extra ice packs, keeping the rest of the food cool, too.
When it’s time to eat, slice off the corners of the bags and squeeze the partially melted drinks — which will have become delicious slushies — into a cup like these personalized, insulated tumblers. The lids on the tumblers prevent spills and keep bugs out, and the insulated walls keep the drinks perfectly chilled.
Perfect Cookie and Cracker Holder
Put those as-of-yet empty tumblers to good use when you’re packing up snacks for the picnic. Set the straws aside and place wrapped stacks of cookies or crackers inside the tumblers. If the cookies or crackers aren’t already wrapped, do it yourself with plastic wrap or foil. The technique also works for chips — just wrap them carefully into bundles to prevent the tumbler getting filled with crumbs.
Put the lids on the tumblers and pack them into your cooler or other carrier. The contents will be safely uncrushable inside the sturdy tumblers. When it’s time to have lunch, just take the cookies and crackers out, pop the straws back in and use the tumblers for those yummy slushies.
Cloth Napkins Come in Handy
Paper towels can be flimsy and can create extra waste you don’t need for your day out. So ditch them! Instead, grab some cloth napkins. These serve a dual purpose — they class up your picnic, and they also make great protective wrappings for whole pieces of fruit. Place an apple, peach or orange in the middle of the napkin and tie opposite corners together to create a snug bundle. Alternatively, scrunch the napkin around the fruit and tie it with a piece of string. The fruit will be protected and neat to eat for dessert, and the napkins are also handy for cleanup.
Fold extra cloth napkins into triangles and roll them around utensils. Tie the bundles with pieces of string. This prevents the knives and forks from poking things in the picnic basket. And of course, they’re handy for wiping sticky hands and messy faces after you’ve finished your feast.
Make Your Picnic Comfy
Consider bringing a personalized, roll-up travel mat with a waterproof backing to host your picnic spread. Whether you’re dining al fresco at the beach, a park or your own backyard, a decent mat is essential for keeping the food off the ground or a not-so-clean picnic table.
Have every family member bring along a beach towel, even if you’re not headed to the sand. Fold up the towels into cushions and sit around the mat as if the mat is the dining table and the towels are your seats. This keeps errant feet and kicked-up debris away from the food and makes everyone’s seat a little more comfortable.
Tin Pails Do Double Duty
Everyday toys, like these tin pails, can help you pack up all your picnic goodies for the park or the beach. Use the pails to carry drinks so they don’t take up too much room in your cooler or picnic basket. Some picnic-worthy locations don’t allow glass bottles, so pack plastic bottles or cans. This is also a good way to get the children to help carry things — it feels like a sand pail.
When you get to your picnic spot, transfer extra ice from the cooler into the pails to surround the drinks. They’ll get nice and cool, then when the ice melts and the picnic is finished, the kids can pour out the water and use the pails to play or collect some trinkets from nature. Meanwhile, the parents can silently reminisce about those pre-children bucket o’ beer days.
Tell Us Your Tips
What are your favorite picnic food and packaging ideas? Share your tips in the comments section below.