How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

Summer is here, which means there’s a lot of pressure to get out of the house and really enjoy “all of this great weather” through beach days, barbecues, and picnics. However eating outside can be a bit of a hassle. Sandwiches can get soggy, plastic flatware is flimsy, and eating off a plate in your lap can be awkward. With the right recipes and a bit of prep-work, you can have the hassle-free picnic of your Instagram-fuelled dreams.

Photos by Blue Mountains City Library and Alex Lang.

Think Outside the Basket

How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

Wicker picnic hampers and baskets do have a romantic sort of quality about them, but they’re bulky, not exactly insulated, and poorly-suited for picnics that take place outside of a park. Here are some alternatives:

  • Hiking: If you’re going to eat outside, it might as well be somewhere breathtaking, and what better way to end a hike than with a delicious meal? The best basket for this job isn’t a basket at all, but a backpack, preferably one with insulation to keep everything chilled during your hike, like this one or this one.
  • At the Beach: Sand and seagulls are the enemy of the beach picnic, so be sure to pick a container that seals completely. If you’re planning on making a day of it, go for something on wheels so no one has to lug a heavy bag down to the shore and make sure to get something with good insulation. Bonus points if it has a built in blender for margaritas.
  • For a Smaller Affair: If this picnic is a party of two (or one) there’s no reason a couple of lunchboxes won’t do the trick.
  • For the Traditionalist: If you really want a fancy wicker basket, then you should have a fancy wicker basket. But I must warn you: I got this top of the line basket as a wedding present four years ago, and it has yet to feel the sun on its lid.

Build a Better Sandwich

How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

Besides ants, nothing spoils a picnic quite like a soggy sandwich. Luckily, there are a number of strategies at your disposal to battle the sog:

  • Keep wet ingredients — like condiments, tomatoes, and pickles — on the inside of the sandwich, and place meats and cheeses up against the bread to shield it from its aqueous enemies.
  • Alternatively, coat bread with a water-blocking spread, like butter, avocado, or cream cheese. Cucumber finger sandwiches are a great option, just be sure to coat both pieces of bread with cream cheese, so as to prevent watery cucumber from taking its toll on soft, white bread.
  • About that soft white bread: If you plan on making your sandwich Dagwood-style, consider swapping it out for a crusty roll or hearty ciabatta. Not only will these breads help preserve the structural integrity of your meal, they’re great for making pressed sandwiches, like this one from Crepes of Wrath. (Bonus: pressing the sandwich overnight means that the sandwich will hold together better and be permeated with the wonderful flavour of pesto.)
  • Blot your produce by setting drippy ingredients on a paper towels while you assemble the rest of the sandwich, as suggested by The Kitchn.
  • Don’t put so much stuff in there. Take a tip from the Barefoot Contessa, and keep it simple with creamy butter and salty ham or prosciutto on a crispy baguette. Not only will you avoid the dreaded tomato slippage, but a sandwich with only two (very fatty) ingredients has no chance of getting soggy.

Through the use of one or all of these tips, you can say “bye bye” to gross, wet sandwiches.

Put Things on Sticks

How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

There is no dance more delicate than trying to balance a plate on your knee while cutting up food with a plastic knife. Sure you could put your plate on the ground, but then you have to hunch over your plate, which is unattractive and bad for your back. Skip all of that noise by putting food on sticks. Not only will you avoid the need for flimsy flatware, but you will have at least one hand free at all times. (Well, until you put a drink in it.)

For a first course, try these Greek Salad Skewers from Fine Cooking; for your main, these Classic Club Skewers from Stephanie Lynn; and for dessert you can shove a bunch of fruit and brownies on a stick and call it a day, as Mel does in her kitchen. If it can be cut into pieces, it can be put on a stick.

Put Things in Jars

How To Pack Your Food For A Mess-Free Picnic

Look, I get it. We’re all tired of Mason jars. Somewhere along the way they lost their rustical whimsy and morphed into the epitome of Pinterest twee, but damn it if they aren’t great containers. They’re easy to pack and clean, and unlike cheap plastic containers they last forever, while maintaining their good looks. (If you really, really hate the aesthetic, you can always use an old peanut butter jar instead.)

In Mason jars, you can layer individual salads — with dressing on the bottom and lettuce at the very top — without having to worry about your greens getting gross. You can premix delicious cocktails (or tea, I guess) and pack them in a cooler for perfectly proportioned and chilled libations. You can even serve fancy, layered desserts like these delicious no-bake cheesecakes from Family Feedbag.

Pair Some Wine and Pack It Well

Drinking wine outside is no excuse for drinking the wrong wine. For sandwiches, let this in-depth article from the New York Times guide you; for barbecuing, consult this handy graphic from Vinepair.

And if you’re going to bring wine, don’t let those bottles clank around. You could buy a wine bag, but you could also get fancy and wrap your wine using Japanese Furoshiki, shown in the video above.

Of course, you could completely remove glass from the transportation equation by bringing cans (Underwood makes a great canned Pinot).

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