Picnics + Potlucks: Tips and Techniques

June 1, 2018

Let’s chat about the reason for the season – picnics and potlucks! Here are a few of my best tips for one of my favorite activities in the summer.


PICNIC POINTERS

Have a utensil caddy packed and ready to go. This will keep all of your utensils, napkins, and plates organized for a last-minute picnic. The handy caddy also makes for a more enjoyable serving experience at the park! Pick up my favorite utensil caddy at Target!


Keep cold food and drinks cold. For many reasons, you’ll want to keep food and drink at a proper temperature – especially on a hot day. It’s a good idea to have one container (or more if needed) that will keep things consistently chilled, preferably insulated – like this freezable (!!!) Picnic Tote from Packit – with the addition of some frozen ice packs. I’ve included more tips on how to keep things cold below.


Picnic friendly foods. There aren’t necessarily “right foods” to bring to a picnic, but there are certainly dishes to avoid. In addition to the obvious choices (I’m looking at you ice cream), there are other less obvious options like those deviled eggs that seem perfect for a picnic but by the time they arrive at the park they seem more appropriate for egg salad sandwiches. You want sturdy, simple food that requires very little hands-on prep. Avoid items that might get soggy and focus on those foods that taste great at room temperature. Finger or fork friendly foods are also ideal!


Simple is best. Indoors or out, there is never anything wrong with a great snack board supper with a sliced baguette or crackers along with cheese, cured meats and sweet fruit like grapes and apples. Dips and cut-up veggies for dunking are also perfect for a picnic spread: Try my Spicy Avocado Dill Dip or Caramelized Onion Dip – you could also pack up my Signature Tomatillo Salsa and tortilla or chips for dipping.


Keep the salad dry. If you are bringing salads with lettuce greens, pack the dressing separately and toss the salads when you get there. Otherwise, lean more towards making pasta salads or sturdy vegetable sides.


Grains! Pasta or Grain salads are a great anchor to a picnic spread. These days, grains have never been more popular, there are so many fantastic recipes to choose from. And never forget about potato salad, especially mayo-free ones, which hold up well against the heat. 


Bye-bye, berry pie. When it comes to dessert, you’ll probably want to leave the layer cake and juicy fruit pie at home because they’ll be messy and won’t hold up to the heat as well. Brownies, bars, cookies — that’s usually the way to go.


Disposable vs Reusable. This is definitely a question for consideration, and one that only you can answer. For a smaller group, consider reusables like melamine, which are often prettier and possibly more earth-friendly (though washing all of those reusable plates, utensils and cups also is something to factor in, time- and energy-wise). For a big crowd, disposable may be the way to go. Or, maybe you want to choose a combination of both?

Packing Tips. Lay everything out and pack so that the heaviest and sturdiest things are on the bottom, and the lighter and more fragile items are on top. No one wants to unpack and pack again, because you put the watermelon on top of the cupcakes. If possible, put the picnic blanket on top since it’s the first thing you’ll unpack! And when you are packing perishable foods in a cooler, make sure they go in chilled, and with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep them cold. Larger ice packs or chunks of ice stay frozen longer. Or even throw in a few frozen water bottles!


TECHNIQUE

Make a Checklist. The only really technique I have this month is to make a checklist for picnics and keep it in or near your picnic bag or basket so you’ll never forget to bring trash bags again. I’ve actually taped mine up in my pantry as I forsee many picnics in my future this month.

Download my printable Picnic Checklist here!


CHILLING TIPS

Cold cut sandwiches, chilled salads and icy beverages really hit the spot on warm days. To ensure these items stay chilled—and safe to eat—keep these tips in mind.

  • Pack a cooler with 25% ice and 75% food. Place ice on the bottom and along the sides of the cooler. Then place the heaviest and most perishable foods on top of the ice.
  • Transfer chilled foods directly from the refrigerator to the cooler. Don’t utilize the cooler to chill warm or room temperature items.
  • Make sure you stay hydrated while also keeping your food the right temperature: toss some extra water bottles in the freezer the day before a picnic and fill out those empty spaces in your picnic bag.
  • A full cooler will stay colder longer than one that is partially empty, so choose the right sized cooler. If food doesn’t completely fill your cooler, add more ice. (or transfer to a smaller cooler)
  • Large pieces of ice melt more slowly than ice cubes. If you plan to be gone for many hours, use chunks of ice (or frozen water bottles) instead of ice cubes.
  • To protect your cooler from the hot sun, stick it in the shade as soon as you arrive at your picnic spot.
  • Avoid packing mayonnaise and any ice cream-based dishes that can turn bad or melt in the sun.