How to pack a picnic

Some of us are blessed with a photographic memory, patience, and a small butt. Me? I was blessed with cellulite, a sense of humour, and the picnic gene.

Ever since I can remember whenever summer hit my mom packed up salmon sandwiches, milk, and some fruit for a picnic dinner. As soon as my dad got home from work we were loaded into the car and off for an evening by the sea wall at Stanley Park. My mom, bless her culinary deficiencies, made the same old boring salmon sandwiches for every single picnic dinner I ever ate. As a little kid eating those sandwiches on a blanket, throwing rocks into the ocean (with the odd bit of sandwich) plus watching the sunset was fun, but when I hit thirteen I would rather have been shot out of a cannon naked than be seen with my parental units. Looking back – those picnic nights hold some of my fondness summer memories with those same parental units. youth is so wasted on the young!

With tutelage from my mom and many years of experience under my belt not only do I make a mean salmon sandwich, I also have some tips to help you become an al fresco fanatic.

What to pack in the cute wicker basket you got as a gift:

First and foremost – it’s not for the food.

It may look cute and romantic but unless you want to spend the next day in the ER doing the dysentery dance only pack the stuff you don’t eat into the wicker basket. This includes:

  • Non breakable dishes, plates, cups, etc. Glass breaks. It may look glamorous in a magazine, but there’s nothing like that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach at the sound of tinkling dinner plates smashing as you trip over a log. They now sell bamboo dishes – a tad expensive but if your middle name is Environmentally Friendly than these are the dishes for you. I recently used some environmentally friendly disposable plates made from sugar cane, liked them a lot.
  • Cutlery- chose plastic or go with the real stuff, makes up for the not so elegant non breakable dishes
  • Serviettes – paper for family, cloth for a romantic picnic
  • Hand wipes – remember your mom always said to wash your hands before you eat? She was right. Either scoot off to the bathrooms for a good hand wash or bring wipes or hand sanitizer
  • First Aid Kit – as a mom and a klutz I’m never too far away from a Band-aid and non stinging antiseptic wash
  • Benadryl – great for after that face plant into the poison ivy or a bee sting
  • Roll of toilet paper – You could make a veritable fortune selling the stuff in the women’s bathrooms around 6:00 pm on a Saturday
  • Some kind of bug spray – I hate the idea of spraying stuff on my skin but I’d rather not be the entrée in a mosquitoes picnic plans. FYI – bug repellent reduces the affect of sunscreen so you might want to go higher on the SPF or wear a huge hat.
  • Speaking of  sun screen – apply at least 20 minutes before sun exposure and not just a little dab, apparently you need about a shot glass full per person! Reapply every 2 hours, may sound like overkill but as a person who has had skin cancer three times this is what the doctor told me, just passing on the info.
  • Plastic bags for garbage pick up – if you’ve ever walked through a public park on a Monday morning before the ground crews arrive you’re well aware that many people don’t have a clue what environmentally friendly really means. Pack up your garbage, separate the recyclables and if need be bring them home and recycle them yourself.
  • Can of tuna with a self opening lid, the best bug distracter I know of. Open it when you’re going to eat and leave it about 20-30 feet away from your picnic. The bugs usually are attracted to the strong tuna smell and will leave you alone, unless unfortunately you’re eating tuna sandwiches, then you might as well go sit beside the can and pray.
  • Tablecloth if you like to sit at a table and a picnic blanket for all you earthy types. I have several picnic blankets but my official one is an old quilt that I bought at a garage sale, holes and all. I keep it in the trunk of my car in case the picnic mood overtakes me on the way home from work.
  • Keep your wicker basket restocked all summer long so all you’ll have to do is pack the food, grab the basket, and you are out the door.


What to keep in the car:

If your picnic includes kids of all ages pack toys.

A soccer ball, baseball, Frisbee, horseshoes, badminton rackets, water guns, stuff to have fun with, a book and some Valium for you.

  • Umbrella for shade
  • And the picnic blanket


Got this quilt at a garage sale years ago. It is my official picnic blanket.

What goes in the insulated cooler:

  • Packing for a picnic is really all about the food. It can be as simple as my mom’s salmon sandwiches or as elegant as gourmet cheeses and an antipasto platter. Regardless of what you pack, in the heat of summer, food safety is still the number one issue. The rule of thumb is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
  • You can pack whatever you want as a cold source. Both freezer packs and ice work but both are heavy, take up space and when the ice melts you’ll end up playing bobbing for the sandwiches. So pack lots of cooler packs, forget about the ice.
  • Bottle of ice water: good for cooling off, squirting at your sleeping husband, or for drinking
  • Put all the food into a cooler, and space the cold sources around the food leaving some to pack on top. This way all of the food will stay cold.
  • Any food that does go into the cooler should be cold. Cooked roast beef, chicken, even sandwiches should be prepared the night before, and then put in the fridge overnight. The next day the food is cold going into the cooler. Warm food will raise the temperature in the cooler preventing optimal coldness. Which means buying a bucket of chicken and letting it sit in a cooler or worse in the sun is a really bad idea. Two words – bowel buster.
  • Pack enough drinks so that each person will be drinking 1 cup/250 mL per hour. That may sound like a lot, but in the summer heat drinking 1 cup/250 mL per hour is easy. Freeze at least half of the drinks to keep the picnic cold. Most picnics are all day affairs, so pack at least 4 drinks per person.
  • For added thirst quenchers pack cut up watermelon.
  • Never leave the cooler in the car. It gets mighty hot in there and it wouldn’t matter if the whole picnic was frozen before hand, that much heat will melt anything. My rule of thumb – never leave kids, pets, your mother-in-law or the cooler in the car.
  • Place the cooler either in the shade, under an umbrella, or under a blanket to keep everything as cold as possible.
  • Don’t pack extras unless you’re independently wealthy and you don’t mind being wasteful. Taking the extra potato salad home for tomorrow night’s dinner? Here comes the old Pooh-Pooh Train.
  • And finally wash out the cooler when you do get home with soapy water and store with the lid open till the next picnic attack hits you.



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