Summer is here! And ‘tis the season to slather on the sun lotion, don flip flops on our frankly shockingly pasty feet, and head to the great outdoors for a good ol’ picnic. As a national pastime every summer, it’s no wonder the entirety of July has been hailed as National Picnic Month! Eating al fresco in parks, back gardens, fields, and beaches is what this month is all about.
From the French ‘piquenique’, the tradition of picnics, dates back to the mid-18th century when French high society would get bored of hobnobbing with tons of formality and elaborately complicated etiquette (Doreen, you’re using the wrong knife dear) and escape for a more casual meal outdoors. Fast forward to the current day and the average person picnics at least three times a year, that’s 94 million picnics every year in the UK! 
Golly! So, how can we picnic like a pro?
First, assemble the essentials. Everyone knows you need a blanket and a basket (okay, we admit a backpack is just as good), but what else should we pack?
Have a think about where - is it easy to drive up to the spot, or does our location require trekking through the wilderness or down winding paths to get to our secluded spot? Are we going to be lugging a camping table or picnicking on the ground? All of this will impact what we need and want to bring, and although it’s hugely tempting to pack everything from the kitchen sink to Aunt Mabel’s spare drawers, let’s be practical.
Here are some basics to get us started:
Crockery & cutlery – the planet will thank us for bringing reusable or compostable items. Go for unwaxed paper plates and bamboo or wooden utensils, they’re cheap to buy, not as flimsy as single-use plastic and will break down lickety-split in a compost bin! Or better still, grab some cutlery from the kitchen drawer. The Beingwell family also love reusable bees-wax food wraps for sarnies.
Coolbox – Yes, yes, this is kind of a given, but hear us out. Keeping nosh cool is important to prevent grim food-borne illnesses, but it’s hard to keep food cold with little (or big) hands constantly opening and closing coolers. To combat this, bring one cooler for items like snacks and drinks that are grabbed frequently and one for items that need to stay very cold. Opt for reusable ice blocks or fill a bottle, nearly all the way to the top, with water and pop in the freezer ahead of time. It’ll help to keep everything cool and later provide a refreshing drink.
Don’t have a coolbox? Grace, our lovely Life Coach, has a suggestion:
“Wrap tinfoil around tubs to keep food cooler for longer, and package all the cold items together. A thermos or flask that’s usually used for hot drinks can be repurposed for iced tea or juice.”
Food prep tools – Even when we’re incredibly organised and make everything ahead of time, there might still be some minor cooking, chopping, or divvying up. A small knife, lightweight chopping board and some scissors are optional but can be super handy.
Hand sanitiser – with everyone chowing down on the grub and no guarantee of running water, a bottle of hand sanitiser can go a long way to keeping everything clean and safe. Baby wipes are also useful in any picnic basket, especially with kids, although if possible opt for biodegradable ones.
Rubbish bags – take at least two, just in case. You may have heard the saying “take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints” before, but if you haven’t, you have now and all your littering excuses are gone!
Bug spray and sunscreen – the benefits of these go without saying, but it’s surprising how often they get forgotten. Ever wondered why our skin peels after getting sunburnt? It’s actually our body's way of getting rid of UV-damaged cells. Steven Wang, a dermatologist explains:
“As a reaction to the massive UV assault, the cells commit suicide. Unfortunately, this process isn’t perfect, and some of the surviving cells stick around and cause DNA mutations that could eventually become cancerous.”
Yikes! We don’t want to be eaten alive by midges, burnt to a crisp, or increase our chances of getting skin cancer, so pack them ahead of time.
What are we forgetting? Oh yes, gimme the food!
We don’t want soggy sandwiches, limp lettuce, and sweaty cheese so let’s carefully consider what food we take with us.
First, the obvious – most of what we take with us on our Yogi Bear inspired picnic needs to be packed back up and taken home, so to make things easier limit the number of containers and choose foods that have their own natural wrappers. Bananas, apples, tangerines, watermelon, are all great choices (as long as we’re not having to lug a 5kg watermelon cross country).
Sandwiches are another classic, self-contained meal. Pack them in a traditional brown paper bag or all together in a large container to cut down on waste and stuff to carry. If we’re putting anything moist in sandwiches like sliced tomato, make sure it doesn’t sit next to the bread but is between other fillings that aren’t wet like sliced cheese, iceberg lettuce or chicken. Wrapping sandwiches in a napkin or a bit of kitchen paper before popping them in a container helps to absorb any excess moisture and keeps sarnies in tip-top shape. Or make a big tub of tuna salad or hummus to spread onto baguettes or crackers, upon arrival.
We also like this bresaola rolls recipe (which works well with ham, prosciutto and asparagus too):
Non-perishable snacks, veggies that won’t wilt easily and meat and cheeses that can sit at room temperature without spoiling are a must. Tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes are hardy. Preserved meats like salami and semi-soft or hard, aged cheese like feta or parmesan, handle a lack of refrigeration and will stand up well to being kept at room temperature. Keep cheddar or other melting cheese cold as they become oily and sweaty in the heat. Pasta salad is a great choice and is an easy way to eat loads of veggies without having to cart them along separately. Choose vinaigrette or oil-based dressings, which keep longer than mayo or dairy-based ones.
Mason jar salads have become a bit of a hipster trend but don’t poo-poo them just yet. Popping a salad in a big jar means it transports well, with no mess and is easy to eat. Making mason jar salads at home is really easy, start by layering dressings and wet ingredients on the bottom. Then add hearty veggies, beans, pasta or grains. Finish with the more delicate ingredients on top like greens, fruits and croutons. Leave a bit of room at the top so you can stir it all together right before eating. And remember, cabbage, kale and spinach hold up better than lettuce in any picnic salad.
Crisps are an easy go-to snack, but few have substantial nutritional value (sigh, we’ll miss you, Doritos). Instead, satisfy crunch cravings by noshing on a protein-filled bowl of roasted chickpeas, which can be seasoned to suit all taste buds.
For dessert, bake a banana loaf and slice it ahead of time or take an ‘unconstructed’ Elton Mess – strawberries in one pot, Greek yoghurt in another, and a packet or two of mini meringues. This is when sporks really come into their own!
Whilst there’s nothing like water to keep us hydrated on a hot day, there are TONS of choices when it comes to beverages. No summer picnic would be complete without a pitcher of fruity Pimm’s. If you’re one of those people who has their life together enough to make your own infused water or cocktails, kudos to you, and if you’re not then grab a bottle of crème de cassis (a gorgeously sweet blackcurrant liqueur) or sugar-free cordial and mix with sparkling water. Frozen grapes make great ice cubes in water, fruit juices, and light wines. Buy beers in cans rather than bottles as the empties can be easily trodden on to squash down and recycle.
Looking for something a little different? Blow everyone’s minds with ‘beergaritas’ – a combo of lime juice, tequila, and lager. Pop it all in the cooler separately and bring along a big jug. One of the Beingwell family ditches the lime juice and uses sugar-free lime cordial instead. Yum!
Happy picnicking: The art of picnicking is a fine one, and with just a little spot of planning, can be the source of muchos joyful memories. This July, picnic like a pro!