How to Pack a Summertime Picnic

Posted On Tuesday, 03 July 2018
How to Pack a Summertime Picnic

Simply moving a meal from the kitchen table to a blanket on the ground magically makes mealtime more fun. That is the power of a picnic!

Whether you choose to set up close to home in the yard or while out and about at the pool or park, be prepared for a safe and tasty picnic with these tried-and-true tips.

1) Have a pre-packed picnic basket ready to go.

It actually doesn’t have to be a picnic basket at all, but set aside a tote, backpack, or even laundry basket with picnic essentials that you know you’ll need every time. These include the following:

  • A big blanket for sitting on or covering a picnic table
  • Durable cups, plates, and utensils (see point below for an easy shortcut)
  • Leftover take out utensils, salt and pepper packs, and condiments (mayonnaise is safe, if kept cold in a cooler) from takeout meals
  • Bottle/wine opener
  • Wet wipes and cloth napkins
  • Cutting board for cutting and/or serving and a folding knife
  • Plastic grocery bags and zip-top plastic baggies for easy cleanup
  • Cooler and ice pack from the freezer for foods that need to be chilled. Stick with a smaller sized cooler because a full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled.
When the mood for a movable feast strikes, all you need to do is add food and drinks to your pre-packed picnic basket.

2) Pack mix-and-match foods.

Select a variety of nutritious foods that can be combined based on each picnic guest’s preferences. For example, a tomato, mozzarella, and tuna sandwich can fulfill any savory craving. As a bonus, using canned or pouched seafood is a convenient and cost-effective source of protein packed with healthy fats that benefit your eyes, heart and brain. And it can help you reach your goal of eating 2-3 servings of seafood each week. For a sweet alternative, pair apple slices with a dip made with peanut butter and chocolate chips.

Here are additional ingredients you can bring in your picnic basket that are easy to customize and combine:

No-Chill Foods
  • Washed whole fruit and veggies (toss in a lemon to squeeze on to tuna or shrimp and into water)
  • Bread, crackers, tortillas, and pretzels
  • Peel-top canned/pouched tuna or salmon
  • Nuts and nut butter

Chilled Foods
  • Cheese
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Deli meat
  • A flavorful jam or chutney (chill once opened)
  • Chocolate chips
  • Water and beverages of your choice

Of note, keep chilled foods cool by returning them to the cooler right after serving. Once served, cold food should not sit out for longer than two hours or one hour if the temperature is above 90° F.

3) Prepare for your next picnic.

Get a jumpstart on planning for your next picnic by unpacking your basket as soon as you get home. If your food did not sit out in the sun and there is still ice in the cooler, it is safe to put back in your refrigerator to eat later. Wash your blanket, cloth napkins, and any used dishes then return everything to the picnic basket so it’s ready and waiting for your next meal on the move.

Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD

Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD, has a decade of experience writing and talking about healthful food.

A respected nutrition resource for the media, fellow healthcare professionals, policymakers, and food companies including the National Fisheries Institute, Jennifer is passionate about helping families figure out mealtime.

She lives in Dallas with her husband and three young sons.

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