12 Ways to Hack Your Picnic

Simplify the on-the-go meal: Lighten your load, bring items that do double duty, and arm yourself with tricks in case of forgotten tools.

Photo By: Melanie Grizzel

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Photo By: Steve Heap ©2012 Backyard Productions LLC

Photo By: Nichols ©Don Nichols

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No Gingham? No Problem.

In the summer, food just tastes better when it's eaten outside — whether at a beach, lake, mountain or park, or even on your front lawn. You could spring for a fancy wicker basket preloaded with gourmet foods and utensils. Or, you could put together a moveable feast like the rest of us, using the gear you have. Here, we show you how to make the most of household items with these 12 unexpected picnicking fixes that would make MacGyver proud.

Gardening Bag as Picnic Basket

This plentifully pocketed tote puts everything in its place: utensils, glasses, corkscrew, paring knife, votive candles and anything else you desire for your portable party.

Dishtowels as Wine Protectors

Prevent bottles from clanking by wrapping them in clean kitchen towels (or paper towels if you don't have a stockpile of linens). They'll also come in handy for cleanup.

Ice Bags as Food Coolers

Yes, store-bought freezer packs will keep your food chilled. But resealable plastic bags filled with ice do double duty: They'll keep your chicken salad cold en route to your favorite spot and will cool down a cup of iced tea once you get there. Plus, when the picnic is over you can empty out the melted cubes, lightening your load for the trek back to the car.

Six-Pack Carton as Serving Caddy

Fight flyaway napkins and scattered utensils by filling the compartments of an old beer container with the essentials, from cups to ketchup. You'll even have room for salt and pepper shakers.

Garbage Bags as Blanket Liners

If you spread a tablecloth (or your old college bedspread) directly on the ground for an evening concert in the park, the damp will start to seep through before the end of the first set. Place a couple of large trash bags under the cloth to keep every sitter dry. At the end of the night, fill one bag with recyclables and the other with trash. (An old shower-curtain liner works too.)

Sand Pit as Cooler

Above the sand it's hot. Below, it's cool and moist. Enlist the kids or picnic guests to dig a nice deep hole. Insert beverages and cover with sand, leaving the bottle tops and necks clear. Near a stream or lake? Use an old camping trick and stow your drinks (safely anchored) in the water by the banks.

Mason Jars as Salad Vessels

Toss your greens too early and they'll wilt. But how can you dress your salad on location without a cumbersome serving bowl and utensils? Here's a better way: Use mason jars (one for every person). Put a couple of spoonfuls of dressing in the bottom of each, then layer salad components on top, putting the firm, crunchy items like cucumbers and carrots at the bottom. Finish with the lettuce, then seal tightly and stick in a backpack. When you're ready to eat, just shake and serve.

Pocket Knife as Wine Opener

If you'd purchased a screw-top bottle, you'd be drinking right now. If you didn't, get to work: Gently slide the blade of a sharp knife into the cork, using a back-and-forth rocking (not pushing) motion. Pull out the cork by twisting and gently pulling up and to the side. This may require practice (read: a backup bottle).

Yogurt Container as Blender

Brought the yogurt but not the spoons? Add a splash of water to the cup of yogurt, cover with the top and shake vigorously. Ta-da! Instant smoothie.

Fruit Salad as Ice Cubes

Freeze melon chunks, pineapple, grapes and berries to use in place of ice, and put them in your thermos. When added to drinks the fruit will cool the beverages down and then thaw into a juicy snack.

Flavored Tortilla Chips as Charcoal Starter

You can't have a cookout in the park if your coals won't light. When you're without lighter fluid or kindling, fried chips will do in a pinch.

Hands as Knives

To split an apple without a knife (and become forever cool in the eyes of any kids), first remove the stem. Then, grasp the fruit firmly with two hands. With a thumb resting where the stem used to be, twist the apple open lengthwise. This works best with Macouns, Galas and other red varieties. (Granny Smiths are too hard.)