How and What to Pack for A Picnic

Not sure what to pack for a picnic? Take a look at our packing guide with ideas for picnic food, drinks and extra things to bring on your family picnic.

Watermelon and a picnic basket on a picnic table

Picnics and summertime go hand-in-hand. And for families, picnics offer the perfect excuse to get outside, enjoy the warm weather and have a meal together.

Plan for your picnic by following these tips on packing for a picnic and ideas for picnic food. You might want to read through these ideas with your kids and decide together on exactly what you want for your meal and who’s going to be responsible for each part – just be careful who you assign dessert duty or you may end up with quite a few cookies!

And if you’re looking for the perfect picnic spot in southeast Michigan, there are plenty of cool parks to choose from. Check out our roundup of the best picnic areas in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor to find one that works for you.

The basics

Handy main dish

Sandwiches are a picnic staple but why not get a little creative and make something that’s easier to eat one-handed, like wraps?

Fill regular or whole-wheat flour tortillas with fixins’ like mayonnaise (for something different mix with prepared pesto or hot sauce), deli chicken or ham slices, lettuce pieces, sliced tomatoes, and shredded or sliced cheese.

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Roll up and pack in tinfoil for easy eating.

Sides

Chips, pretzels and fruit are simple sides. Let your child pick out a couple of different sides. Use whole fruit or slice them up and put in plastic bags.

One favorite around our house: Lemony apple slices. Cut your family’s favorite apple variety into slices, place in a plastic baggie and squeeze with half of the juice from a lemon (or the whole lemon if you have 2-3 apples). Toss the lemon in the bag, too.

The apples won’t brown as quickly and they’ll have a lemon zing that’s extra refreshing on hot days.

Desserts

Forget chocolate candy or other desserts that melt easily. Oatmeal cookies or granola bars make for a healthier alternative that won’t leave your kids with a chocolate mess to clean up or sticky fingers.

A bag of cherries or strawberries are also a good after-meal, kid-pleasing treat.

Drinks

Keep it simple and easy to clean up. Water is the best drink of choice. If your kids want a little more flavor, consider juice boxes.

Plates and utensils

Depending on what you’re packing for your meal, make sure to have plates and utensils for each person. Include plenty of napkins and wet wipes for cleaning off fingers and faces before your kids play after the picnic.

Bag it

Pack up your meal in an insulated bag with ice packs to keep things cool.

Large towel or blanket

Some picnic areas already have tables and chairs where you can sit. But if all the tables are already occupied or if you’re looking for something more adventurous, use a large, thick blanket to sit on while you eat; big beach towels work well, too.

Towels also come in handy when the picnic tables haven’t been cleaned for quite some time and you need an impromptu table cloth.

The extras

Hand sanitizer

To clean off hands before – and after – mealtime.

Sunscreen

Even in the shade, it’s a good idea to keep your kids safe from the sun by covering them in sunscreen.

Bug spray

You never know when you might have uninvited picnic guests so pack bug spray just in case (hopefully you won’t have to use it).

Trash bags

Not all picnic locations have trash bins nearby.

Frisbees, badminton, balls

Some picnic spots may have play areas but others don’t, so bring something your family can play together after the picnic.

This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.

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