Picnics are one of my favorite social activities to plan as the ground defrosts. Not only are you breathing fresh outdoor air, but you are typically surrounded by fabulous company and lots of laughs. I can always appreciate a good picnic due to its versatility; on the one hand, you can simply scrounge around for the most basic snacks to bring outside, and on the other, you can splurge on fancy ingredients to create a more sophisticated atmosphere. This makes the concept of a picnic very adaptable to the desired budget.
Before I begin with what I believe to be the necessary edible picnic essentials, there are a few non-food items which will make or break your picnic experience. I would highly recommend finding a picnic basket or cooler of some sort to make carrying snacks an easier endeavor. If you don’t have a basket, any large grocery bag will work. There are also usually some very adorable baskets available for cheap at your local thrift store.
In terms of necessary utensils, you are going to want to have your plates, cups, silverware, napkins, trash bag, blanket, and bug spray/sunscreen packed before you start packing your food. Far too many times have I forgotten these important items, leaving myself scrambling later in the day. I wiped my hands on more picnic blankets than I would like to admit before realizing utensils are just as vital as packing snacks.
Moving onto the traditional picnic foods: I prefer to approach picnics as a happy medium between a charcuterie board and the munchies, combining fancy meats/cheeses with junky sweets. Depending on how many people attend the picnic, there are usually leftovers to eat for the rest of the week. Here is a breakdown of the snack staples I think are perfect for a picnic:
Feeling fancy? Opting for a dried and cured meat assortment is usually my go-to. Any of your local grocery stores should carry some version of cured meat, whether it be pepperoni, salami, peppered salami, mortadella, capicola, or my favorite, prosciutto. Grabbing one or two of these can elevate your picnic experience, and can also be a fun chance to taste some food you typically wouldn’t try. My other favorite option for a grab-and-go picnic protein is a premade grocery rotisserie chicken or chicken tender. This option is quick, less than $10, and can feed a fair amount of people.
I love cheese and understand nice quality cheese can probably be one of the most expensive items in your basket. If you have the funds to splurge on a nice cheese, I would recommend a gouda (perhaps smoked) or an asiago. My favorite is a rosemary asiago which pairs nicely with any jam or cracker. If you’re trying to ball on a budget, my favorite hack is to visit the Whole Foods cheese bar and grab the undesired cheese ends. Each cheese end is typically less than $3, and is a good option if you’d like to try multiple kinds of cheese.
Consider crackers or bread as a mode of transportation for the chosen meats and cheese: you don’t want them to overpower the flavor profile created, but more so complement it. Sesame wheat crackers are always a safe choice flavor-wise, but if you’re adventurous, adding a garlic and herb cracker to the basket could be fun. Budget bread can usually be found in the grocery store’s day-old bakery section and does the job just as well.
Bringing along a fruit, or even a fruit salad, is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the spring air: there is something so comforting and nostalgic about crunching on cool fresh fruit. Everyone has their own fruit preferences, so have fun and listen to your own wants when packing fruit. I prefer to bring a fruit salad of apples, strawberries, mandarins, grapes, and watermelon to my picnics for a little bit of everything.
Similarly to fruit, the vegetable choice is really up to personal preference. The main goal of including a vegetable is to take a break from the heaviness of cured meats and cheeses. Cucumbers, carrots, radishes, snap peas, and celery are just a few healthy suggestions to bring to your picnic. Bringing a special dip for your vegetables, like a ranch or hummus, can be an exciting way to spice up your basket as well.
I am a huge “silly little drink” enthusiast with quite a lot of appreciation for sparkling drinks. There is nothing wrong with drinking water on a picnic, but I like to have more than just water. Non-alcoholic options like juice, Italian soda, or sparkling lemonade are delicious choices and such a fun treat. If it feels right to you, packing a wine can make your picnic a little more intimate—even the cheapest wine can make the experience feel more luxurious.
As someone with a big sweet tooth, I would not forget to pack a dessert. Hand-baking a dessert like brownies or cookies has always been something I like to do for picnics just to put a little extra love into the process, but there is never any shame in picking up premade desserts to share or even just packing your favorite boxed candy. If you want to combine the fruit and dessert components, chocolate-covered strawberries or lemon bars are a good in-between. To me, it is so satisfying to finish a delicious picnic with gratitude and a little something sweet.
The joy felt during a picnic with good company and nice weather is an arguably unmatched feeling, and unfortunately, many people find themselves lost in putting a basket together. While this is only an opinionated guide on how I pack my picnic baskets as someone with no dietary restrictions, I hope you are able to draw inspiration and add your own personal touches to your picnic this spring.