Secrets, tips and must-haves to make your next picnic the most magical one yet

Is there anything more romantic than a picnic? I will venture a guess – not really. Stripes agrees, she has seen the number of picnics booked in the name of love and romance.

I don’t know what it is, but the whole idea of taking a basket full of delicious things to eat, out into the great outdoors, where you battle the elements in order to eat in relative peace, seems to rank somewhere at the top of the “most romantic things to do” list. I myself am a lover of picnics, not because of the food or the idea, but because when you do attempt a picnic with your loved one the settings and surroundings automatically force you to connect. There is nothing else to do except eat and talk. You can lie on your back and watch the clouds, or listen to the birds. Then eat and talk. Glorious. For most, the fun starts there – with the unveiling and unpacking of the goodies. But for us, the picnic-planners and picnic-packers, there is a lot of work to be done before this special event can take place. The success of your picnic rests on the panache with which you pack, and two undisputed tips – steer clear of any store-bought food, and be well prepared.

Picnics should be about comfort, ease, and joy. Nobody wants to use all of their energy carrying heavy baskets full of china and silverware, to a site that is km far, to sit on chairs (that you also had to carry) passing around cucumber sandwiches as a first course. Or worse, take out the carefully prepared food only to find everything is wilted, limp, or spoilt. For any picnic, there are a few must-have items, without which you will struggle, or even simply fail.

Something to pack the food in

A basket, or a dedicated picnic rucksack, works the best. You do not need anything special, whatever you choose must simply meet the following requirements:

  • Light enough to carry, even when packed full of goodies
  • Keep your cutlery and crockery safe, and clean
  • Keep the food and beverages cold and safe
  • Be able to house the dirty and empty things once you are done, without leaking juices onto the car seat

If you need 2 pieces in order to meet these requirements, then so be it. Maybe you will use a basket or rucksack to carry the cutlery, crockery and glassware, and a cool box for the food and drinks. Or you have a basket that is big enough for everything, plus insulated so it will keep the food cold. Just find something that will be practical and useful.  A few tips: a full cooler stays colder for longer, so ensure that it’s filled with about 75% food and the rest ice. If you don’t have enough food to fill it to ¾, then add more ice. Place ice at the bottom, followed by the heavier foods. Fill in with the lighter items. Pack the cooler directly from the refrigerator, and preferably use ice packs or slabs of ice. Another hack – freeze water in empty milk bottles and use instead of ice packs. And of course, once there always place the cooler in shade and not in direct sun. When packing your basket or another container, start with the items you will need last. Place them in first, e.g. the cutlery and crockery, the condiments, insect repellent, etc. Then follow with the perishable items and things you need as part of the setup. The last thing you place in your basket is your picnic blanket since that is the first thing you will need once you reach the picnic site.

Equipment

Make a list of the food that you are planning to serve, as well as the drinks, and determine what you will need in order to serve this menu. E.g. if you are drinking wine, ensure you pack a wine opener for the corkscrew. Bread, then pack a breadknife and breadboard. Cheese, you will most probably need a sharp knife, so pack one carefully. Don’t forget a cloth (you can pack a wet cloth in a lunch box or glass jar, making cleaning up a breeze) or napkins, and salt and pepper. If you will make use of a table, covered with a table cloth, remember to pack in weighted clips to hold the table cloth down. And remember something that you can use to collect all the trash. You must leave the picnic spot in a better condition than what you found it in – trash free.

For cutlery and crockery, we would recommend going the low waste, single-use-plastic-free route. Opt for bamboo or paper plates, bamboo or compostable knives and forks, and glasses that can be re-used. Avoid anything that is made from plastic or polystyrene that you will have to throw away after use. Metal is another option. For napkins, we recommend cloth, and empty containers and rubbish can be placed in the (hopefully) empty cool box for sorting and disposing of at home.

Food safety

A cool box, or ice packs, are essential to make sure that your food remains cold and safe for eating. Keep your cool box or insulated basket closed, only opening once you want to eat, and eat immediately once you have reached your destination in order to keep the food out of the temperature danger zone. Keep sauces separately, only adding them once you want to eat. Pack hand sanitizer or have another way of cleaning hands before eating.  If you are travelling or walking particularly far and don’t have adequate cooling options, avoid using mayonnaise or dairy products in your food.

Special touches

A blanket, cushions if you can carry them, an umbrella for shade if you won’t be under trees, and insect repellent are just a few of those things that you might not think of, but that is needed to make the picnic special. To ensure there is something cold to drink, freeze water in bottles. The frozen bottles can be used as ice packs, and once defrosted you have cold water to refresh yourself and your company.

The food

As important as the setting might be, the highlight of the show remains the food. When planning your picnic menu, you need to keep in mind it needs to be food that can be transported, that can be served at room temperature, won’t spoil in a cool box with only ice packs, can keep (so you don’t have to make it and serve it immediately), fall in the taste of your company, and provide a balanced meal. Here you have the choice of either going for finger food – smaller dishes and bites that don’t require cutlery and crockery to eat, or more traditional dishes, where you do need a plate and knife and fork in order to enjoy. A few dishes are iconically associated with picnics, such as Scotch eggs, chicken drumsticks, sandwiches, potato salad and quiche. Guaranteed crowd-pleasers, but definitely not the only options out there.

Pasta salad is perfect for picnics – usually hearty, they hold up well. If you want to pack a leafy salad, don’t dress the salad until you are going to eat it. For layered salads, always start with the heaviest ingredients at the bottom, working up towards the lighter ones like the lettuce. Other salad ideas include Middle Eastern couscous salad, a Greek orzo salad, or even a lighter-carb sweet potato salad. Adding vegetable dishes or bites can be a bit trickier as they usually do not handle the heat and transport that well. But there are options, such as zucchini fritters with minted tzatziki dip, pumpkin fritters, or chargrilled veg skewers.

Our favourite menu for a picnic? A selection of cheeses, cold meats, pates and spreads, olives, roasted peppers, gherkins, hummus, crudites and other meze bites, with fresh bread and real butter. Nothing fancy, just good produce that you can pair and add to make a wonderful meal. Social food.

A nice tip? Pack fruit, nuts and biltong for extra snacks along the way, especially if you are travelling with kids and the journey might take longer than you planned.

To end, chocolate brownies are always a winner. Other ideas: cheesecake in a jar, cookies, traditional scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, or a coconut loaf cake.

For drinks, anything that can successfully be kept cold can work. Ice tea is super refreshing on a hot summer’s day, lemonade or ginger beer (both homemade of course) being another stellar option. And for the grownups, sparkling wine or a chilled white or rose wine is wonderful. Just remember your glasses, and pack enough ice! You can also pack in sangria or spritzers, or pre-mixed G&Ts with the cucumber or lemon slices packed separately. Whatever says sun, outside, and great company. Our best hack to ensure your drinks remain cold (other than freezing them) is: chill as usual, then decant into a flask. That same flask to keep your coffee hot on road trips will keep your drinks nice and cold.

When packing the food, ensure the containers that you are using are leak proof. Place everything in the fridge to chill, and only pack them into your cool box at the last minute. Top with ice packs to ensure safe transportation.

The entertainment

  • Make getting to the picnic a scavenger hunt. Leave clues or a “treasure” map for your family to find their way to the picnic destination.
  • Bring along a board game, boules, a rugby ball, or a Frisbee for some outdoor fun. If kids will be joining you, try to pick a spot with a playground nearby.
  • Plan a hike and bring the picnic with you. Stop when you get hungry or find a scenic spot to eat.
  • Set the mood with a sunset picnic. If it’s allowed, bring a few votive candles and a small bouquet of flowers to add to the ambience.

Those are our top tips for making a magical picnic. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we hope you implement them for a romantic night out. And if you are worried about your skill in the kitchen, or simply do not have the time to cook and plan, you can always order your picnic from us!

Stripes is wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day, but even more, that you will feel the love the whole year round!