Plan a perfect picnic

Spring’s a great time for a picnic, but be sure to do it right
Wednesday, May 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:10 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A romantic date, a family reunion, a company event or whatever the occasion, a picnic is the perfect option as the days get longer and the sun shines brighter.

Columbia, with its many parks and recreational areas, makes the perfect setting for a spring or summertime picnic. Take a trip to Cosmo-Bethel Park, Grindstone Nature Area or Rock Quarry Park to name just a few that offer the perfect picnicking locations, with shelters, tables and grills.

Wherever you go or whomever you go with, a picnic can be a fun time for all if careful planning is involved.

It'a all about location

Location can make a picnic a success or a failure. The first thing to consider when choosing a location is the unpredictability of weather. That’s why when picking the location for the picnic, parks that offer shelters are always a good choice.

According to Beth Giese, public information specialist for Columbia Parks and Recreation, some of the most popular picnicking shelters include two at Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area: Burford Shelter and Lamb Shelter, as well as the shelter at Twin Lakes Recreation Area.

Reservations are always a good idea, especially if you are planning to use one of the more popular shelters.

“The popular ones go very quickly,” Giese said. “It depends on the time of the year. May with graduations, and summertime people do a lot of picnicking and a lot of family reunions.”

The shelters can be reserved up to a year in advance but not all require reservations.

“We do have shelters that are first-come, first-served that are nonreservable,” Giese said. “You just take a chance.”

Some of the nonreservable shelters include one at Cosmo-Bethel Park.

Although the nonreservable shelters don’t cost anything, the other shelters require a small fee.

Amenities are an important consideration when deciding which shelter to use, especially if a grill is needed to barbecue.

“Different shelters have different amenities,” Giese said. “When people call for reservations, the front desk has all that information.”

“If someone says, ‘I want two grills near the shelter,’ they can look and give them options of which ones would be best,” she added.

What to eat

The location isn’t the only thing to worry about when planning a picnic. Food should also be planned, because when it comes to

Please see picnic, food, the sun and heat limit picnic options.

Anita Griggs, caterer and owner of Anita’s Homestyle Catering, doesn’t recommend serving hot food, except for a main dish — a barbecued brisket or fried chicken are common selections.

“A picnic usually requires cold food,” she said. “If people do request hot food, I leave it in the food warmer until time to serve,” she added.

“Pasta and potato salad are good choices,” Griggs said. “Fresh vegetable salad with vinaigrette dressing is also good for picnics.”

Any kind of fruit or fruit salad can also be a hit with watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe and grapes.

Other side dishes that go over well at picnics include breads and lots of desserts.

“People like a variety of desserts,” Griggs said. “Cookies, brownies and cobblers — something that won’t melt in the hot sun.”

One major don’t for all picnickers, according to Griggs, is serving anything with mayonnaise because the sun can cause it to spoil.

“You should always use a different kind of dressing choice for any kind of salad,” she said. “Any kind of vinaigrette would do much better.”

“A big no-no would be a tuna salad or a chicken salad,” she added.

Bug blocking

One problem when planning a picnic that you must consider is bugs. Citronella candles are a good idea to keep the bugs away from guests. Bugs are also a problem when it comes to food, especially if the picnic isn’t going to be in a backyard or out in the open.

“A lot of people tent their food,” Griggs said. “You can tent it or have somebody attend the buffet to keep an eye on stuff.”

Avoiding waste

“Basically most people just keep the food covered in between serving,” she added.

Whether hiring a caterer or doing your own cooking, a head count is always a good idea.

“I see a lot of waste in picnics because you just can’t take the food home,” Griggs said. “What’s really important that people overlook a little bit is to try and get a good head count as far in advance as you can.”

While it might be tempting to pack up leftovers and take them home, Griggs advises against it as “it’s already been sitting there for hours getting spoiled.”

With a little careful planning and a whole lot of good food, your picnic can be a huge success that the guests will talk about for months to come.

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