End of Summer: How to Plan the Perfect Picnic

End of Summer: How to Plan the Perfect Picnic

Summer is quickly coming to an end with Labor Day right around the corner. End your summer on a high note with a picnic gathering of friends, coworkers, and family. It can be really fun and inexpensive. Here are some tips and ideas for your next picnic. 

Picnic Pointers

  • Consider packing two containers—a picnic basket for tableware and nonperishable items and a cooler for cold food and beverages.
  • To make it easy to get at the items you need when you arrive at your picnic site, pack your basket in reverse order. Place nonperishable food on the bottom, then serving items and tableware, and finally the tablecloth on top. 
  • No basket? No worries! Load your goodies into a sturdy cardboard box, plastic bin or even a backpack.
  • If you’re feeding a lot of people, bring two coolers. Since frequent opening of a cooler allows the cool air to escape, use one for frequently used items such as beverages. Use the second cooler for perishable foods like meats and salads.
  • Closely estimate how much food your group will eat to avoid leftovers. Unless they can be kept very cold or very hot, leftovers of perishable items should be thrown away.
  • Save extra condiment packets from fast-food restaurants to bring along on your picnic—the packs are ideal for easy outdoor meals.
  • Bring along plastic bags to cart home dirty dishes and silverware, and for garbage in case there are no trash barrels at the picnic site.

Chilling Tips

Cold sandwiches, chilled salads and icy beverages really hit the spot on warm days. To ensure these items stay cool—and safe to eat—remember these rules:

  • Cold foods should be kept at 40°F or colder.
  • When packing a cooler, it should be about 25% ice and 75% food. Place ice on the bottom and along the sides of the cooler. Then place the heaviest and most perishable foods on top of the ice. Fill in with lighter items.
  • Transfer chilled foods directly from the refrigerator to the cooler. Don’t use the cooler to chill warm or room temperature items.
  • A full cooler will stay colder longer than one that is partially empty, so choose an appropriate sized cooler. If food doesn’t completely fill your cooler, add more ice.
  • Large pieces of ice melt more slowly than ice cubes. If you plan to be gone awhile, use chunks of ice instead of ice cubes. Simply fill clean empty milk cartons with water and freeze.
  • To protect your cooler from the sun’s rays, place it in the shade as soon as you arrive at your picnic spot. 
  • When setting out chilled salads or other cold foods, consider placing the serving containers in a larger pan filled with ice to keep them cold.
  • Avoid packing mayonnaise and ice cream-based dishes that can turn bad or melt in the sun.

Grilling Tips

While subs and other sandwiches are common alfresco fare, grilled foods are popular, too. If you plan to cook meats such as chicken, steak, hamburgers or hot dogs at your picnic site, heed these helpful hints:

  • Wrap raw meat, poultry or fish separately from cooked foods in airtight plastic containers or resealable plastic bags.
  • Freeze meats before packing so they remain cold longer. This is especially important if you must travel a long distance to the picnic location or if the foods won’t be grilled immediately upon arrival.
  • Do not partially cook foods at home to speed up cooking at the picnic site; bacteria grows faster in partially cooked foods.
  • Hot foods should be kept at 140°F or hotter and should be eaten within 2 hours of being cooked.

Fun Picnic Ideas

Equipped with the above tips and a packed picnic basket, you’re ready to go. All that’s left is choosing a place to spread out your portable feast. Consider the banks of a nearby lake or stream, a local park or a shady spot in your own backyard. Then sit back, relax and enjoy a picture-perfect picnic with these fun ideas:

  • 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, bocce ball, a softball and catcher’s mitt or a Frisbee for some outdoor fun. If kids will be joining you, try to pick a park 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. 
  • Consider packing a picnic for others, whether it’s for your kids in the backyard, your neighbors next door or even a coworker in need of some lunchtime fun.



The perfect meal is made up of foods that can last in the cooler all day. 

  • A half gallon of lemonade
  • Guacamole and tortilla chips
  • Pre-sliced watermelon
  • Turkey Wraps
  • Sugar snap peas or steamed edamame
  • Crackers and firm cheese (such as Swiss, Cheddar, or Muenster)
  • Fruit (such as apples, pears, and grapes)
  • Chocolate bars
  • Carrot sticks and hummus
  • Potato chips
  • Juice boxes (for the kids) and bottled water (for the adults)

Chicken Muffuletta 


The Chicken Muffuletta is a lighter take on an old New Orleans favorite. Packed full with chicken, salami, olives, onions, and spices, it’s a great make-ahead sandwich for a summer picnic.


  • 3 cups chopped seeded tomato (about 2 medium)
  • Cooking spray
  • 8 cups diced peeled eggplant (about 1 pound)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped pimiento-stuffed olives (about 7 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini (about 5 medium)
  • 4 ounces sharp provolone cheese, finely diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2/3 cup (2 ounces) chopped reduced-fat hard salami
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 4 (8-ounce) loaves French bread
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, thinly sliced


Spread tomato evenly onto several layers of heavy-duty paper towels. Cover with additional paper towels; let stand 10 minutes.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add eggplant and onion; sauté 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender and beginning to brown. Stir in thyme and pepper; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Spoon eggplant mixture into a large bowl.

Coat pan with cooking spray. Add tomato; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir tomato into eggplant mixture. Cool to room temperature.

Stir olives and next 5 ingredients (through vinegar) into eggplant mixture.

Cut French bread loaves in half horizontally. Hollow out top and bottom halves of bread, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell; reserve torn bread for another use. Spread about 3 tablespoons olive mixture over bottom half of each loaf. Arrange chicken evenly on bottom halves. Top chicken evenly with remaining 3 tablespoons olive mixture; cover with top halves of loaves. Wrap loaves with plastic wrap; refrigerate up to 24 hours. Cut each loaf into 3 pieces just before serving.

Sour Cream-Dill Potato Salad


Whip up a side salad of Sour Cream-Dill Potato Salad for your next picnic. Made with sour cream, Greek yogurt, cucumber, and fresh dill, this creamy potato salad is ready in 20 minutes.


  • 3/4 pound fingerling potatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced English cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


1. Place a saucepan filled two-thirds with water over high heat. Cut potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Add potatoes to pan; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook 5 minutes or until tender. Drain.

2. Combine cucumber, sour cream, yogurt, dill, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add drained potatoes to cucumber mixture, and toss gently to coat.


If you are in the Music/Touring Industry there is a great Picnic coming up with the Touring Career Workshop at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville, TN on August 28th and they will be providing Hattie B’s Hot Chicken.


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