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11 Rules to Follow for a Successful Picnic

Picnic Set Up Idea
Summer is for eating outside. Your picnic can stretch from super simple–grab your sandwich, eat it in the park–to a more drawn-out al fresco party with tons of food and lots of friends. To make sure the open-air occasion meets your expectations, follow the 11 rules of thumb below.

Bring a Blanket
Don’t wing it, hoping that the ground will be just grassy enough for sitting pretty. You’ll want the largest blanket you can find, one that’ll prevent any moisture from seeping through while covering up dirt patches—and, of course, one that you aren’t planning to throw back on the bed ever again. Or, invest in a waterproof blanket that folds up easily and can become a picnic staple for you. A few inexpensive king-size sheets, which are lighter to lug than quilts, can be an economical way to seat all your friends if you don’t have an ancient blanket in the closet.

Potluck
Yes, you can do your best to craft a full spread all on your own. But why not divide and conquer? Picnics are the most fun when everyone contributes, and you’ll be less stressed if you’re hosting. Assign (or at least discuss) the breakdown of dishes a few days before the event, so that you don’t end up with a million cookies and no main course. And you don’t just have to divvy up food responsibilities. Ask one friend to be in charge of drinks and cups, another to bring a blanket, and a third to grab the plates, napkins, and forks.

Bring Drinks—and a Bottle Opener
Wine Picnic A few bottles of wine are the best way to have plenty of alcohol for everyone. If you prefer mixed drinks, plan to make punch or Pimms Cup ahead of time in a thermos so you’re not pouring sugary stuff all over your blanket. For a group that loves beer, consider asking a few guests each to grab a six pack, since dozens of bottles can really weigh down your bag. Last but not least, don’t forget the water and the non-alcoholic drinks. If you can, opt for drinks that don’t have to be ice cold, a move that prevents you from having to haul a cooler. (Image: Serious Eats)

Make a List
When your kitchen, pantry, and favorite market aren’t at arm’s length, you have to make sure that all the necessities somehow still are. Since a picnic involves transporting a good deal of your must-have kitchen items to somewhere kind of remote, don’t try to pack up that basket unprepared. Instead, think through the odds and ends you usually turn to before, during, and after a meal, listing out the random extras, like trash bags and water, you’d take for granted if you were at home. Then, follow your list to the letter.

Fancy up Your Sandwiches
Turkey with Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato Your picnic cuisine isn’t limited to sandwiches, but they are classics for a reason. They’re easy to transport, easy to eat, don’t require forks, and often get better with time. Still, that’s no excuse to pack plain old peanut butter and jelly. Give everyday sandwiches a gourmet twist by adding flavored mayo, spicy pickles, great aged cheese, or homemade caramelized onions. (Image: Good Life Eats)

Get Creative with Chips & Dip
Another winning–and easy–picnic meal is a huge spread of dips and dippers. Pack onion dip and potato chips for indulgence, hummus and carrots for something healthy, and tortilla chips and guacamole because it’s delicious. Supplement the spread with hunks of cheese, some cured meat, olives, and you’ve just “cooked” an entire picnic without worrying about the traditional main-and-sides format.

Use (Sustainable) Disposable Dishware
If you’re eco-conscious, the idea of binging on plastic might not appeal, but trust us: you don’t want to be dragging your cupboard’s heavy ceramic plates to and from your picnic spot. Fortunately, there are brands that use wood, bamboo, and recycled materials. Seek them out.

Bring One Knife
Plastic knives just don’t cut it sometimes. Carefully pack one real knife—a camping knife if you have one—and have it handy in case there’s baguette to be sliced or stubborn packages to open.

Pack Extra Herbs & Lemon Wedges
Fresh Herbs Garnishing your picnic snacks might sound like overkill, but here’s the honest truth: some of your dishes might have traveled a long way to be at the park tonight, and they might look worse for wear. With a baggie full of extra washed parsley and a couple wedges, you can transform a sad salad into a pretty bowl garnished with green sprigs and accompanied by a pretty lemon. (Image: Oh My Veggies)

Pack Games
Even if the booze runs out, friends will stay around if they’re engrossed in a game of Celebrity or Taboo. Aim for board games that don’t have lightweight pieces apt to fly away–cards, sadly, aren’t the best option. Lawn games like ladder ball and cornhole are surefire winners, but don’t overlook nostalgic activities like kite flying, either.

Have Mosquito Repellent on Hand
Especially if you’re picnicking in the evening hours, you’ll likely have insect buddies looking to share your food, your airspace, and your ankles. Defeat them with repellent (spray it on yourself far away from the food), or get fancier and bring an insect-repellent candle. In that case, add matches to your list.

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