7 Tips for Hosting a COVID-Cautious Picnic with Friends

These expert tips will help you have a safe picnic during the pandemic.

As the weather warms up and we head into our second summer of the pandemic, it's natural to feel a little restless. Luckily, the outdoors aren't off-limits. Outdoor spaces like parks or walking trails provide a safe environment that allows you to get out of the house for a while, and the CDC recently announced it's safe to be mask-less outdoors with others who are fully vaccinated.

While many restaurants across the country have opened back up, you may feel safer opting for a picnic in the park rather than going inside a restaurant since an outdoor gathering is a great opportunity to safely hang out with friends. We talked to Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, M.D., an integrative medicine physician and the medical advisor and for AllTrails (an app designed to help you get outside safely), about the benefits of spending time outside and what you can do to make your outdoor gathering as safe as possible.

Family unpacking their vehicle with coolers for a picnic
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Hackenmiller told us if you're feeling restless, making plans to go outside for a picnic (or even just a walk outside) is one of the best ways to boost your mental health. "As long as you are healthy and practicing responsible social distancing, it's more important than ever to get outdoors at this time; not just for physical health, but particularly for the mental health benefits," she says. "Getting outside also supports our immune system. From the vitamin D that we soak in courtesy of the sun (just remember the sunscreen!) to the phytoncides we inhale from the trees and soil, spending time outdoors is a great way to stay healthy."

But keep in mind that just because you're outside doesn't mean you get a free pass. "Even as restrictions start to loosen, we should all still be cautious and use our best judgment when out in public spaces," Hackenmiller says. You'll still need to practice social distancing around those who aren't vaccinated, and there are other safety tips you should know, too. Here are seven guidelines you should follow for a safe picnic this summer.

01 of 07

Pick a Safe Space

While it's safe to spend time outside with other vaccinated adults, you'll still want to avoid crowded areas with people you don't know. As long as the park is open to the public, it's a safe option for a picnic. But Hackenmiller told us that even though the park may be open, a lot of the facilities (like parking lots and restrooms) may be closed. The easiest way to choose your picnic spot is by checking the AllTrails app or your local parks department website to check park hours. Then, consider the number of other people around: If you get to the park and the parking lots are full, it's a good indication that there are too many other people at that location.

Once you find the perfect spot, just remember that your patch of grass should be a good distance away from others who are gathered in the same park. If you're concerned, you can opt to have a picnic in your backyard!

02 of 07

Limit Your Squad

If you're not vaccinated, the safest picnic is one with just you and the person or people you're quarantined or social distancing with (like a roommate or your immediate family). She explained that while we often have the best intentions of staying six feet away from others, even the best-laid plans can fail. "We're human, and we crave social interaction, especially at a time like this," she explains. "I see far too often that people say they are going to stay six feet apart from friends, but over time, this commitment is overlooked. I strongly recommend only going out with those in your household so there is no temptation to neglect social distancing recommendations."

03 of 07

Bring a Face Mask

While an outdoor picnic might seem like an unlikely place to show off your new fabric face mask, Hackenmiller recommends bringing one along. "We clearly can't wear them when eating, but I do recommend wearing a mask when scoping out your picnic spot and leaving the space, or walking amongst others," she says. "Use good judgment when selecting your spot, and try to stay even further than six feet apart from other parties." If you don't have a mask, you can make your own or order one of these masks you can buy online.

04 of 07

Avoid Public Amenities

While an outdoor park is one of the safest places to gather in public, there are a few precautions you should take. Avoid using amenities that are offered to the public: Bring a blanket to sit on instead of gathering at a picnic table, and use your own portable grill like the top-rated Weber 14-Inch Portable Grill ($46, Target) instead of the public grills you sometimes find at parks. (Better yet, grill ahead of time and bring it with!) You'll also want to skip using the public bathrooms at the park to cut down on time spent in an enclosed space with strangers.

05 of 07

Bring Your Own Essentials

Hackenmiller suggests not relying on the park for anything other than a sunny patch of grass. She recommends bringing plenty of water and drinks because the water fountains may still be shut off for safety reasons. You'll also want to bring hand sanitizer to use before and after eating. If you don't have any, these 19 hand sanitizers meet the CDC guidelines, and you can purchase them online.

06 of 07

Dress It Up

Sure, you may not feel comfortable going to eat inside a fancy restaurant right now, but you can still turn your picnic into a fancy affair! Dress up your picnic with a pretty blanket and a couple of pillows, and you'll feel like you're at a casual outdoor happy hour. A Teema Towel Blanket ($32, Teema) is the perfect choice for a picnic because it's as soft (and pretty!) as a regular blanket, but is made from cotton material that's meant to be laundered like a towel, so you don't have to worry about laying it down on a patch of grass.

07 of 07

Serve Individual Portions

It might be tempting to whip up an elaborate Charcuterie board worthy of your Instagram feed, but it's actually safer to pack individually-portioned food. Rather than a tray or board everyone will be touching, opt for single sandwiches (these are our favorite sandwiches for summer!) and package them in eco-friendly beeswax wraps instead of plastic bags. Be sure you've properly sanitized everything and washed your hands thoroughly before preparing and packaging the food. It's also a good idea to skip the traditional picnic basket in favor of a bag or cooler that will keep your food cold: We like this palm tree print cooler tote.

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