How to Pack for a Picnic

Book excerpt from Summer: A User's Guide Published by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc.


  • Freeze bottles of water or noncarbonated beverages before you pack them in your picnic basket. Not only will they be nice and cool when you’re ready to drink them, but they’ll help keep your foods chilled.
  • Food spoils quickly in hot weather, so if you’re traveling long distances, be sure to carry anything perishable in an ice-filled cooler. If you’re driving, transport your picnic basket in the air-conditioned car, not in the steamy trunk.
  • Bring foods that are easy to eat, and travel well. Finger foods, hearty sandwiches, and barbecued drumsticks are perfect.
  • As simple appetizers, I always bring a few wedges of good cheese, some easy-to-eat fresh fruit (like grapes, cherries, sliced apples or pears), and dried fruit and nuts.
  • Use common sense when the temperature soars; in extreme heat, discard any food that’s been out of the cooler for more than an hour.
  • If you’re making sandwiches ahead of time, wrap them in waxed paper so moist ingredients don’t get soggy. You might also want to pack sliced tomatoes, roasted red peppers, pickles and olives separately, so everyone can customize his or her own sandwich.
  • Avoid foods with mayonnaise, which can spoil quickly. German potato salad is a good substitute for traditional potato salad because it uses a vinegar-oil dressing.
  • Green salads tend to wilt easily, so consider making a vegetable crudité as a side dish instead.
  • White wine is a good choice when it’s hot, but you may also want to experiment with a fruity rosé, cold champagne with strawberries, or a thermos filled with luscious sangria.
  • For dessert, opt for easy-to-handle cookies, brownies, and bars rather than pies or cakes.


  • Picnic basket
  • Napkins
  • Plates
  • Silverware
  • Serving utensils
  • Condiments (salt, pepper, mustard, roasted red peppers, tapenade)
  • Garbage bag
  • Radio, or CD player and Cds
  • Cups and wine/champagne glasses
  • Corkscrew or bottle opener
  • Damp wipes
  • Insect repellent
  • Frisbee
  • Candles and flashlight (for evening picnics)


Clean your cooler with a fresh sponge soaked in warm, soapy water (specifically before first use). To remove tough stains, make a paste of baking soda and water to scrub them off.

If there are unpleasant food or mildew odors in your cooler, clean it with a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water. If the odor persists, wipe the interior with a cloth saturated with vanilla extract, and leave the cloth in the cooler overnight.

Always air-dry your cooler with the lid open before storing, to prevent mold and mildew from growing.

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