What to Bring to a Picnic: Snack Ideas, Food Travel Tips & More
Traveling with food can cause a surprising amount of drama. Whether you’re going on a road trip or planning a simple picnic in the park, you don’t want to run into any issues along the way. No one wants to have their fun spoiled by food-related accidents or, worse, illness. Luckily, these tips will help you prepare so you don’t have to worry about things like food spillage or food safety temperatures.
Make Sure Your Food Stays Fresh
Maintaining safe food practices should be a priority when you’re planning to travel with food that may go bad. Using practical food storage containers is essential when it comes to packing up for a trip or picnic. The last thing you want is to find that your food has spilled or gone bad. If you’re traveling with a cooler, you don’t want water from melted ice getting into any of the food you’ll be eating. Make sure you’re using containers with tight-fitting lids or leak-proof silicone snack bags.
Packing things like salad in a large, reusable container with a strong or locking lid is a great idea, but you can also package food into individual portions or package by ingredient. Doing this means that each container will be less likely to pop open if things get jostled around when you’re on the go. Doing so is also useful because everyone can eat directly out of their container and then replace the lid, making cleanup a breeze.
Packing each ingredient in a container by itself can keep it from seeming soggy when it’s time to crack it open and eat. This is great for traveling long distances or if you’re not sure when you’ll be sitting down for your meal.
Transporting drinks can also be a bit worrisome. Packing a cooler with insulated drinkware is a simple way to make sure drinks stay cold and tasty, even on a hot day. If you’re worried about spillage and aren’t concerned about bringing glass with you, you could also bring drinks in individual mason jars.
The air-tight lids form a perfect seal for keeping liquids contained and, since they screw on, you can be sure they aren’t going anywhere. Jars can also be used to transport other goods like yogurt or dressing. They aren’t always ideal if you’re worried about rough travel, however.
Pack Easy Foods
The best foods for picnics are the ones that require minimal preparation once you get to your location. Prepare easy foods that will last while you’re at home, so you can just unpack and eat once you arrive.
Sandwiches are a common staple of picnics, though they aren’t something you want to prepare ahead of time. They don’t take much time or effort to put together once you’re at your desired location, and you don’t want the bread to get soggy during the trip. The great thing about sandwiches is their versatility. No matter what kind of sandwiches you’ll be packing, they almost always maintain their taste.
Salads are also an excellent choice for your picnic. You can easily toss them together ahead of time and individually dress them during your picnic. Even dishes like pasta salad or bean salad can be made beforehand and stored for safe travel. They’re super easy to make and even easier to dish out and eat. Plus, there’s no assembly required once you’re ready to eat, which means no matter what your activities for the day are, you don’t have to worry about dirty hands or taking the time to prepare your food.
When it comes to snacks, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. Cutting up fruits and veggies to pair with a dip is perfect for a picnic. Yogurt dips go great with fruits like strawberries, pineapple and bananas. Dill dips, cream cheese dips and hummus all go great with cut vegetables like carrots or bell peppers. Kids will love all the options and may even find a new favorite food.
If you can, avoid pre-packaged snack-sized versions of foods that come in larger packages. It’s usually more expensive and creates more waste than just purchasing the large package and dividing the contents up between reusable bags or containers.
When you’re choosing a sweet treat for your picnic, avoid things that easily spoil or melt like ice cream or popsicles. They may sound great on a warm day, but it’s difficult to keep frozen items from melting. Make some of your favorite cookies or sheet-pan brownies ahead of time and allow them to cool before packaging them. You want to make sure they don’t create condensation inside their container. No one loves soggy cookies! If you want to try something a little bit healthier or sneak in some extra vegetables, try a new recipe like Chocolate Zucchini Cake. Consider trying out a recipe for a no-bake dessert too. They’re usually pretty easy to make and portion for traveling.
You may have figured out what foods you’re preparing, but you can’t forget about the drinks! Homemade lemonades or Aguas Frescas are extra refreshing on a spring or summer day. Typically, you don’t need too many ingredients, and they’re usually really beginner-friendly. These types of drinks are easy to customize to fit your preferences too. Adding some fresh fruit is a tasty option that everyone will love.
Don’t Forget the Essentials
There’s more to a picnic than just the food you bring. What do you need to eat on or with? What will you sit under? What should you carry all your items in? When you’re prepping for a meal out in nature, you don’t want to forget any of the essentials.
You may think that packing up a cute wicker basket for your picnic is a cute idea, but is it really practical? Think about the items you’ll be bringing for your meal and decide if that’s really the best idea. If you have food you need to keep cool, it might be better to bring an insulated bag. If there are many people attending this outing, it might be better to pack a whole cooler. Investing in a cooler with wheels is never a bad choice if you travel often.
Plan out what you’ll take to sit on. Nobody wants to sit directly in the grass or dirt while they eat. Choose the right blanket to lay out by thinking about options that will provide some cushion while remaining machine washable in case it gets dirty. You can also pack some light outdoor cushions that are waterproof or machine washable, so you don’t have to sit on such a hard surface. If you plan on staying a while, bringing a few folding chairs may be the best option to avoid any physical discomfort from sitting on the ground for a long period of time.
Make sure you have all your utensils, plates, cups and other dishes you’ll need. You may be tempted to use disposable cutlery and plates for your picnic, but you can save money and the environment by looking into portable dish options. If you need to, bring a surface to place food or dishes on while you eat. If you’re unsure whether or not the ground will be uneven, this will help prevent you from spilling drinks and bowls all over your picnic blanket. Don’t forget to pack a cutting board (if you plan on chopping up fruit like watermelon) and any seasonings you may need for your meal.
Determine if you’ll need shade. If you’re going out on a whim and you don’t know where you’ll end up, it might be a good idea to pack a canopy or picnic umbrella to provide a shady place to eat. There are plenty of portable canopies available online; just make sure to read the reviews. Some even come equipped with mosquito nets, which can help keep bugs out of your dining area. Of course, if you know there will be plenty of trees to choose from, this isn’t necessary. It never hurts to be extra prepared, though.
Bringing along a speaker of some sort is a fun way to keep the vibes upbeat. You can easily connect your phone to a Bluetooth speaker and have everyone pitch in to make a perfect playlist. Just remember to be respectful of anyone you’re sharing the area with.
Tips for Traveling
In general, traveling with food can be tricky, even if your destination isn’t the great outdoors. Luckily, these tips work for any kind of travel involving food, including the holidays, road trips or day trips.
If you’re bringing multiple foods that are staying at room temperature, pack them all into a larger plastic tote. You can even separate items that can’t be stacked by using a cooling rack to keep them from crushing one another. This will make things a lot easier to carry and prevent items from toppling over on the drive. You can also line the trunk or back seat of your vehicle with a non-slip shelf liner to keep things in place when making turns on your adventure.
Packing warm dishes can be stressful, and you might be tempted to take them out of the dish you baked them in. This isn’t the best idea, however. Moving the warm food from the already warm dish it was cooked in can cause the food to cool down rapidly, which is less than ideal. This is especially bad if you don’t have an insulated bag to place the food in to keep it from getting cold. Wrap the dish in aluminum foil to keep it from cooling too quickly if you don't have an insulated location to store the meal.
If you’re packing food and drinks that need to remain cold, pack a cooler or insulated bag. If you’re filling up a cooler, it’s important to know how to pack it to keep your food as fresh as possible. Make sure your cooler is the right size for the number of items you’re packing. There should also be enough room to add twice as much ice as food. When in doubt, overestimate. There’s no harm in having too much ice.
Make sure you clean your cooler out before packing, especially if it’s been sitting for a while. For longer trips, freeze any food you can. This will keep everything colder for longer. This works great with fruits and veggies. If you can, add block ice to the bottom of your cooler. Larger pieces of ice have less surface area than ice cubes or crushed ice. This means it won’t melt as quickly as the smaller pieces.
If you’re planning a longer trip, like a road trip or a trip to a national park, make sure you know the laws and regulations of the spot you’re visiting. It’s always valuable to check out travel tips from the National Park Service to make sure you’re following the rules in order to keep you and the wildlife safe from harm.
No matter where you’re traveling for your picnic, you want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. It’s important to make sure your food stays fresh and safe to eat. Planning out what items you’ll need to bring ahead of time by following this guide will reduce the amount of chaos as you get ready for a fun outing in nature. Enjoy your picnic without all the drama!