There is a lot to be said for the simple pleasure of a picnic. But it is the simplicity of the picnic where so many get it wrong.
Whether it’s a beach picnic, your fave al fresco dining location, the back yard, or even a rainy day picnic indoors – There are so many ways to enjoy a picnic, just don’t overcomplicate it.
These savvy tips will up your picnic game and help simplify any of your al fresco dining endeavours.
Essential Tips for a Picnic.
Keep it Simple
Streamline Your Kit
One of the biggest picnic mistakes is overpacking. While a large wicker picnic basket is romantic and charming, it is not always practical. An awkward overloaded picnic basket can be a right pain in the bum to transport, especially if your location is a little remote or requires a walk.
Depending on numbers, a compact picnic kit such as a picnic backpack is great. There are some practical and stylish picnic backpacks for two as well as plenty of options if you prefer a 4 person picnic backpack ( we love our Greenfield Collection picnic hamper backpack for two). Or, even an insulated tote works well. Depending on your location, a granny shopping trolly also makes a great picnic bag.
If you don’t have a complete picnic set with melamine plates etc, pack your bag of choice with lightweight eco-friendly picnic ware such as biodegradable or bamboo disposable plates & cutlery.
A decent picnic blanket with waterproof backing is always a worthwhile investment. If you don’t have a sturdy blanket, a flat cushion inside a water-resistant tote makes a comfy and dry seating option.
Essential Picnic Gear
- Picnic hamper, backpack or cool bag
- Picnic blanket
- Ice packs – Opt for soft flexible ice packs which are lighter and more adaptable to different bags.
- Small sharp knife – A small serrated knife is always a good all-round picnic knife
- Plates & cups – Reusable melamine or eco-friendly disposable.
- Cutlery – Use eco-friendly bamboo over plastic if opting for disposable.
- Small chopping board
- Bottle opener
- A small table cloth or scarf to lay food on and napkins.
Pack Your Food Properly
Ensure your food is packed so it won’t spoil or squash.
Keep Food Cold
If food needs to be kept cool but you want to cut down on bulk and weight, put some small water bottles in the freezer a few hours before leaving. They can double as chiller blocks and drinks when you arrive. Or use soft freezer packs for better flexibility and less weight.
Keep Picnic Food Warm or Hot
The same goes for keeping food hot or warm. Not all hot picnic food is bbq and a winter picnic on a sunny day is always a lovely idea.
Heat food as close to departure as possible. A thermos or other insulated cooler works equally well for hot as it does cold – Think picnic soups, stews or even ramen.
Wrap hot food in aluminium foil and wrap in a tea towel with a microwaveable heat pack. An insulated food and casserole carrier is also a very worthwhile picnic investment. Especially for those who enjoy fresh hot food such as sausage rolls, quiches or pies at a picnic.
Prevent Food From Being Squashed
A chopping board placed in the bottom of a cooler tote will give the bag structure.
Layer food items in a bag using a small, lightweight chopping board placed between layers of food. It will create a kind of shelf and prevents things from collapsing on each other. Sliding a chopping board vertically between items to keep them separated and the bag rigid also works well.
A chopping board is also a handy sturdy surface for serving food or resting glasses during your picnic.
Choose Your Picnic Spot Wisely
While we often have an “idea” of a perfect picnic spot, you may not always be able to throw your blanket under a weeping willow on the banks of a picturesque stream.
No matter if you are planning a picnic in the UK’s picturesque Kent countryside or an urban alfresco retreat in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Unless you have a predetermined location and have packed accordingly (picnic backpack for hiking picnic, hamper for the park or foldable chairs for the beach etc.) Don’t waste time looking for it.
Nothing dampens a picnic more than people who became grumpy lugging gear around looking for the “perfect spot”. A picnic should be a relaxing affair not an aggravated cardio activity.
Unless it is an entirely impromptu picnic, try to put a little thought into where you will enjoy your alfresco feast before you head off.
- Do you need facilities such as bbq grills, taps, toilets or even shops?
- Will you have to hike to your spot?
- Do you need shade?
- Do you need picnic tables?
- Or, is the simplicity of a nice bit of grass under a tree or a blanket on the beach picnic-perfect enough?
Keep it Clean and Eco Friendly
While you want to pack as light as possible it doesn’t mean you have to leave a pile of disposable trash behind. If your picnic set doesn’t come complete with food storage containers, you can still pack light and responsibly.
Sustainable and Lightweight Picnic Accessories
If you grab a picnic to go from your favourite food outlet, try to opt for minimal or eco friendly packaging. There is nothing worse than seeing a bin full of plastic takeaway containers at your fave picnic spot.
Take garbage bags with you to remove any rubbish or to wrap dirty plates and cutlery. Pack some wet wipes to wipe down cutting boards and clean up spills and dirty fingers.
Simple Picnic Food Tips
Picnic food should be a joy, not a burden. Unless you are planning a long relaxed picnic in your own garden, don’t overdo it on the food—Pack smart to limit waste, spoilage and unnecessary bulk in your picnic hamper of choice.
Remember, picnicking can be as simple as sandwiches and thermos of tea lakeside, a cheese and wine beach date at sunset or even a pizza in the park.
Sauces and Dressings
The first rule of picnic food (other than keeping it from spoiling or spilling) is to keep sauces, dressings, and condiments separate until serving whenever possible.
Travel bottle sets come with an array of bottles, tubes, spray bottles (I love this for a spritz of balsamic on a salad) and pots perfect for chutneys and butter. As they are designed for travel, you’re guaranteed they won’t leak.
Keep Food Fresh and Crisp
Sandwiches can be a picnic hit and miss. No one likes a soggy sandwich or that cling wrap sweaty stodge, but a well thought out sandwich can make a picnic.
The same goes for salads. These simple tips will ensure sandwiches and salads are fresh, crisp and most of all, easy to transport.
For sandwiches, you can take the compact DIY option and construct them in situ.
Pick up a fresh loaf of quality sliced bread, baguette or even individual rolls on the way.
Load some reusable silicon zip loc bags for ease of transport with ingredients such as cheese and charcuterie -cured meats like salami and prosciutto etc. along with hard aged cheeses. Ingredients made to handle room temperature that actually becomes more flavourful with a little time out of the fridge.
These ingredients, with some key condiments (relishes, mustards, quince paste etc.) can be laid out on a board and made into sandwiches or eaten as an antipasto.
Pre Made Sandwiches
If you must make sandwiches in advance, choose robust bread like a quality crunchy baguette, ciabatta’s or bagels that can withstand a little time in transit without becoming soggy.
Wrap sandwiches in reusable beeswax paper or standard brown or baking paper tied with a string (or even an elastic band) to prevent that awful cling wrap sweat. Bread will stay fresher and crusts crustier.
Leave condiments such as mustards or mayonnaise to be added once unwrapped or spread them in the middle between meats and cheeses. The same goes for tomato, place it in the middle to avoid it leeching into the bread.
Choose Fillings Wisely
If you want greens and veg added to your sandwich, opt for robust greens such as baby spinach and arugula. Veggies like grated carrot, fennel, radish and onion hold well even for a few hours.
Pickled, slow-roasted and grilled vegetables are also a great addition to a sandwich DIY platter or antipasto plates such as slow-roasted tomatoes and roasted peppers.
Follow the French Lead
The ultimate picnic sandwich takes an entirely different approach and comes from none other than the originators of the word pique-nique – the French.
A Pan Bagnat is a Frech picnic sandwich made for sharing. It is made with either a hollowed-out crusty boule or baguette, layered with gorgeous ingredients such as cheeses, meats, herbs and veg. It is wrapped in paper and pressed under something heavy overnight in the fridge. It is then cut into slices or wedges to share.
For both sandwiches and salads, no matter if you decide on DIY or preprepared, store in watertight containers or zip lock bags.
There is no greater picnic disappointment than to discover melted ice or even condensation from ice packs has leached into your crusty or crisp picnic spoils.
Picnic Salad Tips
Picnic salads, much like sandwiches, can end up a soggy mess.
Picnic Salad Jars
Individual salad containers are a great way to serve salad at a picnic. If you want to be hip and have suitable carrying arrangments, mason jars are great for this purpose.
However, we recommend investing in some plastic Mason Jars as the traditional glass jar is heavy and tend to shatter. Plastic food storage containers are also fine for this purpose.
Layer veggies, herbs, proteins and grains in the jar or container putting the most robust and chunky ingredients to the bottom – Proteins and grains first – chicken, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), quinoa etc. followed by things like carrots, peppers and tomatoes and layering up to salad leaves.
Some people like to put the dressing at the bottom which should, in theory, stay at the bottom separated by the grains, proteins and chunkier veg. But as we know, with a moveable feast, things don’t always stay upright, so I like to add the dressings when you are ready to serve.
Salad jars, like the non-breakable salad jar above, come with an inbuilt dressing container which solves the problem of transporting salad dressings.
Pre Made & DIY Salads
Salads can also be prepared and stored in advance in either one large container with lettuce leaves kept separate until the last or in individual bags such as the silicon zip loc bags. Use bags over containers to save on space and keep vegetables crisp and fresh.
Remember, pre-made salads such as coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salad, and bean salads are also very forgiving picnic companions. We have loads of great tips on make-ahead salads that travel well here.
Just please, do yourself a favour and either make the salads yourself (these can all be prepared the night before) or splurge on a quality salad to go. Last-minute panic buying pre-made salads at a run of the mill supermarket or service station never did any picnic a service.
Instead of a traditional salad, try a chunky veggie cruditès platter with some gorgeous dips like hummus, guacamole, or baba ganoush—partner with some slow-roasted and pickled veg and crumbled fetta for a perfect picnic salad feast.
Compact Quiches and Tarts
A simple picnic quiche, frittata or savoury tart are some of the best foods for a picnic as they serve well cold, travel well and are quick and easy to make. They are also delicious and have endless variations.
Team with fresh bread and a salad or cut into small squares for picnic finger food or an addition to an antipasto platter.
Picnic Finger Food
Finger food is another excellent picnic menu idea. Think mini sausage rolls, mini quiches, small cold chicken kebabs with dipping sauces, goats cheese tarts, savoury scones with relish, or mini Caprese skewers.
The list is endless, and finger food makes for a very tidy and portable picnic.
Sweet Picnic Treats
Small tarts, cookies, slices, fudge, brownies, and muffins are all in the realms of picnic-friendly as they travel well and are easy to pack.
Unless the occasion calls for it, or you are having a high tea picnic, I would steer away from large or delicate cakes or cream-filled pastries.
If you want a healthy picnic dessert, opt for fruit. Whole fruits travel better than pre-cut fruit (maybe steer away from large fruits like melons). Slice some fruits, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with crushed nuts for a post picnic sweet treat.
Your little travel tubes and pots will be perfect for these delicious fruit condiments.
BBQ Picnic Tips
If you are planning a bbq picnic, try to scout a location with electric BBQs for ease of application. Organised grill pits are also great, but you will usually have to bring coals.
If you want to go off the grid for a BBQ picnic, do so responsibly and always clean up after yourself. Don’t leave scorch marks in the grass or hot coals behind.
Portable Picnic Grills
There are some pretty fantastic eco-friendly disposable grills on the market these days with 1 – 2 hours of optimum cooking time such as the CASUSGRILL Eco Disposable Grill as well as very portable charcoal tabletop picnic BBQ’s and lightweight, no mess portable gas grills perfect for picnics.
BBQ Picnic Menu Tips
When it comes to planning a bbq picnic menu, choose thinner or small cuts of meat for faster cooking times and ease of eating.
Marinated meat on skewers, sausages, minute steaks and butterflied chicken breasts are all bbq picnic-friendly. Just remember to keep meat cold and in the shade, so it doesn’t spoil.
The thought of lugging a big cooler box loaded with ice along on a picnic is exhausting.
Sure there will be times where that has its place. However, for the everyday picnic, there are many ways to enjoy a cold drink, whether it be a crisp white or Rosé, a chilled punch or an icy cold beer without breaking your back.
Keep Drinks Cool
Any civilised wine drinking picnicker will have a selection of wine sleeves ready to go in their freezer such as Vacu Vin’s Rapid Ice Wine Cooler.
It also helps to pop a bottle of white into the freezer for a bit just before leaving – just don’t leave it long enough to freeze, or worse, shatter.
Don’t want the faff of keeping whites perfectly chilled? Opt for lightly chilled reds instead. Think light and breezy Beaujolais, Pinotage, Grenache or Pinot Noir (which are often served too warm anyway). I like to think of these varieties as great lunch reds.
Store ice cubes in a thermos flask for popping into drinks – even your wine at a pinch. Some people like to pop frozen grapes into their wine so as not to dilute or change the flavours. I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with this trick.
If you prefer to take beer on your picnic, there are plenty of insulated rucksack style coolers capable of carrying up to 30 cans. Opt for top loading over front zip style for better stability and access, especially if you pack your food in along with the beer.
Wrapping beer in sheets of newspaper and into a backpack or tote will also keep them cold. Especially if you wrap them with the small frozen bottles of water, we mentioned earlier.
For beach picnics, wrap beer in a few carrier bags and dig a beer hole in the sand to keep them cold – again, I would include the frozen water bottles, but I like icy beer.
Wine snobs will argue that glass is the only option when it comes to picnic glasses. However, we now have the luxury of some exceptional plastic wine glasses made from recyclable plastics that are about as good as the real thing.
We have even come across celebrated wineries who use these disposable “glasses” at garden picnics at the winery.
Simple Picnic Tips for Beautiful Picnics
Well planned and elaborate picnics with family and friends are always wonderful events. However, it goes to show, picnics don’t have to be a chore. Keep it simple and you might be inclined to indulge in a little alfresco dining more often.