picnic basket sitting on tablecloth

This blog post is for you if you love the idea of picnicking outside, but don’t know where to start. In this summer picnic guide, I’ll share meal ideas, my favorite picnic supplies, and other tips and tricks to help you picnic outside more often. Download my free checklist with recipes for picnics here.

Whether you are heading out on an adventure, going to a local park, or just setting up in your backyard, picnics are a wonderful way to enjoy being outside in the beautiful spring and summer (and even fall!) weather. There is something so magical about spreading a large quilt on the ground and soaking in the sunshine, fresh air, and nature while enjoying something to eat. 

When the weather is nice we try to be outside as much as we possibly can and taking a picnic lunch outdoors is one way we squeeze in a few extra minutes. It’s especially nice on days when children are mud-covered and you’re not quite ready to clean them up and go inside. Simply take food to them. Bonus, you have less to clean up in the house too.

What do I need to set up a picnic?

If you have never picnicked before, you may think a picnic sounds magical, but have no idea where to start with planning.

Before we go too far, let’s define a picnic. A picnic is, very simply, an outing that involves taking a meal outside to eat. It can truly be anything you want it to be. My guess is that if you have small children you will want to keep things as simple and mess-free as possible. With a little planning and practice it can be just that. 

The first thing you will want to consider is the location of your picnic. Are you going to your backyard or a local park? Your destination will be important when planning your menu.

Next, plan your menu. We’ll talk more about this in a minute, but your menu can be very elegant with hot dishes and multiple sides or it can be a simple cold-cut sandwich and apples. Find what works for you and your family and stick with that.

Although you do not need special dishes or baskets, a few simple things dedicated to picnicking can make it easier to get packed up and out the door when it is time to go. Here’s a list of things to consider.

Summer picnic supplies

Picnic basket – I love this picnic basket for throwing all of our food, napkins, dishes, and silverware into when we go on a picnic. 

Picnic blanket – It’s so handy to keep a large blanket or old quilt in your vehicle for quick picnic lunches. Thrift stores are a great place to find old quilts, tablecloths, and blankets. This is a great one if you don’t have time to shop around. 

Cooler – Depending on the food you choose and how far you are traveling you may or may not need a cooler. It’s helpful to keep a few cooler bags on hand to grab in a pinch. 

Dishes and utensils – Good ‘ole paper plates and plastic utensils are the simplest when it comes to cleaning up. Throw in what you need and just put everything into the trash at the end. If you want to elevate your picnic just a little, consider grabbing a set of melamine dishes. These are nice if you are picnicking often. They are sturdier than paper plates and more durable, but you don’t have to worry about them breaking. 

Drinkware – Don’t forget to pack the drinks! It seems nowadays like everyone travels with a water bottle, but if that’s not you, throw in some simple glasses or disposable cups. 

Other things to consider

Trash bag – You might want to grab a trash bag to keep with your picnic supplies in case there is not a trash disposal at your picnic site. It’s helpful to throw all your trash in one place at the end and not have to worry about it floating around in your basket.

Sunscreen – If you will be out a long time in the sun, make sure to wear adequate sun protection. This sunscreen is our favorite.. 

Bug spray – I like to be prepared for bugs. Always. They seem to find you no matter where you go. This is one of our favorite natural bug repellents.

Toys and books – A few picture books, bubbles, or simple yard games can also be really fun to take along on picnic. You can download a list of our favorite picture books here.

Where do I go for a summer picnic?

You can have a picnic lunch absolutely anywhere you would like to! Pack a lunch when you go to the zoo, take one to a state or local park, or have a picnic in your own backyard. Backyard picnics are the most common in our homes and probably our favorite. I love spending the morning outside and then taking a picnic lunch outside to eat.

You’ll want to consider the place where you set up your picnic. As a family of small children, we prefer to sit on the ground, making it simpler for even the little ones to participate. Look for a grassy area with plenty of sunshine. Depending on the weather and time of day, you may also wish to look for a spot in the shade. Try to choose a location that will keep you as comfortable as possible. 

Of course, you could also find a location with picnic tables. If you are at a community park, state park, or another scenic location chances are there will be picnic tables to use. This is a great option as well. 

What do we eat on a picnic?

Now for one of the most pressing questions – what’s for lunch. 

The beauty of a picnic is that it can be anything you want it to be, as fancy or simple as you like. Of course, if you have small children, or even if you don’t, my guess is you will want to keep things as simple as possible. For a FREE printable with my favorite picnic recipes, check out this free download. 

Snack lunch

My all-time favorite picnic food is so simple it can hardly be called a meal – the snack lunch. This is what we call the childhood version of a charcuterie board. I literally use whatever I have on hand, and some of these things I keep on hand exactly for this purpose. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Chunks of cheese
  • Sliced ham or turkey
  • Apple slices
  • Carrot sticks
  • Cutie oranges
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Crackers

This is the most requested picnic meal in our home. I just throw everything on a large board or plate and take it outside. We all eat off the board and save on dishes and clean up. 

Chicken or tuna salad sandwiches

If snack lunches aren’t your thing, consider making tuna or chicken salad. These are versatile because they can be eaten on bread, stuffed in a pita pocket, with crackers, or even carrot sticks. This is another frequent summer meal in our home. 

Calzone or hand pie

Another idea is the calzone or hand pie. Typically a calzone is bread dough stuffed with pizza toppings and baked. They can be baked ahead of time and frozen, making it a breeze to reheat them for a quick lunch or supper. 

Hand pies are typically a pie crust that is stuffed with meat and veggies and baked. These might be slightly more time consuming, especially if you make your own, but they are simply delightful. 

Cold-cut sandwiches

Cold meat sandwiches are, of course, a common, picnic food. For a different twist,  try rolling up the meat and cheese on its own or rolling it up in a tortilla. 

Pasta or quinoa salad

Lastly, consider a pasta or quinoa salad as an easy picnic meal. You can easily customize either one to your family’s tastes and preferences and if you throw in a little protein it can easily be considered a full meal. 

For more recipes, download my FREE picnic food printable here.

Tips and tricks for summer picnics

  • One of my best tips to make picnics a regular part of your summer routine is to keep easy picnic foods in your pantry and fridge. Keeping things like tuna, pickles, carrots and apples stocked means that I can easily pull together a simple picnic, even when I wasn’t planning it. 
  • Keep all of your picnic supplies together. I like to keep the picnic blanket, basket, and dishes all together and easily accessible so they are ready to go. 
  • Don’t overthink it. The beauty of a picnic is the joy of being outside. Keep your food simple and you will enjoy it so much more. 
  • Just do it. This is probably true of anything, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. 

Picnics are a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of being outdoors even more this summer. I hope this summer picnic guide has been a help to you as you prepare to spend more time outside this summer.

Don’t forget to download your FREE picnic checklist and recipes here. 

Related: Stocking your pantry on a budget; How to make homemade dandelion playdough; Best Toddler Books

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