Make the most of summer with a picnic basket that's easy to grab and go. Here's what to stock inside.

Share story

Picnics are the perfect prelude to your favorite outdoor events or for gatherings of friends and family to celebrate special days.

But you don’t need to wait for a party or concert to take your meal outside. Picnics are perfect last-minute affairs — a spontaneous way to thoroughly enjoy a long, languid summer evening or soak up some rays on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Don’t let those summer moments go uncelebrated. Gather up your picnic gear in advance and keep it at the ready so you can pack up your alfresco feast at a moment’s notice. Here’s what to pack.

COZY COMFORTS

Wonderful food plus a glass of wine plus warm summer sun equals the desire to doze. This tried-and-true equation requires a blanket and pillow.

For your picnic, have a blanket that’s thick enough to provide some cushion against the hard ground and wide enough to fit you and your guests. Pillows are a must if you really want to get comfy. I’d suggest using a blanket that launders and an outdoor pillow, in case you end up with mustard spills and grass stains.

A PICNIC BASKET

To carry all your picnic goodies, I’m a sucker for iconic picnic baskets, such as a sturdy wood hamper with a hinged lid and handles, or a woven wicker basket lined with a cloth. Some styles have lids with built-in bands that hold plates, silverware and glasses in place. Others leave the top open so you can fit tall things like a bottle of wine, a baguette and candlesticks.

You may want to unleash your creativity and try something different to hold your feast. Consider a vintage suitcase, reclaimed industrial basket or old wooden crate or box.

 Pike’s 
            Original 
         Maine 
     Garden Hod, 
   $50 at 
surlatable.com
Pike’s Original Maine Garden Hod, $50 at surlatable.com

DISHES AND LINENS

Sure, you can use paper plates and plastic forks and cups when you picnic, but consider packing real dishes, flatware and glasses. At times, I have gone all out, bringing the china, crystal, silver, linens and even a candelabra to make my movable feast regal and romantic.

Other times, I opt for fun and fanciful summer-themed dishes and glasses that are more durable. For napkins, I pack summery dish towels, which are ample enough to cover your lap and clean up easily.

SERVING PIECES

When you’re planning a picnic, try following my entertaining mantra: presentation over preparation. Instead of putting my time into preparing fancy food, I like to focus my creative energy on presenting the picnic goodies in a lovely way. Try using an interesting caddy to hold food like fresh veggie sticks or breadsticks.

I also stock my picnic basket with small trays for guests to put their plates on, a cake plate to hold the main course and a pretty bowl full of ice to keep drinks cool.

GREAT FOOD

If I had to make picnic food in order to have a picnic, I would never do it. And that would be a sad waste of a perfect summer afternoon. So I have given myself permission to buy the food for my picnics. I opt for simple fare that is easy to pack, such as quiche and sandwiches.

If you love to cook, there are millions of great ideas online about tasty but simple dishes you can make in advance or throw together the last minute. Fresh fruits and veggies, a loaf of warm artisan bread, a wedge of artisanal cheese, and wine or sparkling water are simple classics you can grab at a market in a jiff.