07/19/2024

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Whether you’re hosting a big cookout with friends or just enjoying a weekday dinner in your backyard, summer is the perfect time to enjoy a delicious meal while getting some fresh air. One of the most fun ways to enjoy a meal outdoors is to pack your meal in a basket and venture to your nearest park, beach, lake or other attraction for a picnic. While picnics are a relatively leisurely way to dine, there are several ways to enhance the experience – starting with the food and drinks you bring. To help you plan your next picnic, we consulted with food stylist, recipe developer and avid picnicker Laura Rege, who shared her advice on making and bringing a picnic and how to set up at the picnic site.

Plan Your Menu
Of course, picnics start with food. The best picnic dishes can withstand the heat, are easy to transport and require only a few finishing touches once you arrive at the site,” Rege says, adding that most of your dishes should be prepared entirely at home and ready to eat right out of the package.

Rege suggests picking foods that don’t require a fork or plate to enjoy, such as meats, cheeses and small snack appetizers. “Then, if you want to make a meal out of it, add at least two main elements that are more filling and bring utensils or plates – but none of these dishes should require excessive cutting or work,” she says.

Another thing to remember when planning your menu is to choose a variety of colors and textures specific to your spread. “The first thing that gets us excited about eating is the visual aspect of a meal,” Reg says, noting that in the summer, when there are plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, it’s easy to spice up your picnic, whether it’s with bright red wedges of watermelon or colorful lettuces of carrots, cucumbers and zucchini to go with your meats and cheeses.

“For entrees, I like egg dishes like quiche or something delicious and pizza-like that you can hold in your hand,” says Reg, and suggests you try our Spinach Feta Pizza. It’s made by filling store-bought pizza dough with spinach, mozzarella and feta cheese – a convenient solution that cuts down on prep work. If it’s too hot to turn on the stove, oven or grill to make something for a picnic, she suggests using a cheese or deli board made with store-bought ingredients.

Of course, you’ll need a few side dishes to help you complete your spread. For those who do, Reg says to consider options that use fresh summer produce, such as tomato salad or simple caprese, which are always easy to please a crowd and make great non-cooked dishes. She also notes that chilled soups (such as our tomato and bell pepper gazpacho soup) are a fun and refreshing option to sip from a small cup. “Put it in a thermos to keep it cool,” she says.

As for dessert — which Reg says is something you should never forget! — she suggests bringing along our Peach Lattice Pie, or opting for a sweet ending that you can pick up and eat with your hands, like this Peach and Raspberry Galette. Both recipes use summer peak fruit, but if bar cookies are more your style, Reg says this is a great option, too.

Pairing drinks with food
You’ll also need something to quench your thirst, so don’t forget to bring drink options for your picnic. Put bottled sodas in the cooler and garnish with sliced citrus when serving for an elevated touch.

Rege suggests making pitcher cocktails. “Just keep the drink cool in a thermos and pour it out,” she says. “Bring a container with garnishes-adding that final touch feels really special.” Her expert advice is to make sure you pack drinks that everyone can enjoy, whether they want to drink or not, by carrying non-alcoholic cocktails that can be turned into cocktails. There are also calories to consider when choosing a cocktail, and Rege recommends something thirst-quenching and lower in alcohol as you’ll be drinking it on a hot day.

Pack the essentials
Think about what items you’ll need to provide food and drink when you arrive at your picnic site. “Balsa wood or bamboo cutting boards are great for small bites and cooked meals. Entrees and desserts can be placed in the dishes they prepare or bring in,” says Reg, adding that Mason jars are ideal for serving condiments. To keep food on a blanket, she suggests bringing lightweight wicker trays that you can place underneath food to keep it contained. For drinks, bring cups that are easy to stack, lightweight and unbreakable-Rege likes Duralex or Govino-and remember to bring a washable tote bag or repurpose your picnic basket for food handling. Prepare the atmosphere
You can make your picnic feel more luxurious with a few simple additions. Rege suggests packing a nice picnic blanket and some pillows or cushions for the ultimate in comfort. “For picnics that may last into the evening, I would add ambient lighting with solar lanterns or strings of solar bulb lights in the trees around the picnic,” she says. Finally, Reg says citronella candles or other bug spray are an absolute must to pack.

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