picnic essentials

Summer Picnic Essentials For Any Picnic Occasion

Is the “coastal grandmother” trend a full lifestyle yet? If so, a picnic with good food and even better wine checks all the boxes!

It’s the summer of crocheted cardigans, linen beach shirts, big straw hats brimming with style, and so much more coastal inspiration. And what pairs perfectly with that signature look and a big glass of white wine in hand? A picnic, naturally.

Whether you’re shopping for antique wicker furniture on the weekends or spending the summer doing your regular outdoor activities, a picnic is a perfect excuse to break up the routine and enjoy time outside. A summer picnic requires hardly anything at all — just the basics: good food, good drinks, and good company. It makes for a great date night, an easy way to get together with close friends, and can help schedule in some quality family time.

Now with this list of our favorite summer picnic essentials, getting out the door just got even breezier! Leather sandals and linen shirts, optional …

PICK UP THESE PICNIC ESSENTIALS

You don’t need Grandma’s picnic basket to have a good al fresco dining experience (don’t worry, we still added one to the list for good measure).

What you do need is a big and durable blanket, easy-to-pack games, fresh summer dishes, and ice-cold beverages. Transport everything easily with a rolling cart and if your special picnic place has an abundance of picnic tables, pack an outdoor tablecloth that can handle a spill or two. Otherwise, creating the perfect picnic is simple, and if you have these essentials ready, this easy summer activity will become part of your regular routine.

Blanket: Spread everything out on a big blanket, and bonus points if the bottom is waterproof so the fabric doesn’t absorb any water on the grass! Heavy blankets work well because they won’t immediately take off if the wind picks up, and outdoor blankets you can throw in the washing machine are always a win.

Sunscreen and Bug Spray: You might only be outside for an hour or two, but there’s no worse way to end the day than sunburned and covered in bites. Place these two picnic essentials in a bag or in the car, just in case! You can never be too prepared for an outdoor picnic in the summer.

Utensils: Plan your utensils around the food you’re going to enjoy. A cheese and bread date night might not take much effort, but a sharp cheese knife should still be in your arsenal. Pasta salads and potato salads require forks, and make sure you toss in a big serving spoon to dish it out. Also, don’t forget the napkins or a roll of paper towels.

Plates: Disposable plastic and paper plates work just fine, but a good set of reusable melamine plates goes a long way. Melamine serve ware is significantly lighter than ceramic or glass sets, and are easy to wipe down before giving them the full wash at home. To preserve the color or pattern for years of use, hand wash enamel plates afterwards.

Picnic Basket: Find one that is complete with wine bottle holders, can/bottle openers, and slots for silverware. This basket fits our criteria for a basket that has room for almost anything and has the classic look. Plus, you can break it out while camping, add it to the tailgate equipment in the fall, or haul to the neighborhood BBQ in style.

PACK THESE FAVORITE PICNIC DISHES

Packing food for a picnic is a lot like prepping for a backyard BBQ, with one exception — no grill required! Sure, you can have an epic picnic with the camp stove and some hot dogs and a pack of buns, but we prefer our picnics the easy way.

Make-ahead cold salads and dishes can go a long way with the addition of some room temperature favorites like bread, hard salami, or homemade snack mix. Cold items hold up best and can be eaten later as leftovers if you take food safety into consideration. And if you anticipate a full afternoon of playground time before eating, good old fashioned PB&J and a bag of chips will hold up all day long. We’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite summer picnic foods — and good news! They all pair perfectly with a can of wine in hand.

Cheese: Is it even a picnic if you don’t have cheese? Choose blocks from local creameries that go well with almost anything in the picnic basket. Aged cheddar cheese, creamy goudas, soft spreadable cheese like Boursin or goat … we could go on and on. Is a bag of Wisconsin cheese curds more your style? Do it. It’s your picnic after all.

Charcuterie: A cheese board would not be complete without some flavorful charcuterie. Place a couple packages of shelf-stable hard salami in your pantry for an easy grab-and-go picnic option. If you have time and the temperatures are on your side, this prosciutto melon ball appetizer will give any date-night picnic that extra wow-factor.

French Bread: Take a cue from Parisians and add a baguette to the basket. Fresh bread from a bakery or grocery store takes that cheese and charcuterie spread to a whole other level and is more satisfying than plain crackers. You don’t need a knife to cut the bread, simply tear off pieces as you make your way through the loaf.

Sandwiches: The thing about sandwiches is you really can’t go wrong … but there are some factors to take into consideration. Soft breads get soggy easily, so build white bread sandwiches topped with vegetables at the picnic location. If you have high-quality bread and are just going around the corner, make big Italian sandwiches ahead.

Fried Chicken: If there’s one thing we know about food in the South, it’s that they know how to picnic. Make it easy and pick up fried chicken from the grocery store. Even better, grab it the day before and have cold leftover fried chicken sandwiches for a hearty picnic lunch. Enjoy with Hawaiian rolls, coleslaw, and your favorite potato salad.

Brownies, Cookies, and Brookies: Remember those childhood picnics with big and chewy chocolate chip cookies? This is the time to bring those back! Lemon bars, brownies, and the famous brownie/cookie combo also work great. Picnic desserts should be easy to make, even easier to serve, and a little nostalgia goes a long way.

BRING THE FUN

Catching up over a picnic is perfectly nice, but it’s always better to have some sort of entertainment to keep the fun going. Card games, Yahtzee, and Jenga are ideal for a low-key hangout, but if you want a real activity to get everyone moving, then pack a far flying frisbee, or a ball such as a football or baseball for a game of catch. Kids and adults will work up an appetite when tossing the ball around, and it will keep everyone engaged and off their phones when spending time together.

Your activity should be easy to pack, quick to pick up in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, and included in the picnic gear always for guaranteed fun. If this picnic is your first date, surprise the other person with your favorite game and see if they enjoy it just as much as you do. And if this picnic is family time, let the kids switch off picking the activity to mix it up.   

And if Fido is friendly, don’t leave the dog at home! Bring them along and their favorite toy (or a new one!) to the park so they don’t spend the whole time begging for food. Even better, let them get in on that game of frisbee with the whole crew and everyone will be tired and happy when they get home.


Erin Hooker

Erin Hooker is a writer with experience creating wine, food, and interior design content. She began contributing to Graham + Fisk’s blog in 2021.

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