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Food52’s Top 5 Tips for Planning a Picnic Menu

Picnics seem like such laid-back affairs until one day when you realize you’re -- by most accounts -- a grownup, and no longer want to eat soggy fried chicken that’s shrugged off its crust in the car ride over, potato salad that’s been mashed into oblivion with mayo, or bedraggled fruit salad that was made just a few too many days in advance. Just because you’re eating on a blanket and your food is literally lower to the ground doesn’t mean you have to lower your standards. Here are five surefire tips for planning a picnic menu.

1. Slice, Dice and Portion at Home

Recipe: Quinoa and Mango Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing

Quinoa and Mango Salad with Lemon-Ginger Dressing

Photo by James Ransom

Dishes with a lot of components and extensive assembly need not apply to the picnic menu. The ingredients for this salad – quinoa, black beans, diced mango, roasted onions, a lemon-ginger dressing – can all be prepared ahead of time, and everything but the dressing can be mixed together and portioned out into individual servings. When you’re ready to eat, just pass around the container of dressing and dig in.

2. Forget Fragile Foods

Recipe: Farmhouse Whole Wheat Bread

Farmhouse Whole Wheat Bread

Photo by Tom Hirschfeld

Chips may be the starch of choice at picnics, but they’re fragile and can get crushed in transport. A better solution, especially when there’s all that lovely lemony salad dressing to sop up, is to bring freshly baked bread. You can slice it ahead of time (see tip #1) or bring the whole loaf and let people tear into it at the picnic. This particular loaf is braided, which creates individual domes that just beg to be torn off like so many dinner rolls.

3. Leave Your Knives at Home

Recipe: Strawberry Lime Crostata

Strawberry Lime Crostata

Photo by James Ransom

Informal, free-form tarts like crostatas and galettes are perfect for picnics, and without a top crust of dough, they’re lighter, too. Cut out wedges ahead of time so you don’t have to mess around with sharp objects when you’re dining al fresco. Bars, brownies, and other desserts that take kindly to pre-cutting also have the added benefit of being easy to eat out of hand. The fewer the utensils to account for at the end of the picnic, the happier the host.

4. Give Guests Choices

Recipe: Saffron and Cardamom Lemonade Concentrate

Saffron and Cardamom Lemonade Concentrate

Photo by James Ransom

Anyone can mix up lemonade, but it’s a lot more fun to bring the concentrated version and allow guests to tweak their own drink to their liking. This spiced lemonade gets muddled with mint and a tiny pinch of salt to play off the sweetness before water is added to taste. Letting guests dilute the drink mix to their liking keeps everyone feeling playful and the mood light. If you’re ready to introduce even more latitude, offer the grownups a shot of vodka to stir in.

5. Don’t Forget a Snack

Recipe: Five Minute, No-Bake Vegan Granola Bars

Five Minute, No-Bake Vegan Granola Bars

Photo by James Ransom

Every memorable, quality picnic includes snacks. Give us a bit of freedom to eat outside, a bit of space to run around, and we’ll see what other rules we can break – like saving our appetites for the main meal. With these vegan, no-cook granola bars, there’s no harm or shame in filling up early – they’re practically as wholesome as the main event.

What are your picnic-planning tips? Share your comments below!

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Aileen Lee says …

I will try it for my boy friend :) Thank you!! yay

christie says …

great recipies

Lorena Santos says …

I have Seen the recipies and they Look Super!!

Alisa Green says …

I love your info for a healthy picnic. Thank you!