Pack the Perfect Picnic Basket

Summer is here and picnic season is upon us. With settings that put 5-star gourmet restaurants to shame, a picnic is a great way to get back to nature and reconnect (literally) with Mother Earth.

With a little preparation, a picnic is a snap to pull off. First, find an epic location to stage your next outdoor meal: A beach, a mountaintop or a wide-open clearing in a forest.

Next, find a basket. Contrary to popular belief, the perfect picnic basket is not a basket at all. Unless you are driving right up to your picnic spot and walking only three feet before you sit down (and what kind of picnic spot is that?), backpacks make a much better place to stash your meal. Small rolling suitcases will also work much better than an actual basket, whose fragile nature and bulky size make it better suited for staying in one place. 

Picnics should never be rushed, and the trick is to prepare all of your food in advance as much as possible. Fruit should be washed and cut, and any excess packaging on your food items should be removed. Pack your “basket” in this order:

  • On the bottom: wine bottle, utensils, pasta salad & ice
  • On the side: slide in your plates
  • In the middle: cheese, fruit and dessert
  • On the top: bread, green salad and ground cloth

1. Ground cloth – Keep the ants at bay! Bring a washable tablecloth or old blanket that you don’t mind ruining that you can use to “frame” your picnic experience. Even if you will have clean rocks or a picnic table to sit on, bringing a blanket will “up” the coziness factor of eating outside – not to mention the romance.

2. Wine and wine bottle opener – Perhaps it’s because I lived in France, but for me a picnic isn’t a picnic without a bottle of wine. Glasses are optional, but make sure you pack them in tight and wrap them in cloth napkins for protection (which you can then use!). Remember the bottle opener. If you prefer a non-alcoholic picnic, opt for a bottle of gourmet organic lemonade.

3. Fresh, crusty bread – This is not an option, nor may you use sliced white sandwich bread. Instead, find the freshest loaf of whole grain organic bread that your local baker provides. Tear it with your hands.

4. Cheese – With all the wine and fresh bread, you are going to need some cheese. Very soft cheeses might become too soft on a picnic, but you probably don’t want boring old Cheddar – so hit in the middle and bring a semi-soft cheese with a rind to thwart the elements, such as Brie or Camembert from a local farm. Nibble on the cheese and bread as the picnic is getting started. Remember, this is one meal that you don’t want to rush. If you have several people picnicking, you can bring several types of cheese.

5. Fresh fruit – Easy-to-eat fruits such as cherries, grapes, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries are the best for picnics and can be popped right into the mouth. Wash them just before you leave your house, and pack them with a paper towel to soak up extra moisture. Juicy melons also make great choices for a picnic; just make sure that you prepare them by removing the rinds and seeds and slicing.

6. Veggie pasta salad with organic roasted chicken – Prepare your favorite pasta salad the night before your picnic, and bling it out with extra chopped veggies and roasted chicken. Not the cooking type? Just buy a batch at your local deli. As pasta salad usually contains mayo, you must keep this chilled down.

7. Green salad – In a large bag, toss chopped lettuce leaves, some cherry tomatoes, sliced carrots, red onion and whatever else you like in your salad. Package croutons in a separate baggie and bring a bottle of homemade salad dressing on the side.

8. Dessert – A picnic is not the place to get into a pie or cake. Instead, choose a selection of fresh pastries like éclairs, fruit tarts and cupcakes from your local bakery. Is it a romantic picnic? Bring a box of chocolate-covered strawberries.

9. Utensils and plates. Be careful with any glass. You may want to opt instead for lightweight reusables like acrylic. Avoid disposables unless they can go into your compost bin. 

10. Napkins – Save trees by bringing cloth napkins, which also makse the picnic feel a little more special.

11. Two reusable bags (like the ones you bring to the grocery store). Put your dirty dishes in one, and your trash in the other – unless you like looking at your melon rinds the whole ride home.

12. Sharp knife – For cutting the cheese and opening packages.

13. Your reusable water bottle – Be sure to bring plenty of water!

14. Ice – Pack ice into a closeable plastic bag so that the cold water doesn’t leak all over your food.

image: stevendepolo