How to plan the perfect picnic

We love picnics. Whether it’s a spur-of-the-moment gathering in the park, a romantic outdoor date or a large al fresco party, our tips can help you plan the perfect picnic.

Choosing your picnic spot

Beach, river, national park, botanical garden, local historical site, urban rooftop, grassy pasture, hilltop or even your own backyard – one of the best things about picnics is you can have them in almost any outdoor setting.

When choosing the perfect place to have a picnic, look for a place with even ground to lay your picnic blanket on. You may also want to choose a spot with access to drinking water or a tap. Also, avoid really busy places, especially on public holidays, as you may not get a spot.

If it’s a large picnic and people will be arriving in separate cars, choose a spot that’s easy to find or near an obvious meeting point and send clear instructions or map if necessary. You might want to pick a destination with restrooms and, if kids are coming along, a playground too.

Similarly, if you plan on bringing the family dog, don’t forget to check if your picnic spot is pet friendly. Also, think about accessibility. If older people are coming along or someone is bringing a stroller, choose a site with an even footpath or trail that is relatively flat.

Picnic essentials to bring

Where you picnic will inform what you need to take. If you’re heading to the beach, be sure to pack sun-smart essentials like hat and sunglasses. Check the weather forecast before you leave and dress appropriately.

No matter where you go picnicking and who with, here are the essentials:

  • cooler (chilly bin)), stocked with ice packs or ice to keep food and beverages cool
  • picnic blanket (ideally with waterproof backing)
  • Picnic basket or backpack to carry plates, cups and utensils plus non-refrigerated foods
  • Food storage containers to carry your food as well as an extra for pips, peels and food scraps. A plastic bag or two also comes in handy for clean-up.
  • Utensils, plates, cups. If you don’t have far to walk, consider taking proper cutlery and sturdy glasses (instead of disposable options) and jars to cut back on waste (also, these don’t blow away). You can wrap glasses in tea-towels or cloth napkins.
  • Salt and pepper, and maybe mustard, mayo or pickles
  • A bottle and can opener
  • Hand towels or wipes – or a greener option is to use dish towels, which are more absorbent and won’t blow away
  • A basic first-aid kit with sunscreen, insect repellent, antibacterial gel and Band-aids
  • A kite, Frisbee, ball or hacky sac for children and the young at heart
  • Portable, folding chairs with padding for comfort
  • A table cloth, for a little something extra to make the experience pleasant.

Picnic food ideas

Now for the fun and most important part – the food! Picnic food needs to tick a few boxes: it should be easily transportable and lightweight, work well cold and be easy to manage (i.e. it’s not going to fall apart, melt or go off when unrefrigerated for a few hours).

Bread is the mainstay of picnics, and if you grab a few baguettes or sourdough rolls, plus some easy-to-eat finger food like cheese, dips and cured and cold meats, you’re set.

You can also whip up a frittata and some easy cold salads made from green beans, asparagus or other cooked vegetables (these survive transportation on a hot day better than lettuce, though celery and carrot sticks are sturdy if you’d like something raw).

For easy access, pack food in your cooler in the reverse order you’ll serve it so that the first meal is at the top. If you plan to take raw meat to barbeque, pack it at the bottom of the cooler to reduce the risk of it dripping over the other foods.

Check if anyone has allergies, food sensitivities or doesn’t eat meat/fish/dairy and make sure someone is catering for their needs, and also provide kid-friendly food if there will be kids.

Don’t forget to bring fruit or something sweet for the dessert course, and things that kids can snack on over the course of the day plus plenty of drink options like lemonade, soda, tea or coffee and water.

Lastly, golden rules to remember

If you’re heading to a secluded spot, always tell a close friend where you are going and when you plan to return.

As with any outdoor activity, always leave the area cleaner than you found it.