One of life’s great pleasures is packing up a picnic and enjoying a meal outdoors — not just on your back patio, but somewhere away from your house or apartment where you can be closer to nature. This could mean a patch of green at your favorite city park, or a perch under a stately tree, or in a wildflower-speckled meadow. You don’t have to go full-on nature-bathing to properly picnic, but it certainly adds to the experience (if you have access to such spaces)!
And sure, you can just throw a bunch of stuff into a bag, plop down on a random spot and call it a picnic. But, like with most meals, we find it so much more rewarding and fun to approach picnicking with intentionality, to plan ahead, choose each component with care, and indulge in the ritual of it all.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered with an easy-to-follow guide to picnicking that will help you check all the boxes, and dine outdoors in comfort and style:
We’ll start first with the food, because the meal is the cornerstone of picnicking! There is no hard-and-fast rule about what to bring along, but there are some qualities that most picnic foods share: portable and easy to serve; tasty at room temperature; and fresh and vibrant (this isn’t a must, but eating food that’s super-rich or decadent somehow just doesn’t feel right in this context).
We swear, we’re not just saying this because we’re pasta people, but pasta salad is basically the perfect picnic food. It’s so easy to make, it marinates and actually gets better if it’s not eaten right away, it’s a snap to pack and serve, and it is so delicious chilled or at room temperature!
Here are three sample menus to consider, each based around some of our favorite ZENB pasta salads:
- Lemon Tahini Agile Salad, hummus and crudite, olives, stuffed grape leaves, and cans of sparkling lemonade.
- Thai ZENB Penne Pasta Salad, tofu summer rolls with peanut sauce, cucumber spears, and mint iced tea.
- ZENB Rotini Pasta Salad with Grilled Summer Veggies & Harissa Vinaigrette, cumin-spiced carrots, tzatziki and rice crackers, and pomegranate kombucha.
If you like a sweet treat after a meal, fresh fruit, shortbread cookies, almond cake, and lemon bars are all lovely choices. Though chocolate is tempting, it’s best to avoid it because it so easily melts!
It’s crucial that all of the containers you pack your picnic up in have *truly* tight-fitting lids. Arriving at your destination only to find that one of the containers has opened and spilled would be tragic!
Save the sturdy plastic pint and quart containers that your takeout comes in; these restaurant-grade vessels are the best! Or use whatever food storage containers you trust, and double-down on securing them with thick rubber bands.
Don’t forget cutlery, napkins, and cups for drinking. Avoid disposables if you can! Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s so much nicer to eat with a real fork and use a cloth napkin than their plastic and paper counterparts anyway. In general, it’s best to avoid glass, as many parks have rules against glass. So, bring along metal or acrylic cups, and canned beverages!
Also, bring plenty of water! Even if you have other beverages, it’s important to be properly hydrated.
An actual picnic basket, with its rigid sides, extra pockets, and charming plate and cutlery storage, is so fun, but you can certainly get away with an insulated backpack or tote bag, cooler-on-wheels, or canvas bag with a few freezer packs tossed in.
Anything soft and comfy that you don’t mind getting a bit grass-stained can serve as a picnic blanket. an old flat sheet, a vintage tapestry, or a worn wool blanket are great candidates. However, especially in springtime, the ground can retain a lot of moisture from the frequent showers and storms. So, even if it’s a beautiful sunny day, you might find yourself with a wet bum after only a few minutes of sitting down.
To combat that, choose a spot that gets a lot of sunlight, and has thus had a better chance to dry out. You can also bring two blankets to double up with. Or, if you like to picnic frequently, it could be worth investing in a special picnic blanket that has a waterproof layer on the underside!
The Little Extras
A few picnic extras that aren’t necessary, but certainly nice, include: sunscreen and hats for sun protection; natural bug repellent; a battery-operated fan (for keeping you cool and shooing flies and mosquitoes away!); paper towels or a kitchen towel in case of spills; a speaker that can connect to your phone for tunes; a cutting or serving board; a deck of cards, crossword puzzle, frisbee, or another shared activity.
No matter where you picnic, it’s important to always leave your area cleaner than you found it. Bring along a trash bag, and pick up every last scrap, including any litter that didn’t come from your picnic party. Or, if the park you’re in has trash and recycling cans, take your trash there. Being a good steward of the Earth means leaving no trace!
For more picnic-perfect dishes, check out the full ZENB recipe collection, with 150+ plant-fueled meals and snacks to try. And, follow ZENB on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for more inspiration and tips on leading a balanced life.