Soggy Sandwiches Be Gone! Tips to Ensure Your Picnic Adventure Isn’t a Flop

There’s nothing worse than spending time and effort on a picnic lunch, only to spread your blanket on a beautiful day and realize your bread’s gone soggy, your cookies have all crumbled, and you have nothing to shield you from the sun’s burning rays. 

If you are planning on packing a picnic to head to the beach, a park, an outdoor concert, or any other al fresco event, follow these tips to ensure your food is at its best and you have all the supplies you’ll need to have the most enjoyable experience, from start to finish.

Prepping the Food

First things first, you must take care to assemble and package your food correctly. Let’s break it down.

Sandwiches should be prepared for optimal portability. The most important part of making a sandwich-to-go is protecting the bread. Making a wrap instead? The same principles apply. Choose the driest ingredient to layer on the bottom and top of your sandwich fillings. Oftentimes, that will be sliced cheese, however if you’re using a wetter cheese, like fresh mozzarella or feta, pick a different protective layer. Well-dried spinach leaves, kale, or other sturdy green will get the job done nicely. Moisture-rich vegetables such as sliced tomatoes or cucumbers, should be placed in the innermost part of the sandwich as they, too, can cause your bread to get soggy. It may be tempting to smear hummus or pesto on the exposed bread, but it’s a bad idea. Dollop or drizzle sauces and spreads in the center of the layers. 

Chef’s Tip: I like to precut the sandwiches, wrap them tightly in aluminum foil, and place them back into the bread bag in which it came for a handy tote.

Salads: Rule number one when it comes to portable salads, or any green leaf salad for that matter, is keep the dressing on the side until just before serving. This is especially important for lettuce-based salads, however, even a Greek salad will benefit from a last-minute dressing. The salt in vinaigrettes can draw the moisture out of the vegetables, leading to a wet, soggy mess. Exceptions to this rule are with potato salads, which will soak up the seasoning liquid and continue to become more flavorful as they sit, or something like a 3-bean salad which gets better the longer it marinates. Note that picnic eating usually involves eating on your lap, negating the opportunity to use a knife to help you eat your salad. The best picnic salads are ones that have bite-sized vegetables, or ingredients that are easily stabbed with your fork.

Drinks should be placed in their own cooler. Don’t try to pack everything into one place. Keep a separate drink cooler filled with ice for beverages, which will also keep melting ice from seeping into your prepared food. If you’re planning on bringing alcoholic drinks, try something like sangria, which will get better with time as the flavors of the fruit, wine and liqueurs marry. Pack non-breakable drinkware, if needed, and consider where you will be placing your cup down to rest. You can find many options these days for stakes that hold wine glasses or cups. If you plan on using ice in your beverage, pack a Ziplock with clean ice for this purpose.

Sweet Treats: Not to state the obvious, but there are certain desserts that do not belong on a picnic, namely frozen ones. It’s impossible to keep them frozen until you’re ready to enjoy them. Instead, opt for handheld goodies that are easily portable, like cookies and bar cookies. My preference is a tray of bar cookies, brownies or blondies, for example, since you can keep them in the pan they were baked in, which protects them on the journey. A sweet-tart tray of lemon bars is a nice choice, as well. If you do cut the bar cookies in advance, or are bringing single cookies, place them in a sturdy container and make sure they are tightly packed, so they don’t jostle during the trip and break into pieces. Crumpled up parchment paper or paper towels can fill the space and act as a buffer.

Packing Your Props

Keeping it Cool: The first thing to consider is your cooler situation. Food can spoil quickly, especially in the hot sun. Pack your food cooler with food first, then lay ice packs or well-sealed bagged ice cubes on top. Cool air descends and will keep your food better chilled than placing the ice packs on the bottom of the cooler. Be sure to pack fragile foods, like fresh fruit, toward the top so they don’t get squished. If using bagged ice, triple check the seal so there are no leaks into your food.

Dinnerware: Consider bringing reusable plates, utensils and cups to cut down on waste. Pack them in a separate bag, and bring a large plastic bag to toss them in after they’ve been used. This will protect your tote bag from food stains and make for an easier clean up when you get home.

Seating and Shade: A picnic blanket is easy and light, but foldable chairs are much more comfortable if you have the manpower to help carry them. If you know your destination will not have shade, and allows for umbrellas, pack one along, as well.

Time to Clean Up. Follow the basic rule of camping; pack it in, pack it out. Make sure you leave no trace of your outing in nature. Bring two garbage bags, one for recycling and one for waste. As mentioned above, a plastic bag for your used dinnerware is a good idea to keep things neat.

Getting It All There

Enjoying an al fresco meal requires you to transport myriad items, often at quite a distance from your car or home. If you’re traveling with a big group, you’ll have plenty of hands to help with schlepping. If not, and the terrain allows for it, consider investing in a rugged wagon. It will keep you from sweating it out on your journey into the great outdoors.

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7 months ago

5 stars
I learned a lot about prep and portability! 💜

Justin Taylor
7 months ago
Reply to  Fran

Fran, we love the feedback, thank you!