The Perfect Picnic

Tips to Enjoy National Picnic Month

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City has a huge lawn open for your picnic needs. (Image source)

August is National Picnic Month, and with the weather cooling off a bit, now is a great time to head out to your favorite spot—or even find a new one! We have some tips to make your picnic near perfect.

The location

Where you set up your picnic can be key in whether or not it’s successful. But where?

  • Public parks are always a good choice, as they are free, plentiful in most areas, and have the green space to spread out. If you want to use a shelter or picnic area, just make sure it’s not already reserved, or you’ll have to move.
  • The lawn of a public building can also be a good option, depending on the location. For example, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., has a huge lawn that is open for picnics, games of catch, even kite flying. Other cities have similar areas—just make sure it’s allowed before showing up with your basket.
  • Consider some “non-traditional” locations: an accessible (and safe!) rooftop with a city view … the bed of a pickup truck parked in a field … even a late-night outing with some star gazing, can all be quite memorable.
  • No matter where you go, place an inexpensive shower curtain under your picnic blanket to keep the blanket clean and dry. If on a beach, consider the “fitted sheet” trick to help keep sand out. (Also make sure you don’t place your blanket on, say, a fire ant nest. Just…take my word for it.)

The food

This is the core of your gathering, and you’ll want things to be tasty, yet convenient, safe, and easy to clean. A few tips:

  • Pack your cooler and basket so the things you’ll need last are at the bottom, while hors d'oeuvres and other “first” items are at the top.
  • Keep cold foods cold by using larger blocks of ice (which stay colder longer) in a cooler packed as much as possible (more items also helps it stay cold longer).
  • A good rule of thumb for coolers: 25% ice, 75% food/drinks. If you’re planning a large gathering, have one cooler just for drinks so that food items stay cold until needed.
  • If cooking while there, make sure that hot foods like chicken and burgers are thoroughly cooked: 165 degrees for chicken, 160 for burgers. (And, yes, that means you should take a meat thermometer with you.)
  • Try to avoid recipes that require large amounts of mayonnaise or milk unless you are sure you can keep them cool (40 degrees or lower) as those can spoil when warm and cause illness.
  • Cheap paper plates can get soggy and not hold up to heavier foods. Laminate plates are inexpensive and durable—just bring larger plastic bags to put the dirty ones in afterward. There are also eco-friendly options, such as these plates from Fallen Leaves (which are, in fact, made from leaves, so they are biodegradable and compostable!). 
  • Use muffin tins for condiments and toppings.
  • Never, ever forget dessert.

The fun

While hanging out is all well and good, having something to do other than just sit and eat is better. 

  • Lawn games like Spikeball are easy to transport, and ones like washers or cornhole can be purchased or even made by someone with some basic skills and tools. (Instructions for making your own washer board can be found at WikiHow; cornhole can be found at the DIY Network website.)
  • Scavenger hunts can be a lot of fun and are great for getting kids moving. You can either go early and hide items for them to find, or make a list of things you know they can obtain in the area. You might even consider some sort of prize(s) for those who get the most items, or for those who finish their list first.
  • Some other games include water balloon toss or piñata (just make sure to pick up the scraps), or even just a football. The key is to have something for folks to do while waiting for the food.

So get out there and have yourself a perfect picnic!

Mark Dye

About the author: Mark Dye

Mark Dye has been writing articles, recording podcasts, and putting together books on personal finance for nearly a decade. His work has been recognized by the American Bankers Association and the Institute for Financial Literacy, and received an 2011 APEX Grand Award for Writing. Follow Mark on Google+.

Contact: Mark Dye


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