Everything You Need to Pack a Perfect Picnic
The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and your eyes are starting to bug out of your head from staring at your computer – pack a picnic and head to your favorite outdoor spot to make the most of the glorious weather.
Sounds like the perfect way to spend the day, right? There’s just one issue - when you go to pack your picnic food and items, you might not know what to add to your basket.
This is a common problem – what items are deserving of your picnic list, and which ones can be left behind? In this article, we plan to solve this problem once and for all, so you’ll know exactly what to pack every time you want to feel the grass between your toes with a drink in hand.
We’ll start with some background on the picnic tradition, talk about some dos and don’ts, and then get to the good stuff that matters most: the food!
Picnic History and Basics
Before we talk about what to pack on your next picnic, why don’t we take a short stroll through history and learn about how the picnic as we know it came to be?
Origins of the Picnic
We have to travel back to the late 17th century France to see the word picnic first printed on paper, suggesting that the tradition was a part of the culture long before that.
Described in this early text, the word pique-nique translated loosely to “picking” or “pecking” at “things of little importance” – that’s about as French as it gets!
Back then, friends and family members would set a date, pick a scenic spot like a park or a beach, and set out an elaborate spread of food, amusements, and of course, countless bottles of wine—yes, the wine is absolutely necessary. How else will people know you’re on a picnic?
Just check out a few classic paintings from Monet or Manet to catch the vibe of these original picnic celebrations, because things got pretty crazy!
The Picnics of Today
Picnics evolved quite a bit over time and became far more family-oriented, especially Americans who embraced the tradition and put their own spin on things.
These are the picnics of our childhood, the ones with the checkered blankets, the wicker baskets, the soda pop, and the sandwiches … or the picnics of our college dreams, involving beautiful charcuterie boards and flowing champagne.
We credit the French with the invention of the picnic, but we’d say that it was in the 20th century United States when the picnic was mastered!
Make It Your Own
We’re happy to provide you with our top picnic tips, but remember that rules are meant to be broken. Don’t hesitate to put your own twist on a picnic celebration, because that’s how new traditions are made.
Picnic Essentials – What to Pack
Okay, we’ve bored you enough with the history. You came here for a packing list, and a packing list you will get. But before we start talking about snacks and drinks, you’d better have all the right gear to make the experience stress-free.
Picnics are all about pure enjoyment, so have everything you need on hand so that you can focus on catching some rays.
Transporting Your Stuff
Sure, you can load up all your food items and drinks in a backpack, but that’s just going to make everything jumbled up and possibly cause a mess.
Plus, your food won’t stay cool for long, even with some well-positioned ice packs.
A better plan is to invest in a dedicated cooler or vessel that will conveniently store everything you need, keep a perfect temperature, and make for a seamless journey back and forth.
Cheap Styrofoam coolers just aren’t going to cut it, especially if you’ve got fresh meats, mayo-based salads, and cold beverages. If you want to have the picnic of your dreams, you’re going to have to work for it (not really, but seriously, a cooler is a game-changer).
Utensils, Plates, and More
Some of the best picnic foods can be shoveled down with your bare hands (chips, anyone?), but you’ll also want some basic implements if you don’t want to just dive right in (or if eating pasta salad with your hands sounds less than fun—to each their own).
Pack some plastic utensils and plates, some paper napkins, and a big stack of cups for drinks that may or may not need to be hidden from the authorities—we don’t judge.
Don’t forget the wet wipes, paper towels, and trash bags, because clean-up is key to professional picnicking. It’s fun to get a little messy with finger foods and whatnot, but sticky fingers do not a great picnic make.
Of course, you'll want to bring a picnic blanket, sunscreen, and bug spray to make sure you're comfortable, and necessities like a bottle opener or a corkscrew. For a romantic picnic date, add a cutting board and cheese knife to your picnic checklist.
Remember – leave your spot exactly as you found it. Nothing left behind.
Pick Your Spot
Picnics are really about having friends and family by your side, enjoying the weather, and eating plenty of delicious food. But location is still a major factor in the vibes.
Many parks, for example, will have grills, tables, and maybe some overhead protection if you need to get out of the sun or a sudden rainstorm. Beaches, on the other hand, might have paved-over eating areas where you can set up shop while overlooking the ocean or lake.
When scoping out a spot, be sure you have a bit of extra space away from other people, a great view, and ideal lighting for taking selfies all afternoon. Because, yes, everyone needs to know that you went on a picnic, and yes, you planned it perfectly to coincide with golden hour.
Our Favorite Picnic Foods
We figure that by now, you’ve got the picnic logistics pretty much figured out. You have the right gear, you picked the best location, and, more importantly, you’ve got that winning picnic mindset that will help you have a heck of a good time.
Now, we’ve got to talk about filling your picnic basket, because it’s about darn time! Here are some great picnic food ideas that cover all the bases and leave nobody hungry at the end of the day.
Classic Main Courses
The most classic picnic main course is the sandwich, hands down. They can be made efficiently at home in assembly-line fashion or picked up from a local shop on your way to the picnic spot.
What makes sandwiches so great for picnics is the perfect form factor and simplicity. The bread holds all those tasty ingredients in place, and you can eat it with one hand while sipping a soda or throwing a frisbee with the other!
Roast beef, turkey, chicken salad, bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and more – everyone gets exactly what they want (if you nametag the foil), and everyone’s happy. Make it fancy with some mozzarella, feta cheese, pesto, basil, olives, and other specialty sandwich ingredients that will really wow your guests.
Alternatively, you can bring a bunch of proteins and fresh veggies to a location with a grill and fire it up! We’re talking about burgers, dogs, brats, as well as peppers, portobello mushrooms, and corn on the cob that can all be grilled in harmony. Now that’s a lit picnic. Who doesn't love a good kebab?
To take things to the next level, you can bring chicken, sausages, or even steaks to your next picnic and get that grill on full blast. You’ll need some utensils for all these options, remember, unless you want to go full caveman mode!
Essential Side Dishes
The sandwiches and the proteins might be the main event, but we all know that the side dishes are the most exciting part of the picnic!
Ironically, a picnic is where you’ll eat more salad in one sitting than you might eat all year long. However, we’re not talking about super-healthy leafy greens here. Picnics are showcases for pasta salads, bean salads, potato salads, and all that good stuff.
That’s not to say that you can’t make a tasty green salad with fresh veggies like cherry tomatoes or cucumber or even a fruit salad to balance things out with sweet grapes and watermelon, but we know which ones you really want!
The one caveat about side dishes is that you’ve got to do some planning if you prefer things homemade. Pasta and potato salads should be made at least a couple of days in advance to make sure all those flavors lock-in and build. Dips can also be prepared in advance, with some chopped up bell peppers, carrots, or crackers for scooping.
Plus, salads and dips should be super cold and fresh by the time they hit the Tupperware. Food poisoning? No thanks.
The Beverage Situation
Okay, what are we drinking today? All those sandwiches, grilled meats, and salty salads are going to leave us parched, so make sure you’ve got plenty to go around.
Soda of every type, sparkling water, lemonade, and maybe some home-brewed iced tea picnic recipes are all perfect for sipping in between bites. For the grownups of the crew, it’s never a bad call to bring along some beers, hard seltzers, or a plastic pitcher of fresh sangria. Of course, popping a bottle of champagne is a picnic classic, as well.
Convenient Crunchy Snacks
Some of the simplest items you bring to a picnic are also the most satisfying, especially the crunchy snacks you eat right from the bag.
Potato chips are a classic, as are bags of cheesy popcorn and pretzels. You can also go off the beaten path with veggie sticks, cheese puffs, nuts, and pork rinds.
We’re proud to say that our PigOut Pigless Pork Rinds are a top-tier picnic snack that everyone can enjoy, no matter their dietary preferences or limitations. Totally vegan, gluten-free, and with so many tasty flavors to try, these rinds go above and beyond.
If you need a bit more nourishment from your snacks, our Outstanding Puffs are your best bet. With an all-star nutritional panel and even more mind-blowing flavors, your picnic will have a healthy, tasty twist everyone will love.
At Outstanding Foods, we know a thing or two about the perfect picnic. Take these tips and stuff your face while enjoying some glorious summer sunshine.
Everything You Need to Pack for the Perfect | The Spruce
The History of the Picnic | History Today