How to Plan a Picnic--Menus, Recipes, and Packing Tips

"The Picnic", Thomas Cole
"The Picnic", Thomas Cole | Source

Picnic [pik-nik] noun

1. an excursion or outing in which the participants carry home made food with them and share a lovely meal in the open air.

2. fast (take-out) food consumed at a park. The food is predictable, substandard and boring.

Guess Which One is My Choice?

How it All Began

Although cavemen no doubt ate outdoors, their repast was hardly what one might deem a "picnic". (Could you relax knowing that a man-eating beast might be lurking behind the very next rock?)

Originally, the term picnic (piquenique in French) was the term used for the foods assembled at a social gathering rather than the gathering itself. Each invitee was expected to contribute something to the function. However, over time, the meaning of the word shifted to punctuate the alfresco element of the meal.

What Constitutes a Perfect Picnic?

There is no single plan for the "perfect picnic." This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and that is why I am writing. Picnics can be as easy or as complicated as you want them to be. What is key is the planning. Here are the things you should keep in mind:

A Few Simple Guidelines

Getting There:

  • Every picnic requires utensils--plates, eating implements, etc. A spur-of-the-moment picnic can be done with paper plates and plastic spoons and forks. A more romantic or formal (planned) meal might utilize real plates and silverware.
  • Tablecloth or blanket--even if there is a picnic table, you will want to cover it so that you are eating on a clean surface.

Being There:

  • Food safety--unless you will consume everything that you bring with you, consider packing foods that are less perishable. Mayonnaise-laden potato salads and fried chicken are not safe if left un-refrigerated for more than 2 hours.

leaving there:

  • Clean-up--Have available wet-wipes to clean sticky fingers.
  • Trash bags--Never leave a mess for someone else to deal with. If you carted it in, you should cart it out.

fresh strawberries
fresh strawberries | Source

Strawberries Balsamic

  • 2 points strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

Toss all ingredients in bowl. Cover and let stand 1 hour before serving.

And Now, The Recipes

Breakfast/Brunch Menu

  • Strawberries Balsamic (recipe on the right)
  • Sliced smoked ham or smoked turkey
  • Caramelized onion tart (recipe below)
  • Champagne or other sparkling wine

asparagus | Source

Romantic Meal for Two Menu

  • Asparagus, Parmesan and Prosciutto Bundles (recipe below)
  • Fresh baguette
  • skewers of grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, zucchini chunks
  • Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies (link below)
  • Sauvignon Blanc or any other fruity (non-oaked) wine

Asparagus, Parmesan and Prosciutto Bundles

  • 6 thin asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of prosciutto
  • About 1.5 ounces of Parmesan cut into sticks 3 inches long x ½ inch thick

Snap the tough ends from each asparagus spear. Cook in boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately plunge into ice water. Drain and pat dry.

Cut each spear in half (one half will contain the tip and the other half will contain the bottom of the spear).

Lay prosciutto slices in single layer on work surface. Place one asparagus tip and one asparagus bottom crosswise near the short end of each slice of prosciutto. Place one cheese stick on top of each pair of asparagus spears. Roll up prosciutto to enclose asparagus and cheese. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.

tabbouleh salad
tabbouleh salad | Source

Vegetarian Feast Menu

  • Tabbouleh Salad (recipe below)
  • pita crisps or assorted water crackers
  • Carb Diva's Incredible Carrot Cake (link below)

Tabbouleh Salad


  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained


  1. Combine bulgur wheat and boiling water in large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, or until all water us absorbed.
  2. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2-3 hours.
  3. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

trail mix
trail mix | Source

With the Kids Menu

  • Homemade trail mix (any combination of pretzels, dried fruits, nuts, dry cereal)
  • Fresh fruit kabobs made with grapes and melon chunks
  • Turkey sandwiches (oatmeal bread, sliced deli turkey, dried cranberries, cream cheese)
  • Cookies from a box of cake mix (recipe below)

"When Harry Met Sally" Cake
"When Harry Met Sally" Cake

A Grown-Up Gathering

  • Provolone Terrine (recipe below)
  • Wild Rice-Spinach Salad (link below)
  • When Harry Met Sally Chocolate Cake (link below)

Provolone Terrine


  • 1/2 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • 1 lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • garlic cream sauce (recipe below)


  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup almonds, walnuts, or pinenuts

Combine cream cheese, butter, and garlic in bowl of food processor. Blend until combined and smooth. Stir in nuts.


  1. Line a 4x8-inch loaf pan with dampened cheesecloth (soak the cloth and then wring out).
  2. Cut provolone slices in half. Slightly overlapping slices, cover bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the loaf pan (use about 1/2 of the cheese). Divide the remaining half of the cheese into 3 equal portions and set aside.

Now, begin layering as follows:

  • Spread one-half of the pesto over the provolone in the pan.
  • Cover pesto with 1/3 of the remaining provolone.
  • Sprinkle with 1/2 of the tomatoes
  • Spread garlic cream over the tomatoes
  • Sprinkle remaining tomatoes over the garlic cream
  • Cover with 2nd third of provolone
  • Spread remaining pesto over the provolone
  • Lay remaining provolone over the pesto.

Fold cheesecloth over the loaf; press gently with your hands to compact.

Chill about 2 hours. Fold back cloth, invert on serving plate and unmold. Remove cheesecloth. Serve with toasted baguette or crackers.

So, Let's Recap

Here is a table showing all of the suggested dishes in today's menus. The items for which I have given recipes are in bold type. I hope you will feel free to pick and choose from the columns to create your own perfect picnic meal.

Main Dish #1
Main Dish #2 or Salad
Caramelized onion tart
sliced smoked ham or turkey
strawberries balsamic
Asparagus Bundles
dark chocolate salted brownies
Tabbouleh salad
carrot cake
turkey sandwiches
fruit kabobs
homemade cookies
provolone terrine
wild rice spinach salad
chocolate cake

Do you think you might try one of these picnic menus?

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© 2016 Carb Diva

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Comments 8 comments

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 6 months ago Author

Bravewarrior - It was a fun list to put together. I hope you find an opportunity to put together a picnic meal and use some of these recipes.

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 6 months ago from Central Florida

I haven't been on a picnic in forever! These all sound delicious and perfect for a summer meal in the backyard - or the beach, or wherever....

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 6 months ago Author

Bill, happy Friday to you as well, although today does NOT look like "picnic" weather, does it? The history lesson? I would have written more, but sometimes you just have to get down to business and write about food.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 6 months ago from Olympia, WA

I always love that you give us a little history lesson. The French? Well bully for them!!!

Thanks, Linda, and Happy Friday to you!

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 6 months ago Author

Good morning Eric. My favorite thing in all of these is the tabbouleh salad. It has a bright refreshing taste (from the lemon juice) and it is quite filling. And, if you are a chocolate lover (I honestly don't understand those who are not--what a sad existence), you must at some point in time bake the dark chocolate salted brownies.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 6 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Oh my this sure beats granola trail mix, carrots and an apple. I either hike in a few miles or picnic at the beach. Some of these could work for both. Really fun read. As always you make me hungry.

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 6 months ago Author

Hi Jackie - Haven't heard from you for a while. So happy you came by. I LOVE to cook, and I love to share my food with those I love. The only thing that (I think) can make that better is enjoying this food outdoors.

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 6 months ago from The Beautiful South

Yum, yum, would love to go on your picnic! Been awhile, sure sounds like fun.


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