Picnic like a champion: How to put on the perfect spread

The lockdown era prompted people to get creative with picnics. Here’s how to step up your picnic game and put on a spread that’ll not only be healthy – it’ll be the envy of the parklands.

Through the pandemic, picnics were one of the few ways people were able to get together in many parts of Australia and the experience saw many people take their picnic game next level.

While social gatherings are no longer so limited, it doesn’t mean the fun of picnicking has to stop – here’s how to pull together a beautiful gourmet spread.

Choose the right picnic location

Location is everything in real estate and for picnics, too.

It’s all about the view, the ambience and the practicalities of setting up your outdoor extravaganza.

The perfect picnic spot will have a picturesque outlook, secluded nooks, trees for shade and, ideally, a water view.

Large groups and anyone who plans to set up gazebos and the like will need to check with the local council or park authority about whether permits are needed.

Those out to impress can create a themed wonderland in their favourite park.

CYD Events co-owner Berna Erkan says shelter is not essential, but in case of bad weather you’ll need an undercover or indoor plan B, or a back-up date.

How to set your picnic scene

Picnics are popular for events such as baby and bridal showers.

Berna, who custom makes her picnic pieces, says boho and rustic chic are both on-trend themes, while white linen napkins never go out of style.

She says you can create your own look with themed table arrangements, plates, rugs, cushions, tableware, glasses and flowers, either from home or affordable homeware stores.

“If you’re after a boho look, head to more than one shop to mix it up,” she advises.

If you want to avoid all the hard work, a picnic planner can provide everything you need, set up and pack up for $50 to $55 a person (excluding food), depending on the size of the booking.

Ideas for picnicking in style

How to take your picnic up a style notch:

  • Select a colour palette, with a surprise item to break it up (for example, a leather cushion among soft pillows).
  • Scour cheap homewares stores for tableware and accessories.
  • Always use linen napkins.
  • Choose hessian tablecloths for a rustic look.
  • Consider ottomans or chairs for those who need them.
  • Have a plan B for bad weather.

Dishes for a Covid-19 safe picnic

Picnic food trends are usually about what we eat, but right now they’re about how we eat.

We’re moving away from grazing tables and shared salads to Covid-safe individual serves that prevent people from touching the same foods.

Dietitian Karen Inge has noticed a move towards healthy finger food, sandwiches, pita bread and kebabs of all kinds that are safe and delicious.

“Picnics have certainly come back into favour,” Karen says.

“You can combine physical activity with healthy eating.”

She says dips such as hummus, tzatziki and guacamole with carrot and celery sticks, snow peas, and cauliflower and broccoli florets are popular.

When sharing, she says dips and sauces can be Covid-safe by having a spoon that diners can use to put some on their own plate.

And her tip for a picnic treat? Pitted dates stuffed with an almond and sprinkled with orange blossom water. “That tastes sensational,” she says.

Bear in mind that eating outdoors can bring some added food poisoning risks.

Here are some tips on how to mitigate those risks.

Tips for healthy munching

Looking for some healthy picnic food ideas? Karen has these tastebud-tantalising suggestions:

  • Mini sourdough rolls and wraps with various fillings, such as roasted vegetables.
  • Chicken sandwiches with chives and thick Greek yoghurt instead of mayo.
  • Filled rice paper rolls with dipping sauce on the side.
  • Lean prosciutto with melon.
  • Skewers with bocconcini balls, cherry tomatoes and a basil leaf.
  • Vegan roasted tofu and vegetable skewers.
  • Banana muffins minus the frosting.
  • Seasonal fruit skewers.
  • Frozen fruit such as mango cheeks and banana.
  • Lots of water, with orange and lemon slices for added zing.
  • Relish recipe: Beetroot and white cabbage relish with cheese

Written by Cheryl Critchley.