Solutions: Bring comforts of home to al fresco meals

Jeanine Matlow

Wherever your al fresco meals take you this season, it helps to create a home away from home whether you plan to go camping, have a picnic in the park, or host a barbecue in your backyard.

My inspiration often comes from the embellishments at our swim club where members tend to dress the tables for any occasion with indoor/outdoor linens that go beyond the classic red-and-white checked pattern to include lively florals and stripes.

A set of weight clips can secure your tablecloth on a breezy day, while decorative stones can keep your plates and napkins in place.

One clever tool I’ve seen at outdoor events is an inflatable cooler that looks like a small pool float. When filled with ice, it can chill multiple items on the hottest of days. The fact that it deflates makes the cooler easy to carry and store when not in use.

While outdoor gatherings typically have a more casual tone, it’s fine to get a little fancy every now and then. One way to make the setting more festive is with themed goods from a party supply store that turn your environment into a Mexican fiesta or a Hawaiian luau in no time.

Add some patterned melamine plates that mimic elegant dishes without being delicate.

You might also invest in some acrylic stemware that’s safer than glass, and plastic silverware that looks like stainless steel.

Come summer, I keep a picnic basket in my car filled with paper goods ready for any festivities. Because al fresco get-togethers often happen more spontaneously, it makes sense to be prepared.

Spare towels are a good idea for kids who are constantly jumping in and out of the water at a local lake or swimming pool.

We often meet for a weekly potluck at our swim club where people can grill their main course or bring takeout and share salads and side dishes.

Having plastic wrap, baggies and containers makes it easy to pack leftovers.

A recent late-night birthday celebration featuring drinks and desserts yielded an impressive selection of goodies that had many swapping sweets to take home to family members.

Since comfort isn’t a given in an open-air environment, pillows and cushions can soften the hard surfaces often found on outdoor seating. These can be kept in the car along with blankets and hoodies to keep you warm after the sun goes down.

We also keep plenty of tote bags on hand for reading materials and beach towels.

Extra serving spoons are always appreciated along with paper or plastic bowls to hold everything from pretzels to pita. Disposable cups can double as scoopers for popcorn and other snacks while sturdy plates and utensils can handle heavier summer fare, such as hot dogs and potato salad.

If you’re planning any al fresco meals this holiday weekend and beyond, consider the creature comforts within your home that can be adapted for outdoor use. Then you can decorate, dig in and chill out.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at