How to pack the perfect picnic

Australia Day always stirs up the urge to get out and experience the great outdoors with friends and family.

Whether it’s at the beach, in a park or out in the bush, it’s always a treat to pack a picnic to enjoy in the fresh air. Taking a walk or a swim first will always help to sharpen the appetite and somehow things just seem to taste better when eaten outside surrounded by nature.

To make the most of your next picnic why not try a making it that little bit special, with some exotic or gourmet foods. All it takes is a little more forethought and preparation beforehand to turn your picnic into a memorable feast. Here are some ideas to inspire you and some helpful planning tips to make sure it all goes smoothly.

Tasty treats that are easy to eat

There are some guidelines on the type of foods that work well for picnics, but that doesn’t mean you need to compromise on how tempting they are!

The basic rules are to aim for foods that:

  • will travel and keep well
  • don’t need too much preparation once you are on the picnic site
  • are easy to eat and share without a lot of fuss or need for utensils.

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Browse through our gallery of great dishes to take on a picnic here

Finger foods and bite size morsels are always a good place to start and can be kept quite healthy. What about a homemade salsa that has some added kick by blending some roasted tomato, capsicum and garlic, blended with onion and chilli? This can be enjoyed with some pre-cut vegetable sticks, such as carrot, broccoli and cucumber.

Give the store bought chips a miss too and try making some homemade sweet potato chips or oven-baked croutons - so simple to make. Other exotic homemade dips could be based on yogurt, beans or chickpeas.

Chicken is probably the meat that is more suitable to eat cold and you can easily keep it bite-size and tasty. Oven baked chicken wings with a spicy coating will tick all the boxes and are sure to get the mouth watering.

Sumptuous salads and sandwiches

Of course salads are a picnic staple, but try and be a bit more adventurous than the predictable lettuce and tomato!

Pasta or rice salads are ideal because they are easy to pack and convenient to eat with just a fork. These can be tricked up a host of ingredients, such as olives, sun-dried tomato, pine nuts, legumes, shredded chicken and tuna flakes.

paprika-chicken-pumpkin-spinach-salad-retirementlivingtvGet the recipe for this paprika chicken with pumpkin and spinach salad here

Leafy salads can work well too and are easy to embellish with nuts, cubes of roasted root vegies and of course a piquant dressing (best kept separate and added on-site).

Sandwiches are always a convenient option when you are out and about and picnics are a chance to make something a little out of the ordinary. Start with some quality breads from the local baker, and use fillings that won’t end up being a soggy mess when you open the basket.

Pesto or cream cheese makes a great flavour base instead of margarine and toppings such as deli meats, gourmet cheeses, roast veggies or salad leaves all work well.

One great idea is to pre-make sandwiches the day before, press them overnight under a heavy weight and then cut into bite-size pieces so they are easy to share at the picnic.

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This hearty pan Bagnat is the ultimate sandwich for a picnic. Get the recipe here!

Sweet indulgence

Again the theme here is to choose things that are easy to share and eat with fingers. Nothing can be as simple and refreshing as some cut melons, pineapple or mango and any type of berry fits the bill perfectly.

For a bit of decadence, why not pre-make some chocolate dipped strawberries. When it comes to baked treats, small bite-sized items, such as mini fruit tarts, slices or muffins are the way to go.

Chewy Chocolate Slice
Get the recipe for these choc slices here - It won't take long to make and it certainly won't take long to devour!

Something special to drink

For some, a bottle of bubbly or a crisp white wine is mandatory at any picnic, but if you want to go non-alcoholic you can liven up your spread with the old fashioned charm of homemade lemonade with a hint of ginger or perhaps a fruity punch.

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Why not make an ice tea with fresh mint? Get the recipe here

Equipment essentials

There is nothing worse than opening the basket and realise you have forgotten a vital piece of equipment. Here is a quick checklist of must haves.

  • Cups, glasses plates: Of course it’s best if they are not breakable, use plastic instead of glass or china
  • Napkins and table cloth: Why not take some cloth ones rather than paper to give things a special touch
  • A pack of moist towelettes: These can get you out of some sticky or greasy situations that are bound to occur
  • Cutlery: This will help you avoid eating like a caveman!
  • Utensils: A couple of sharp knives, tongs for serving, a bottle opener or corkscrew and a chopping board or two
  • Toothpicks: They're ideal for picking up small items such as olives, cheeses or jarred items without getting your fingers messy
  • Folding chairs and even a lightweight folding table: A good idea in case the tables are all taken on-site
  • A blanket or rug: An essential if you want to eat on the ground and it's best to have one with a waterproof backing
  • Bags for rubbish and dirty dishes: Don’t forget the aftermath! Keep things neat and tidy and some ziplock bags or spare plastic containers could come in useful for leftovers
  • A basket: To keep it all together a basket for all the equipment and dry foods
  • A lightweight cooler bag: Add some ice bricks inside for drinks and items that need to be kept cool, like cheeses, salads, sandwiches and dressings

For more picnic-inspired articles check out our top ten picnic spots in Sydney and a guide to the Hunter Valley's best gourmet hot-spots.

Where's your favourite picnic spot? Let us know in the comments below!