Your Ultimate Picnic Packing Guide

Entertaining, Fourth of July, How-To, In Season, Spring, Tailgating
on June 12, 2013
Picnic Spread
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn

The summer picnic is a versatile concept—location, menu, scale—all up to you. There are, of course, a few essentials, and we’ve got them covered here on our list of surefire supplies and planning tips to make your next outdoor dining excursion a success.


First, let’s talk storage. For a quick trip to the park, a “wicker, carries things” basket is a romantic choice when you’re not hard-pressed to keep food cold, plus it is a quintessential picnic staple. But remember, all mayonnaise-based foods and cut melons must be kept cold to avoid harmful bacteria growth—even if you’re not traveling far. So if you opt for wicker and cold food, pack that puppy down with ice packs to keep contents at 40F or under. For something a little more durable and insulated, we suggest an all-occasion basket such as The Pampered Chef On-the-Go Insulated Collapsible Picnic Basket ($41).


This particular basket is large and sturdy enough to accommodate all of your supplies, insulated for keep-cool drinks and dishes, enclosed with a zipper for minimal mess, and is also collapsible. It’s there when you need it, and practically vanishes into thin air when you don’t. (Visit our facebook page for a chance to win one of these beauties.)


Okay, so you’ve got your basket—now what to put inside? It’s time to plan the menu. Finger-foods like tea sandwiches, dip with bread and veggies, hard cheeses, charcuterie and shrimp cocktail are always safe bets, and crowd-pleasers to boot.


From there, you can start considering supplies and presentation. For example, if utensils are in order, put some careful thought into what kind you might need. If you’re packing salads of any kind, remember the serving utensils. If you’re toting grilled meats, flimsy plastic forks and knifes aren’t likely to cut it (no pun intended). Planning on wine? Consider screw-top or boxed wines. If not, remember that corkscrew!

Now that we’ve got your wheels spinning where the “general specifics” are concerned, we’ll share a few of our favorite picnic particulars:

  • Checkered blanket-dining is part of the fun of picnicking. Retain all of the flat-and-sturdy qualities of a picnic table by toting large cutting boards to act as a portable work surface—and a place to steady tall drinks and other spill-ables.
  • Small wooden crates or galvanized tins make for charming serving supplies. Use for condiments, chip bags, or pre-made sandwiches. It’s a great (not to mention painfully cute) way to stay organized.
  • Simple presentation techniques like wrapping sandwiches in parchment paper, or tying up bags with twine supply a rustic touch right at home with the picnic crowd.
  • If this is an invited guest kind of picnic, consider small cardboard boxes or sweet parchment gift bags to allow for take-away treats.


Finally—and this is admittedly the least fun part of the game—we must discuss housekeeping. Nobody likes a litterbug. And for that matter, we don’t particularly like any kind of bug, and the ants do tend to go a-marching. So come prepared with large plastic garbage bags or bins, and a small bag of outdoor essentials—we like to include insect repellant, antibacterial cleanser and sunscreen, plus a few basic first aid items like band aids, especially when the kids are involved. Not that we’re planning on any injuries.

Looking for menu inspiration? Read up on Four Summery Salads, Juicy Watermelon Recipes for Summer, Summer Picnics15 Sweet Lemon Desserts and Drinks, “Meals on Wheels” Picnic Menu, Summer Picnic Menu, 15 Tailgating Ideas and try packing up some of the recipes below: