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Thinking outside the 'basket'

How to plan the perfect summer picnic

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There is nothing better than being able to (finally!) enjoy the warm weather and dine outside. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to take advantage of an ideal 75-degree day, or evening for that matter, and plan a picnic for my family or my friends. 

As they say in real estate, one of the most important parts of the picnic is--you guessed it--location, location, location. Finding the ultimate setting for your feast helps set the tone. I love thinking a bit out of the "basket." Sure, a typical park is great, but they can be loud, often crowded, and some actually don't allow for picnicking. Alternative ideas for picnic areas include local lakes, the beach at sundown, a local rooftop, bike trails, and even your own backyard.

Once you are set on where you want to have your picnic, let's get to the best part--the food! There are so many ways to approach this and --for the record--all of them are awesome. Do you want to pick up take out and make it super simple? Great! I'm all for it! We are crazy busy with work, kids, and camp, and this is a no judgment zone. Even if you want to throw some snacks in a bag, grab juice boxes, and relax outside, that's a win!

If you would rather prepare something at home, I admire that effort and always would encourage you to get creative. After all, if you are going to take the time to cook and bake at home--try creating a theme! 

If you are venturing to a beach--make your picnic tropical and serve a fresh fruit salad with a coconut lime syrup in a new colorful beach pail, a chilled pineapple chicken and quinoa salad, guacamole with mango and corn tortilla chips, and a portable smoothie for the kids (and perhaps mini bottles of sparkling wine for the adults!) 

If you are on a rooftop in Chicago--go with a city theme: Irving's hot dogs, Manny's corned beef sandwiches, Garrett's popcorn, cans of Green River pop and slices of Eli's cheesecake. 

Evening picnics pose a bit of a challenge--oh you know, just that lighting component. But all you need to do is grab some lanterns or battery powered candles and the mood is set. I love the idea of a dinner picnic right in your backyard as it rekindles all those amazing memories of being at overnight camp and eating under the stars. Serve finger foods: sliders, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, fruit kabobs, old fashioned lemonade, and homemade s'mores cookies. Without a doubt, this will excite your kids and give everyone a casual and fun dining experience. 

There is one more part to a picnic that cannot be overlooked--the tableware accessories. My take on this is similar to that of tackling the food; you can either go simple or elegant. 

Here are some helpful tips: Choose a cooler that is spacious and one that is on wheels. While, in theory, I love the vintage feel of a beautiful wicker picnic basket, no one is going to want to schlep one with everything else you have to carry. Bring a tarp to place under picnic blankets in case the grass is either damp from rain or has recently been watered. Bring all utensils: forks, knives, spoons, serving pieces, napkins, and don't forget a garbage bag. 

And bring a portable speaker and create a playlist on your phone. Music sets such a great vibe and may spark a dance party, which ultimately is the goal of a picnic--having fun and creating the best summer memories!

Karen Firsel, who has had a long and distinguished career in television and media relations, lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two children. 


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