New York City may be known as the city that never sleeps, but it could also go by another label (that, based on personal experience, holds just as true): the city where everyone prefers to eat anywhere other than their own kitchen.
Considering there are legitimately thousands of delicious options to choose from, it makes tons of sense. But, call me crazy (or a transplant–shoutout North Dakota), while I love meeting friends at a restaurant, there’s another outdoor dining experience that I think everyone should take advantage of as often as humanly possible: a good old-fashioned picnic.
“Going outside is like medicine for the mind.”
A classic for a reason, picnics don’t get the credit they deserve, IMO. You get to eat yummy finger food, curate a cute setup, and enjoy outdoor scenery, all while reaping the mental-health benefits of spending time outdoors (more details on those later).
“Going outside is like medicine for the mind,” says clinical psychologist Aura Priscel De Los Santos. And if you ask me? Spending time with friends over a shared meal only strengthens that so-called medicine.
So, as a self-proclaimed picnicker extraordinaire, I’m sharing my tried-and-true tips (including must-have essentials like EVOLVE(R) Plant Protein Shakes), along with all the expert-backed benefits of the informal, al fresco dining style.
Picnic benefits and how-to’s to convert you into a picnicking pro, too.
The picnic logistics
Before we dive into the psychological benefits of picnicking, let’s talk about the logistics of my personal favorite brand of outdoor eating. Do I have a picnic basket? Nope. A specific location? Not really–a park that’s central to all attendees works best (and no, it doesn’t have to be Central Park). Is every picnic an Instagrammable event complete with a red checkerboard blanket, fresh baguette, and bottle of bubbly? Not at all.
Dropping that strict definition of what a picnic “should” be actually made me more excited to do them more often, and licensed clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, Psy.D says that’s the first step toward using your outdoor picnic as a mental-health-boosting experience.
“Perfectionism will only get in the way of savoring in the experience, which is the healing part of being in nature,” she says. “When you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts of whether or not you’re doing this right, just return your attention to the experience and be as fully present as you can.”
Besides not sweating the small stuff, I do have a few more specific recs. One: A picnic can be as low-key as picking up takeout and eating it in a park. Two: Solo picnics are totally a thing, and the takeout technique makes that easy to pull off.
Three: Don’t forget about the drinks. Thanks to their 20 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and the fact that they come in delicious Berry Medley, Double Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, and Cafe Mocha flavors, EVOLVE(R) Plant Protein Shakes make the perfect, easy-to-pack addition to any picnic spread.
The picnic benefits
Now let’s dig into the pros of picnicking. Numerous studies have linked spending time in nature with improved mental health and well-being, but as someone who stares at a screen for a living, I sometimes struggle to find the time.
For me, taking regular picnics is a form of habit stacking–stick with me here–which means combining an existing habit (eating) with one you want to do more of (being outside). It also results in less TV watching, more actual conversation with my partner and friends, and less being cooped up in my one-bedroom apartment.
Plus–for all of you productivity-motivated people out there–according to Dr. Daramus, using “non-productive time” relaxing outside can actually boost your productivity later.
Still not convinced you should skip the dining table in favor of a shady spot in the grass? De Los Santos suggests just giving the outdoors a bit more of a chance. Because on top of increasing creativity and happiness, she says being outside can also help improve sleep. So maybe regular picnics are just what the doctor (ahem, psychologist) ordered for all citizens of the city that never sleeps, transplants and natives alike.
Top image: Getty Images/Lyndon Stratford