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4 Picnic Spreads You Can Actually Pull Off (& the Gear to Help Get You There)

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For many years I’ve been convinced that summer picnicking is a fantasy, an entertaining delusion created by glossy magazines to stress me into staying inside. Summer picnicking looks so good in these magazines: Beautiful people in sundresses and wide-brimmed hats laughing as they reach for another bottle of chilled rosé and casually nibble on artfully arranged platters of colorful food that they’ll never spill on themselves. In other words, summer picnicking looks completely impossible, I feel doomed to failure, and, oh, what’s that, am I breaking out in picnic-triggered hives?

But the truth is, a picnic doesn’t have to induce panic—especially if I start by making foods that set me up for picnic success and take advantage of some handy picnic accessories. These are foods that are designed for travel, whether the picnic destination is reached by car or bike or subway or on foot; foods that get better as they sit, that we can eat straight out of the spill-proof bowls they were packed in, and that can (for the most part) be made ahead of time so I can spend the morning of my picnic remembering not to forget napkins.

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Wherever you plan on picnicking this summer, here are four (and a half) effortless menus and the handy accessories you'll leon on to make the whole thing a breeze.

A Picnic Menu to End All Picnic Menus
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A Picnic Menu to End All Picnic Menus

Beach Picnic for Two

A beach picnic for two is romantic as all get out, especially if you can avoid getting sand all over your food. So be smart and bring a table in a bag with you, which cleverly rolls up for easy transport—and makes you look like the most thoughtful date ever.

First, set the scene:

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Recycled Bamboo Picnic Set

Recycled Bamboo Picnic Set

$64
Table in a Bag

Table in a Bag

$49
Structured Nylon & Leather Travel Coolers

Structured Nylon & Leather Travel Coolers

From $25
Love Rug Waterproof Outdoor Blanket

Love Rug Waterproof Outdoor Blanket

$109

Then roll out the food:

Steamed Artichokes with Eggless Basil Mayonnaise Dip

Steamed Artichokes with Eggless Basil Mayonnaise Dip by breadandbeta

Pan Bagnat:  Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich

Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich by Waverly

Dorie Greenspan's 3-Ingredient Almond Crackle Cookies

Dorie Greenspan's 3-Ingredient Almond Crackle Cookies by Genius Recipes

Voilà l'Été: The French 75

Voilà l'Été: The French 75 by pierino

Almost No-Cook Picnic for a Small Group

This is a good picnic to enjoy with some close friends, as everything here (even the noodles!) tastes best when eaten with your fingers. Just be sure to bring napkins—and remind someone else to bring the beer.

First, set the scene:

Picnic Backpack

Picnic Backpack

$169
Travel Knife & Cutting Board Set

Travel Knife & Cutting Board Set

$70
Walnut Travel Cutting Board & Knife

Walnut Travel Cutting Board & Knife

$129
To-Go Casserole Carrier (Set of 2)

To-Go Casserole Carrier (Set of 2)

$40

Then roll out the food:

Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn)

Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls (Gỏi Cuốn) by Betty

Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid's Spicy Cucumber Salad

Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid's Spicy Cucumber Salad by Genius Recipes

Simple Sesame and Garlic Noodles

Simple Sesame and Garlic Noodles by boymeetsgirlmeetsfood

Matcha & Coconut Mochi Cake

Matcha & Coconut Mochi Cake by Kendra Vaculin

Antipasti for a Crowd

That big group picnic where everyone is laughing and snacking and sipping wine and generally living their best summer lives? (Yeah, the one from the magazine.) You can pull it off neatly with this menu and the addition of some sliced cured meats.

First, set the scene:

Outdoor Net Food Cover

Outdoor Net Food Cover

$28
Shatterproof Outdoor Drinkware & Decanters

Shatterproof Outdoor Drinkware & Decanters

From $32
Outdoor Italian Flatware (16-Piece Set)

Outdoor Italian Flatware (16-Piece Set)

$76
Verterra Compostable Dinnerware From Fallen Leaves, Set of 25

Verterra Compostable Dinnerware From Fallen Leaves, Set o...

From $15

Then roll out the food:

Giardiniera (Italian Pickled Vegetables)

Giardiniera (Italian Pickled Vegetables) by Emiko

La Nonna’s Sweet & Sour Eggplant Dip

La Nonna’s Sweet & Sour Eggplant Dip by Sweetbites

Stuffed Pepperoncini

Stuffed Pepperoncini by Hallie Meyer

Tapenade Taralli

Tapenade Taralli by hardlikearmour

Nonna's Piadina

Nonna's Piadina by mrslarkin

Summer Farro Salad

Summer Farro Salad by Jennifer Perillo

Grape Focaccia (Schiacciata all'uva)

Grape Focaccia (Schiacciata all'uva) by Emiko

Chocolate Salami

Chocolate Salami by lakelurelady

Last-Minute Picnic in the Park

When you wake up one lazy Saturday summer morning to see the sun shining in the bright blue sky and the green leaves beckoning you outside, this is the no-frills picnic the day calls for. Best enjoyed with a big batch of Tipsy Arnold Palmers.

First, set the scene:

Wine Bag & Cooler

Wine Bag & Cooler

From $26
Stainless Steel Ice Pack

Stainless Steel Ice Pack

From $16
Outdoor Italian Salad Bowls & Salad Servers

Outdoor Italian Salad Bowls & Salad Servers

From $55
Outdoor Italian Tumblers (Set of 4)

Outdoor Italian Tumblers (Set of 4)

From $34

Then roll out the food:

Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Miso-Ginger Dressing

Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Miso-Ginger Dressing by Weird & Ravenous

Tahini Noodles

Tahini Noodles by Alexandra V. Jones

Sheet Pan Eggs

Sheet Pan Eggs by Ali Slagle

Cook's Illustrated's Blondies

Cook's Illustrated's Blondies by Genius Recipes

Wine Picnic

Okay, so ideally there are some snacks involved...but sometimes all you wanna do is grab a cold one (I’m talking about a bottle of chilled Gruner, obv) and head outside to enjoy yourself. To be clear, no one here condones illegal activities. But pour it into an opaque tumbler and no one will be the wiser.

One of the Best Wines in the World Is an $8 Rosé
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One of the Best Wines in the World Is an $8 Rosé

So I’m approaching my picnics this summer with a new goal: not to try and build a picture perfect picnic, but to pack picnics that will work for me. In Judith Olney's 1978 book, Summer Food, she writes, “The nicest summer meals (and the most ice-breaking) are those that call for a shared physical experience, with everyone making his own vinaigrette and dipping and sucking artichoke leaves, or eating warm asparagus with the fingers, or tearing off huge chunks of bread from a communal loaf.”

I will carry her voice in my head as I steam artichokes the night before or when I forget to bring a knife suitable for bread-cutting, remembering that the goal of a picnic is good food and good people, brought together outside. Will we look like models as we devour our meal? Probably not. Will we spill on ourselves? Of course. But there’s no reason to stress about all that.

Let's Start Thinking About Weekend Brunch: Watch

What’s your strategy for practical picnicking? What foods do you make or handy tools do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: Summer, The Shop, Outdoor Entertaining