Four Steps to the Perfect Picnic

Nothing quite compares to the simple joy of spending time outside with family and friends, eating good food, surrounded by nature. These four steps will help you plan and execute a picnic that’s perfect for you and yours.

1. Pick a Spot

At the beach, along a riverbank, on a mountain trail, in an urban park — one of the coolest things about a picnic is you can have one just about anywhere. But choosing your spot ahead of time is definitely a wise move, because it’ll make all of your other picnic-related decisions (like what to eat, how to pack and when to go) so much easier.

So, what are some key things to consider when you’re picking your spot? For starters, think about the vibe you’re going for, and the people you’re planning to invite. For a large, family gathering, a local park with picnic tables, barbecue sites and a playground for the kids is a great choice. If you’re in the mood for romantic picnic for two, you can opt for a more secluded spot with a view. The beauty of living in Calgary or Airdrie is that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating outdoors. Just remember to pick a spot that offers a mix of shade and sun.

2. Plan Your Menu

When it comes to the menu, consider sticking to foods that are portable and easy to eat with your hands — the fewer utensils you’ll require while picnicking, the better! Things like chicken drumsticks, corn on the cob and marinated veggies on skewers are all great options. So are sandwiches, wraps, and fun finger foods like mini quiches, bite-sized sausage rolls or peanut butter and jelly pinwheels. As for a sweet treat or two for the end of the meal, brownies, cookies and a selection of fresh fruit are all easy to pack and sure to please.

If you’re wanting to include dishes that have a little more pizazz, and you don’t mind bringing along plates and cutlery, then bean, quinoa or pasta salads (prepared ahead of time) are worth adding to the mix. Or you can get creative with charcuterie: pack a couple of different cured meats (like prosciutto and salami), two or three different cheeses, olives, pickles, some crackers and crostini, a few jams or spreads, and a board to put everything on once you’ve arrived at your spot. Just be sure that the foods you choose to bring will hold up well in a cooler or basket, and that, whenever possible, you keep sauces, dressings and condiments separate until serving to avoid things getting soggy.

For beverages, thermoses of homemade iced tea or lemonade are always a hit — as long everyone at the picnic has a cup (ideally a reusable one) so that they can partake. Or, if you have the space (and don’t mind carrying a little extra weight), bring a selection of canned or bottled pop, juice, beer or wine. And no matter what, don’t forget water.

3. Pack strategically

Packing can make or break your picnic experience — spills, spoilage and soggy, smushed foods are always a bummer, so make sure to use sturdy containers that seal, and bring along plenty of ice packs to keep perishable foods as cold as possible. Stack items in your cooler (or picnic basket, if you’re going old school) according to when you’ll be using them so that you’re minimizing the need to shuffle things around on-site. Put desserts on the bottom, mains in the middle, and serving items, tableware and a blanket or tablecloth on top.

If possible, carry your drinks in a separate cooler to avoid squishing the food. And don’t forget to pack a separate bag with must-haves like insect repellant, sunscreen, wet wipes and garbage bags for cleaning up the picnic site when you’re done.

4. Create memorable moments

If you’re with a larger group or are planning a long and lingering picnic, don’t forget to include a few activities for those who may want to get up and stretch their legs. Pack a bocce or croquet set, bring along a Frisbee or soccer ball, or scrap the gear altogether in favour of a good old-fashioned game of tag, charades or hide-and-seek.

Don’t be afraid to embrace a sense of nostalgia, too. Think about the outdoor games or goofy party activities you enjoyed most when you were a kid, then incorporate one or two into the day — whether it’s a watermelon seed-spitting contest, flying a kite or spending a little time blowing (and chasing) bubbles.

No matter who and what you bring, or where you decide to go, at the end of the day, a summer picnic is all about having fun in the sun (and shade) with the people you love. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for ideas on where to picnic, check out our list of suggested spots in Calgary and Airdrie.