Packing the Perfect Picnic Basket

I love, love, love picnics! I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia of it or what, but there’s just something so special about eating outdoors. Photographs of picnics online always make me smile and wish I were there.

When it comes to picnics, I would love to have it all – the classic picnic basket, blanket, everything you think of when you think of what it’s like in the movies. But packing the perfect picnic basket doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, you don’t even need to use a basket!

how to pack the perfect picnic basket

Packing the Perfect Picnic Basket

If you’re planning a picnic at the beach, check out this article for more ideas!

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A Picnic Bin in the Car for Impromptu Picnics

When my daughter was little, I kept some basic supplies in the trunk of the car for impromptu picnics at anytime! A simple bin filled with plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and a blanket were the basics. I also added in a trash bag so we could clean up after ourselves (and gloves because we usually went around picking up other people’s trash too!).

A small cutting board and knife (the kind in the sheath are best safety’s sake), dishcloth, tea towel, and plastic (oilcloth is good!) tablecloth with tablecloth clips are all good additions too. We added in some bubbles, sidewalk chalk, sand toys (good for digging in dirt too), and a beach ball so we’d have some fun items to play with as well.

It was easy enough to run through a drive through (I love the places that have picnic type food – maybe some fried chicken, sandwiches, or salads, but really any food did the trick!). Or, head to a grocery store and buy some of the basics to assemble some simple sandwiches or a charcuterie-style plate with cold cuts, cheeses, and fruits.

Backpacks for Picnics

You can get backpacks especially made for going on a picnic. Many of them are insulated which gives them an advantage over traditional picnic baskets. They generally come packed with dishes, glasses, flatware, and even a corkscrew and salt and pepper shakers. Some also include napkins, picnic blankets, cheese knives, and cutting boards.

These picnic backpacks are especially good for those of you who like to ride your bikes or hike to your picnic location. Just recognize that the backpacks are often smaller than using a picnic basket or cooler so this is best for taking just a few sandwiches and a beverage or a wine and cheese snack.

Gift idea: These make great wedding gifts. Personalize it by using your Cricut machine to add the couple’s monogram.

Traditional Picnic Baskets

Not only do these sorts of picnic baskets evoke those ideas of that vintage picnic you see depicted in the movies, but they tend to have more space in them than the backpacks. So these are great for a bigger picnic spread or a larger group.

Note: Many picnic baskets are marketed as a “basket for two” because they are capitalizing the idea of a romantic picnic for two people. These baskets are often large enough to use for more than two people but you will have to add more plates, cutlery, and so on to equip it for more people.

Check the sizes of the baskets carefully to ensure that it will be large enough for your purposes. If planning some larger picnics, you might even want to get more than one picnic basket.

Coolers or Cooler Bags

When we’re doing a large picnic, particularly if we’re bringing burgers and hot dogs to do on the grill, this is generally the way we go. I find that coolers keep things colder longer than cooler bags do, so if it’s going to be a while before you prepare and eat your food, bear this in mind.

We often like to have more than one cooler – one can hold things like the main and side dishes while the second one holds ice and beverages. Be sure that any raw meats are packaged really well in leakproof containers so there is no risk of food-borne illness being transferred over to your side dishes.

what to take on a picnic
Picnic basket with different snacks on the green grass in the garden

Other Items to Pack

Freezer packs

You can use commercial freezer packs to help keep your food cold but there are other possibilities as well. We like to freeze bottles of water (disposable if you want to use those or fill reusable water bottles partway with water and freeze those. This allows you to use them as a freezer pack and then once they melt, you have some extra drinking water with you.


It’s always a good idea to bring extra utensils along. You can purchase a few extra sets inexpensively, buy disposable bamboo utensils (they can be recycled or for some brands, they are compostable), or you can even head to a thrift store and grab a bunch of mismatched flatware. Be sure to grab some of the larger serving size utensils as well.

Sharp knife

I already mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. It’s a good idea to bring along at least one sharp knife so you can cut up anything needed at the picnic site. I often try to cut the food up at home before leaving, mainly to limit the amount of work needed while enjoying our picnic but a knife doesn’t take up much space and having it along allows us more flexibility. A knife in a sheath is a good idea for safety.

Cutting board

You may want a small cutting board as well, depending on the kind of menu you have in mind. Once again, this will also give you some flexibility. There are times where we have seen a small farm stand on the way to our picnic or we have found a tiny cafe and wanted to get some takeout to add to our picnic. Having a knife and cutting board allows us to be open to these fun additional experiences.

Cutting boards can take up quite a bit of space. I love to have a small wooden one for the aesthetic but those flexible cutting mats are so thin and flat that they barely take up any space. This is an especially good idea if you want to be able to cut up a variety of foods at your picnic site without any cross-contamination. You can use them simply as a clean prep space as well.

Napkins –

I like using cloth napkins if I can. They’re better for the environment and really elevate the picnic experience. I also just prefer the feel of them. However, if you’re looking for a disposable solution, I suggest taking a roll of paper towels instead of napkins. They are stronger and more durable. A roll of paper towels won’t blow away as easily as a stack of napkins.

However, if you prefer the paper napkins (there are some really beautiful ones available!), be sure to grab some kind of napkin holder to keep them together.


Even if you’re going to a spot with a picnic table, some people prefer to stretch out on a blanket, so it’s a good idea to take at least one picnic blanket with you. Not all locations have tables, sometimes they are already in use, or sometimes they are not terribly clean. And if you’re like us, sometimes we like to stop by a small stretch of beach along the lake for our picnic. Having a couple of picnic blankets on hand is a great idea.

Odds and Ends of Things You Might Want to Take on a Picnic

There are other things you might like to include in your picnic kit depending on the type of food you’re taking along and your own personal style. I often bring a small container of olives and tiny gherkins along, so I like to have toothpicks available for them.

We always keep a bottle opener in the car. At times we will come across a boutique or flea market that sells pop in glass bottles and when we do, we almost always indulge for the sheer nostalgia of it all. If you’re a wine drinker, you might want to keep a corkscrew on hand so you can try out a bottle from a local winery. (I have to say it – please don’t drink and drive. If you’re planning to imbibe, please bring along a designated driver.) Also, please note that not all areas allow the consumption of alcohol in public settings like parks and beaches. Check out the laws for the area you’ll be in when planning your picnic.

And don’t forget: sun hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and trash bags!

packing the perfect picnic basket

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