Picnic season is upon us. You may be already thinking about how to pack for that concert on the green, that impromptu meal in the park.

The usual place to start is the annual unearthing of the cooler, or the gathering of necessities for the wicker picnic basket -- neither of which will be in ready-to-go condition, we suspect. But you're game, and let's face it: Food tastes great outdoors.

Ah, the food. Will it be bread, cheese and fruit? No prep work's involved, but you've been there, done that.

You could pick up a sandwich easily enough, but is it made with ingredients that will take kindly to the warmth of a Washington afternoon -- or the inside of an ice-laden cooler? Certainly, grocery stores carry lots of prepared food in cardboard and plastic containers. But how much of it will fit in your picnic receptacle? And how much of it will look and taste just like the food being served one blanket to your left?

Luckily, we're living in an age of better picnicking through technology. Insulated totes with slimmed-down profiles are designed to keep bulky coolers at bay. More insulated backpacks are on the market each year, big enough to hold drinks as well as food. Reusable ice mats and ice cubes preclude the need for bags of ice -- and keep the food from getting soggy. A new breed of plastic containers has gel in the lids that can keep food cold for two hours.

It's possible, depending on your outing, to create your own cooler using thermal insulated bags, which need no ice and can keep food hot or cold for up to three hours.

But this kind of picnicking calls for food that's amenable to the new way of packing and food that doesn't require extreme degrees of cold. And so we offer a couple of ways to go:

For a three-course, create-your-own-cooler picnic, we offer a new take on deviled eggs, an entree of hoisin-grilled shrimp atop Asian-inspired brown rice salad with snow peas (no mayonnaise here), and chocolate poundcake tea sandwiches for dessert. Yes, it's possible to have it all and to keep it compact and cold enough for a few hours.

For a three-course disposable picnic that fits into one of the handier collapsible coolers we've seen, we offer the intense sweetness of roasted grapes, garlicky grilled steak sandwiches with correspondingly garlicky sugar snap peas, and non-butter cookies that take the heat. Because the food and drink in this menu are in wrappers that can be thrown away, what you carry home may be no more burdensome than a shoulder-strap purse.

For picnic recipes, product resources and food-safety tips, see Page F2, below, and right.

* Better Picnicking Through Technology on Page 4

* Eight Picnic Recipes on Page 2