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Guide to the Perfect Picnic

Families sitting at an outdoor picnic table with a Mexican blanket tablecloth eating lunch on a sunny day with the forest in the background.

Original post from Rebekah Ratcliff with the Deschutes Land Trust.

Whether you're eating bananas, bagels or beans the perfect picnic is only a snack away. Photo: Land Trust.

Photo: Land Trust.

0. Tip number zero? What?

This tip before the rest of the tips is a necessary one. These days we can’t just plan any ordinary picnic, 2020 is the year of pandemic picnics. Please consider others and your own safety as you prepare. Gather only with members of your household. Consider packing individual meals rather than sharing dishes, and follow all Preserve (or local) guidelines, like wearing a mask at trailheads and parking lots.

1. Make it work

My number one tip for picnics, cooking in the kitchen, painting, and just about all I do in life … is to make it work. Don’t have much time? No problem we can make it work. Can’t get out to that beautiful, pristine lake? No problem we can still make a picnic work. Don’t have a lot of groceries? We can make it work. Sure there are times when I plan an elaborate picnic, but what draws me in to picnicking is the simplicity. Tip number one is to make it work, use what you have, do what you can, and embrace simplicity.

2. Ok back to snackin’

My favorite part of picnics is the place. There’s something about eating a peanut butter and jelly in the open air near a ponderosa pine that makes my heart sing. Tip number two is to find the perfect place. Perfect places are different for everyone and are different for me at different times. Be sure to check local recreation guidelines and have a route in mind. Knowing how far you’ll be traveling, what facilities are available, and other information about your location will help you plan appropriately. Tip number two is to plan for the perfect place, whatever that means for you on that day.

3. Three is the magic number

For all my picnicking I keep to a rule of three: bring something to drink, something to eat, and (because I have a sweet-tooth and the dentist records to prove it) something sweet. Of course, there are recipes for perfect picnic combinations, the most picnic worthy treats, and on and on (one quick Google search will prove what I’m saying). But, back to tip number 1, we make it work. Bring some leftovers, bring that jalapeño tamale (they are pre-wrapped for optimal travel capabilities), bring that fancy cheese, fill your water bottle with lemonade, take a pocket-full of chocolate covered raisins (actually, I don’t recommend this… trust me… things get too melty). Whatever sounds tasty and seems doable, make it work! Tip three is really a snack focused extension of tip one. When it comes to eating and drinking outside, use what you have and bring what you like.

4. Take it all in

You’ve done the planning, the packing, the walking, hiking, driving or biking and you’re ready to picnic. After all it takes for me to get to my outside snacking, my fourth tip is to remind yourself to get comfortable and take it all in. Whether that means finding a bench, laying down a blanket, or simply stopping in place. Give yourself the space to rest, eat, recharge, and reconnect with the land around you.

5. Pack it out

After munching to your heart’s delight, my final tip for the perfect picnic is to pack it out. Whether you brought your meal in a cute basket or stuffed as much as you could into a sandwich bag, be sure to take out what you brought in. Even those apple cores, banana peels, orange peels—the great outdoors is not your compost bin. Finally, waste isn’t the only thing you can take with you. Pack out a bit of appreciation, the reminder of good and simple things, and the joy of sharing a bit of food with the ones you love in a special place (and, yes, having a solo picnic is still sharing food with the one you love). That’s the true recipe for the perfect picnic.

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