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How to Plan and Pack a Picnic

Updated on March 29, 2014
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


My mama and daddy loved to go fishing, but my favorite part of the fishing trip was the picnic Mama always packed. It is amazing how were survived when I think back to the fried chicken wrapped in waxed paper and deviled eggs that were packed into to rattan picnic basket Mama got with her saving stamps. The ice chest was reserved for Coca Colas and the fish! Still, she made a wonderful picnic and we all survived.

It was my Aunt Myrtle, Daddy's sister, who taught me you could pack up any food, and eat it at the park to make a picnic. She once packed a wonderful spaghetti dinner with salad, rolls and a cake and we piled into the car with the food and ate at a nearby mountaintop county park.

Road trips are made for picnics. Stopping along a roadside picnic table or a park provides a rest from the stress of driving and gives the children time to run off the pent up energy. It also saves money. Picnics at the beach, on camping trips and even in the backyard are fun and an economical alternative to eating out in restaurants.

Fruit is tasty, healthy and easy to pack for a picnic
Fruit is tasty, healthy and easy to pack for a picnic


Planning a picnic should be easy. The key to planning is a menu and a list. Be sure you have a large enough ice chest, picnic basket or hamper, tablecloth, folding chairs if there will not be a picnic table with benches, or a blanket or quilt if you want to sit on the ground (and share your meal with the ants), and sun screen. What and how much to take on the picnic depends of course on who is going. Is it a family affair with children, or a romantic twosome? Will you cook at the site of the picnic or will the meal be one completely precooked? For children a picnic can be as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and juice box. For large crowds like a family reunion everyone usually contributes. Have everyone bring their own plates, utensils, and beverages to make the cost and cleanup easier for everyone.

We know more about the danger of food poisoning these days, and fortunately have easy access to many kinds of watertight containers so we can store foods on ice without worrying they will get waterlogged.

The food is the most important part of picnic planning. My favorite picnic food is still fried chicken, but please keep it on ice and serve it cold. Baked chicken may be healthier and travels just as well. Sliced baked chicken can go in sandwiches or salads, too. I like to bake chicken with garlic and rosemary. I put the herbs on top of the whole chicken, wrap it up in foil and bake until almost done, take the foil off the top the last twenty minutes to allow the chicken to brown.

Ham is another picnic favorite. Since it is cured or processed it is less likely to spoil. Sliced for sandwiches, chopped and made into a salad, or cut in strips to eaten as finger food and some ways to use ham on a picnic. Left over roast beef can be prepared the same way. I like a spicy mustard with both.

Tuna salad is another versatile ingredient for picnics. Serve right out of the can on crackers if you are roughing it. Tuna salad is a good sandwich filling or can be eaten on crackers or served on lettuce.

A nice cool garden salad is refreshing on any picnic but by the time you reach your destination the salad may become wilted. To prevent a garden salad from getting limp and mushy wait until you get to your picnic place to make it. Take the ingredients packed separately, and chop and built the salad when you get there. Pack the dressing separately, too. I love tiny summer or zucchini squash sliced into a salad along with lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, bell pepper (the red ones add color), and cucumber. Don't forget to pack a bowl!

Soggy sandwiches are no fun either. Again, pack the items in separate containers. Pita bread takes up less space than loaf bread in the picnic basket. Shredded lettuce in a plastic container, chopped tomatoes, meat, bean sprouts, cheese, olives or whatever your family likes can all be packed in small containers for the ice chest to be stuffed into the pita pockets at the picnic with everyone fixing their own.

Deviled eggs are another item that must be packed cold. To keep the filling from sticking to the wrap put two halved with filled facing each other and wrap them together. Finger foods are always good.

I am a chip addict and a picnic is not a picnic without them as far as I am concerned. To ease my conscience I pack salsa for dipping. That seems a healthier alternative to the sour cream concoctions I could choose. Cheese and crackers are a tasty picnic finger food, and of course don't forget the celery and carrot sticks. Pimento cheese or cream cheese and olive stuffed celery sticks are another of my favorite easy finger foods. Pack the stuffed celery face-to-face pairs like the deviled eggs.

Fruit and Fluids

Fruit is tasty, healthy and easy to pack. Bananas, apples, grapes and peaches or whatever is in season locally are all good picnic fare. But, my all time favorite is watermelon. What's a summer picnic without cold watermelon? Now the grocery stores have these cute miniature watermelons. Easily tuck two or three in with the rest of the cold foods and drinks for a refreshing and healthy dessert.

Fluids are important in outdoor summer activities. Water is probably the best choice. Lemonade is a picnic favorite and juice boxes are easy. Soft drinks are another favorite, but probably the least healthy choice. I remember the gallon Thermos mama filled with real, homemade lemonade and ice. We drank out of paper cups. Jugs of tea are inexpensive and refreshing on picnics, too. Add a few sprigs of mint when you brew to give it a cooling flavor.

There are a few things besides the food to pack along. One is a plastic trash bag so you can pack out your garbage and leave the picnic site clean for the next group to use it. If you are not sure water will be available bring hand-wipes along for cleaning sticky fingers and faces. Pack some wet wash clothes with a few ice cubes into zip lock bags to make a cooling cleanup. Don't forget a first aid kit in case one of the kids gets a splinter or knee scrape, or Dad burns himself on the grill.

Now, spread out the red checkered tablecloth and have yourself a picnic.

picnic on a rock
picnic on a rock


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    • mulberry1 profile image

      mulberry1 6 years ago

      Good info for sure. I love a good picnic and your food tips are invaluable. I'm in the midst of doing a hub about picnic baskets so I'm going to include your hub on that one (or at least a link to it anyway)

    • profile image

      Ed 7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing great tips.

    • profile image

      askpowers 7 years ago

      hmm.. Really nice hub. Well great ideas about picnic :)

      I really appreciate the information you have shared :)


    • profile image

      Picnic Food Ideas 8 years ago

      Great Hub thanks .

      I always forget the sun screen ,so it is great idea.

      You are so right about the fried chicken. :-)

    • profile image

      The Picnic Spot 8 years ago

      Great tips on packing and food choices! I think half the fun is in the planning too. It sounds like you enjoyed those picnic dinners as a child :)

    • profile image

      Picnic Baskets and More 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your memories. Could be time for me to pack up my picnic basket and do some fishing.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 9 years ago from Wisconsin

      You brought memories of our fishing trips and the great food Mom would pack. We had it made :)

    • charkamman profile image

      charkamman 9 years ago from portugal

      This was delicious.. :-)

      Tnx for commenting on my page.

      I thik I'll do the watermelon with chicken recipe for the next picknick by the river, which is already planned :-p

    • eastcoastireland profile image

      eastcoastireland 9 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      nice one. keep it up please...

    • New Day profile image

      New Day 9 years ago from Western United States

      Donna, you have told a delicious tale! I feel like I was sitting on the ground right there with the ants (hey, I almost typed aunts!). Great memories, and I can't wait to get out and picnic with my kids this summer. Thank you for answering my request. Excellent tips. I am thirsty for some ice cold lemonade right now!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Ohh..... that sounds good-- all of it. my mom used to make tuna and deviled egg sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. How did their generation survive without plastic zip bags?