Ultimate Family Picnic Guide for Stress-Free Fun

Published June 10, 2021
family spending a spring day on picnic

There is something so peaceful and serene about dining alfresco, eating with family in the fresh air. If you are looking to create a family picnic this summer, make sure you have all your bases covered. Pick the prime place, pack the perfect bites and organize activities that will make lasting memories.

Where to Hold Your Family Picnic

When it comes to the "where" part of the picnic, the sky is the limit. Choose a space that feels appealing and doable for you. When choosing a picnic spot, make sure the area you land on is clean, reasonably close by your home, and safe.

Hike to Somewhere Special

Depending on where you live geographically, what you are planning to pack, and the number of people included in your party, a hike to a remote locale might be something special to consider. Pack up the goods, and hike to a beautiful and peaceful spot in the woods or a meadow to set down camp. Dine on your spread, relax among the vegetation and watch your kids collect wildflowers or climb trees post-meal.

Bites on the Beach

For those who live a stone's throw from the beach, take your meal to the sand and sea. This picnic backdrop cannot be beaten. Sip on crisp wine, munch on cheese, crackers, shrimp cocktail, and cold crab salad (or for pickier eaters, tuna sandwiches) while you watch the waves lap the sand of the sun slip into the sea. Don't forget your bathing suits as there is no better activity for a beach picnic than a dip in the water afterward.

A Meal on the Water

Literally, dine out on the water if you have a boat that can accommodate. For those who enjoy boating during the summer months, bring your picnic meal aboard your vessel and set sail for an unforgettable dining experience.

Eat and Play in a Park

Most people live in communities that include a couple of parks, so finding an excellent park to picnic at will be a relatively easy mission. Choose a park that fits your family's vibe. Do you want something quiet and sprawling, or would you be better off in a bustling park full of kids and other people and perhaps a playground or sandbox nearby? Parks are perfect picnic spots as they tend to have items like manicured lawns, garbage cans, and sometimes even bathrooms and drinking fountains nearby.

picnic on a beautiful day in park

Relax by a River

Watching a running river is cathartic, and spending a day near one with your favorite people and your favorite foods is downright dreamy. Find a river near you and take your picnic to the banks. Some rivers are popular hotpots for summer lovers, so check spots out before the picnic day and make sure you have one that won't be overrun with other people who have the same summer daydreams as you do. Remember to bring a dry set of clothes for the kids as they won't be able to resist wading around in the cold, clear stream, and a canister of bug spray.

Create a Picnic in Your Yard

The point of a family picnic is to gather, enjoy each other's company and dine outdoors. There is no reason that you can not hold a picnic in the comfort of your own backyard. If you have very young children, don't have half of the necessities to pull off a picnic experience, or are creating a menu that requires you to stay close by the kitchen, feast in your yard. It might not give you the scenic experience you were going for, but setting up and cleaning up will be a breeze, and the kids will find ways to entertain themselves, leaving you to relax.

Decide on the Perfect Picnic Basket

When packing a picnic, the item of transport is one to pay close attention to. Choose the option that suits your needs best.

A Traditional Basket

When deciding on a picnic basket, you have several options. One is the traditional wicker picnic basket. Modern picnic baskets come fully loaded with all that you need to pull your picnic off. There are compartments for storage of all sorts, and they often include built-in cutlery (although you will need to pack extra forks and spoons if your party is large or in case a few pieces get dropped on the ground.) These types of baskets create that picnic ambiance of yesteryear. The primary drawback to these baskets is that they are not exactly conducive to those trekking great distances to a picnic site. They can be cumbersome to carry, and you will probably need a second bag or backpack for a blanket and clean-up materials.

A Picnic Backpack

Picnic backpacks don't have that same country appeal that traditional wicker picnic baskets do, but where they lack in picnic appeal, they make up for in practicality. Picnic backpacks hold everything that a conventional basket does, and they come with the storage and gadgets needed to pull off the perfect picnic with the bonus of being easy to carry. If you are hiking to a particular spot, biking, or walking a relatively long distance to get to your picnic destination, this type of carrier might be your best option for transporting the goods.

Pack Like a Pro: What You Need To Bring

The last thing you need is to get to your picnic destination with a gaggle of hungry family members, only to realize that you missed the mark in the packing department and have forgotten essential items. Before beginning your picnic packing, make a list of things you will need. As you pack, cross the items off of the list so that nothing gets left behind. Generally speaking, these are the picnic must-haves that you will not want to leave at home.

  • A blanket with a waterproof bottom
  • Plenty of extra silverware
  • A corkscrew for wine (or better yet, choose a bottle with a twist top)
  • Wet wipes and napkins
  • A large garbage bag
  • Cutting board or flat surface
  • Ice packs to cool food
  • Ziplock bags and clips for chips
  • Activity essentials (frisbee, hacky sack)


Picnic packing is a bit of an art, and these picnic pack-hacks will make your excursion so much easier all the way through.

Keep Everything Cool

There will likely be at least a few items in your picnic basket that need to stay cool. You can pack ice packs in your basket, or you can fill water bottles with some ice and water. Remember that heat rises and cold sinks, so place the bottles on the top of your basket. The bottles offer the added bonus of a cool drink at the end of the meal.

Desserts on the Bottom of the Bag

If you want items to stay cool, try not to dig around in your basket too often or take everything out hunting around for what you need. Pack your meal so that the desserts are at the bottom and the starter foods are on the top. Eating in layers will help some of the meal components on the bottom stay cool, and you won't have a major mess surrounding you.

Tupperware is a Life-Saver

It is tempting to run to the market and throw hummus, olives, and other items directly into the picnic basket before you head out. This is all fun and games until things start banging and slipping around in the basket, accidentally opening. What a bummer for the entire contents of your picnic basket to be covered in oils and olive juice. Tupperware is your very best friend in picnic packing and in life in general. Pack anything that might spill and destroy in a tightly closed Tupperware container. Tiny tups are also great for condiments like salad dressings, hot sauces, and mustards.

Trade Plates in for Cups

Piling food onto plates creates cause for chaos. One tiny tip and the entire picnic meal take a messy tumble. Meal components like potato salad, pasta salad, fruit salad, and baked beans might be better served in plastic cups, so pack plenty of extras.

Consider Glasses That Tip

Long-stemmed glassware is elegant but not practical when it comes to picnics. Make sure that the cups and glasses you bring along can withstand life on unsteady ground. If you are unsure if your beverage containers will be tip-free, pack something that provides a flat surface for them to rest on. Remember, when it comes to picnicking, glass is a no-no. Pack plastic instead.

Make a Washing Station at the Car

Fill a jug of clean water and leave it in your car. When you return from your picnic spot, you'll have water to clean dirty hands and feet with, or to use for items that need a quick rinse before the trip home.

Picnic Foods for the Gods

To pull off the perfect picnic, you need the ideal mix of beverages and foods. What you choose to bring is up to you, but planning a picnic menu with a theme or choosing foods that are no-fuss, no muss might help your picnic run more smoothly.

Family having picnic in public park


Everyone will be thirsty at the picnic, so pack plenty of liquids to go around. Adults can sip on thermoses of iced tea, fresh lemonade, or perfectly picked wines. Kids can enjoy a juice box (easy to tote around) or water. You can choose to pack warm beverages like tea and coffee if you prefer; just remember to carry those thermoses outside of the basket of food you are trying to keep cool.

Finger Snacks

Picnics are places for pickings. Set out crackers, pre-sliced cheeses, grapes, cherry tomatoes, cold meats, and other items that can easily be popped in mouths.

Easy Salads and Sides

Salads and picnics are synonymous, and there are so many creative ones to try out. You can always go traditional with a delicious potato salad, fruit salad, or pasta salad. You might also try to stretch your culinary thinking and prepare a salad with a twist. Try macaroni potato salad from Hawaii, or pea and potato salad, both of which are inspired by classic picnic salads but are so much more interesting and tasty.

The Main Event

Cold fried chicken is a favorite picnic dish, as are easy sandwiches. Quiche options are always good choices for picnics too, and add a bit of a fancy flair to the event.

Desserts to Die For

No meal is ever complete without a dessert course. Finish your picnic off with homemade cookies, freshly baked brownies, or other sweet treats that are easily packed away in picnic baskets.

Keeping Everyone Busy Post-Meal

The food will only last for so long, and the kids need options to engage in while the adults digest and rest. Bring along a frisbee, a hacky sack, sketchbooks and colored pencils, crossword or word search puzzles, or bathing suits and towels if you are dining near water. Make an entire day out of your picnic.

Don't Forget the Clean Up Component

When the meal is devoured and the kids are getting tired, only one task remains, and that is clean up. No one likes to clean up after a major meal, but it must be done.

Packing Up the Leftovers

Plan on having some leftovers, especially if you packed bags of chips or long sub sandwiches. Use chip clips to seal opened bags and put leftover sandwiches or slices of meats and cheeses into ziplock bags. Tupperware, again making life so easy, snaps shut so that food can be brought back home.

Bag Everything Up

Those garbage bags you brought along are about to make your life really easy. One garbage bag gets all the bits and pieces left from meals, crumbled napkins, disposable silverware, cups and plates, and anything else going directly to the trash bin. The other bag is for dirty cups, dishes, and bowls. Anything that will need to be washed at home and restocked for next time gets put into bag number two.

Don't Forget the Wipes

Wet wipes are handy for most outings but are especially useful during picnics. Use them to wipe down hands, faces, and other picnic items that are sticky and drippy.

Savor the Flavor of Summer

There are simply some activities that scream summer, and picnicking is one of them. Make memories with the ones you love most by pulling off an unforgettable summer picnic. While the ultimate family picnic takes some time, thought, and careful planning, in the end, it is worthwhile.

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Ultimate Family Picnic Guide for Stress-Free Fun