Today is National Picnic Day and, with the weather most of us have been having, it’s the perfect excuse to pack up lunch or dinner to eat al fresco in the park or by the beach. When done right, packing a picnic is easy business, but it’s not just a simple matter of putting any old lunch or dinner into to-go containers. Packing the perfect picnic requires a little bit of planning and whole lot of selecting the right picnic recipes.
Here are a few tips that will help you pack the perfect picnic, complete with recipes that come together to make a perfect outdoor meal.
How to pack a picnic: Pack the right sandwiches
Sandwiches are a great picnic main because they can pack protein, carb, and even veggies in one portable package—but not all sandwiches picnic well. When selecting a picnic sandwich, look for hearty ingredients, especially the bread, that can hold up to being pressed together for a long time. You also want to avoid anything that can spoil in warm temps, so skip the tuna salad.
Pressed Italian Sandwiches | Seasons and Suppers
These Pressed Italian Sandwiches that we found at Seasons and Suppers are the perfect picnic option because they’re meant to sit overnight. Also, a little bit of olive oil and vinegar combine with soft, roasted red peppers to give these sandwiches moisture and flavor without anything that will go bad sitting out for hours.
The Muffaletta Sandwich at Honestly Yum is another great option for many of the same reasons above. Olive salad can sit a while at room temperature without getting too greasy and the hearty bread soaks up the dressing without getting soggy.
How to pack a picnic: Pack a couple of hearty, make-ahead salads
In addition to sandwiches, you want a hearty salad (or two) to eat on the side. I find that grain salads hold up better than veggie salads (more on packing vegetables in a minute), plus they fill everyone up.
Quinoa is my favorite ingredient for hearty, make-ahead salads because it eats like a grain, but is actually a seed that’s packed with protein. This Thai Quinoa Salad at Foodie Crush is a fresh take on the standard and surely delicious, especially if you follow our tutorial on how to cook quinoa perfectly.
Wheat Berry Salad | Food Network
This Wheat Berry Salad that we found at Food Network is super filling and nutritious. Plus, with roasted cherries (you can substitute dried cranberries) and walnuts that give this salad a perfect crunch, it’s delicious, too.
Related: 4 delicious, make-ahead grain salad recipe that make dinner so easy.
How to pack a picnic: Pack ready-to-eat portions
If you ask me, the minute a picnic gets logistically hard or way too messy, it’s not worth it. After all, part of the fun is an easy clean up. Though packing individual portions isn’t a must, it keeps me from having to balance bowls and plates while portioning things out—while kneeling on a blanket in the grass.
Individual portions don’t have to be fussy. These Cantaloupe, Ham, Grape and Mozzarella Skewers at Good Life Eats are simple to throw together—just thread these easy ingredients onto a toothpick or skewer. Then, everyone can grab a few and enjoy on their own.
Okay, these look fussy, but making a big pot of soup that’s great chilled or at room temperature, like this Spring Greens Soup at The Awesome Green, is simple business. You don’t have to have perfectly photogenic, matching containers: A hodgepodge of tupperware and mason jars will work well to grab and sip.
How to pack a picnic: Make vegetables fun
If it’s easier, I get packing a bag of baby carrots or even skipping vegetables all together. A picnic meal is meant to be fun and laid back, and that does not include trying to get kids who are running around to eat their veggies. That said, packing vegetables with a little creativity might make a big difference. And if not, well, at least you get to eat delicious veggies.
There’s nothing more fun than rainbow food and these Rainbow Veggie Skewers at Gimme Some Oven are pretty enough to make even the most serious veggie refusnik reconsider eating their colors.
You know what else always seems to win? Dips. Kids love a good dip and, who am I kidding, so do we grown ups. Cut up crudite veggies (or maybe get them pre-cut from the supermarket to keep things super easy) and pack up dips such as hummus and tzatziki like in this picnic spread (top & above) by Gaby at What’s Gaby Cooking. Perfect!
How to pack a picnic: Don’t overlook the drinks
A good picnic is not complete with out refreshing drinks. They aren’t just to wash everything down, but to sip slowly in between grazing on this and snacking on that. A great bottle of wine is always nice for the grownups who drink, but pack something else so that the kids and non-drinkers aren’t left out of the fun.
Skip plain water and sugary store-bought drinks and pack this Summertime Sun Tea at Thirsty for Tea instead. Use decaffeinated tea or just make infused water for the kids. Dissolve a little bit of honey in addition to adding fruit to water and you’ll get a naturally sweet concoction that will feel special.
How to pack a picnic: Don’t forget dessert!
Did I say that a good picnic is not complete without drinks? Well, it’s also not complete without something sweet. I find that packing something you can make in a big batch and serve easily works best. So no fussy puddings—go old school with brownies, cookies, or these treats.
Caramel Churro Chex Mix | Confessions of a Cookbook Queen
A snack mix is great because you can eat it in little bits over the course of a picnic. This Caramel Churro Chex Mix that we found at Confessions of a Cookbook Queen makes a crazy delicious dessert. And, yes, we know this to be a fact: Someone at Cool Mom HQ recently made this for her three kids and they flipped out. All of them.
Rice Krispies Treats are an obvious choice (always) and, if you have time, you should definitely try your hand at making this Giant Watermelon Rice Krispies Treat at Say Yes. How incredibly cute is this? And could it be any more perfect for a spring or summer picnic?