I have found that in this world there are either picnic lovers or picnic loathers. There was a time when I was not too fond of packing up all the food and paraphernalia to have a successful picnic, it all seemed like too much work. But then I cut myself some slack, learned the joy of picnic “take out” and realized there is one really great reward that comes when you dine at a park that makes it all worth it.
Here, in no certain order, is my list of 8 essentials for the perfect picnic:
1. Picnic Food. I like to bring around half of our meal and supplement with store bought sandwiches or salads from a casual local deli. I usually choose a place based on the location of our picnic. On the East side, we like to go to Buon Giorno in Lilydale or Broder’s Cucina Italiana in Minneapolis. It’s kind of fun to put an Italian theme to your picnic.
With the main course taken care of, I can easily put together some accompaniments to round it out for a balanced meal. Grapes and cherries are hearty fruits that transport easily as well as sliced cucumbers or carrots for vegetables. If I’m feeling a little fancy, I will pack a cheese and cracker course or maybe a homemade salsa or Texas caviar to have with tortilla chips. Dessert is a must on a picnic! Snickerdoodles or peanut butter cookies work well because chocolate chip cookies can melt quickly and get messy fast. If I’m feeling extra fancy, we’ll pick up dessert at the deli too. There’s just something special about eating macarons, usually revered as a French confectionery delicacy, while sitting on a patch of earthy soil.
2. Beverages. I think Pellegrino Sparkling Mineral Water is the quintessential beverage at picnics, and now they have flavored sparkling fruit beverages that are really festive. Trader Joe’s has some awesome drinks to try too. I picked up this lemonade and limeade recently and can’t wait to use it on our next picnic.
3. Picnic Basket. I love our insulated Peterboro Picnic Basket (pictured below). It keeps food and beverages cold, and doubles as a cup holder which comes in handy when you are picnicking on uneven ground and want a level surface for your drink. There are lots of fun picnic baskets out there, but any old cooler or even a practical picnic backpack would work too.
4. Picnic Blanket. For years, I used a red checkered plastic tablecloth as our picnic blanket and just last year I upgraded to this super handy little outdoor blanket from JJ Cole. If you recognize their name, its because they make awesome diaper bags too. What I like about this blanket is that it is so versatile…I keep it in the van and use it at the beach, soccer field, or the neighborhood park that doesn’t have a bench. It rolls up into an easy-to-carry bag, making it all the more convenient.
5. Music. To each his own, but my Picnic Playlist would include Florence and the Machine’s ‘Dog Days are Over’ and U2’s ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ among other songs that scream summertime. The boys would pick Okee Dokee Brothers ‘Can you Canoe’ to listen to and mom and dad would not be disappointed, that album is great for all ages. Music adds an element that can elevate your picnic from standard to enchanting, so make sure your smartphone is charged and you packed some cordless speakers.
6. Reading Material. Ya know that scene in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere skips out on work and he and Julia Roberts have a little ‘cop-a-squat’ in a nearby park where they read to each other? Yeah, that. When you’re done eating but having so much fun that you are not ready to go just yet, pull out a book and read to your kids, or let them read to you. Trust me on this one, they will love it.
7. Destination. As they say in the real estate business: Location Location Location. We like to find secluded or off the beaten path places to have a picnic. Some place where there are lots of trees and maybe near a lake or pond. A beautiful view is even better. A couple of our favorite spots are Harriet Island Regional Park in St. Paul, French Park in Plymouth and a little park by our house where the boys can feed the ducks. A couple of times we have hopped in the car, driven towards the airport, found a quiet street or deserted road and opened the back of the van to watch the airplanes take off and land. The airport is especially busy in the wee hours of the morning, imagine how fun it would be to get your kids up early and go for a picnic breakfast in your pajamas! Here is a picture TCMB editor Brianna took of her family picnicking at Minnehaha Falls Park earlier this summer, another great picnic locale.
8. The Extras. Not to be forgotten, there are a few incidentals that can make your picnic more enjoyable. A roll of paper towels comes in handy or even a small container of diaper wipes or Wet Ones. I bring a small trash bag to collect all the loose ends of trash. Throughout the year, I collect little packets of condiments and keep them in the pantry so we don’t have to lug jars of mayo or mustard with us. I have a couple sets of Melamine plates and dinnerware in cute patterns that add a fun element to picnics. And it’s a good idea to always expect the unexpected. We’ve been rained on, barked at, chased by geese and stepped in dog poop. It happens. These just makes the moments all the more memorable. Last but certainly not least, don’t forget a camera – hopefully there will be plenty of candid photo opportunities!
Wherever you go, and whatever you eat, the best part of a picnic is that you don’t have to vacuum up the crumbs when you are done! Enjoy!