What to Pack for a Picnic: 45 Easy Recipes

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What to pack for a picnic? These perfect picnic food ideas are portable, fresh, and utterly delicious. Prefect for a picnic date or outdoor concert this summer.

A wicker picnic basket with white flowers and a bottle of water with fresh fruit sits on a picnic blanket outside.

Picnic time is here! As the weather warms up, it's time to take our romantic dates outside.

My husband loves live music and with so many outdoor concert venues near us that allow guests to bring in a picnic dinner, I'm ready to level up my picnic game.

Knowing what to pack for a picnic depends so much on who you plan to dine with but there are some key strategies that will help you plan the perfect picnic for your friends or special someone this season.

How to Plan a Picnic Menu

For all the recipes listed below, there are a few common needs they all satisfy:

  1. Portable: The food should travel well in neat containers or wrappings without getting crushed in the process.
  2. Easy to Eat: When dining outdoors and especially when sitting on the ground, you definitely want easy finger foods you can manage without using a knife or that would require too many dishes.
  3. Won't Spoil or Melt in the Heat: Many of the recipes are heat-friendly and will do just fine in the summer sun. The meats, cheeses, and dairy items listed are easy to pack in a cooler bag and will work as long as you have a short distance from your kitchen to the picnic site.
  4. Fresh and Seasonal: It is summer after all, focus on fresh produce for the best flavor and a refreshing way to dine outdoors.

Main Dishes

First, plan your picnic main dishes. A variety of finger foods or a snack board are ideal picnic foods because you and your friends can linger and nibble while chatting and relaxing together.

The photo collage shows 3 delicious main dishes for a picnic menu.

Charcuterie Board

The most elegant and easy way to plan a picnic, especially for a romantic picnic date, is to grab a fresh baguette from your local bakery and pack a small charcuterie board with flavorful deli meats, cheeses, and fresh fruits.

Chopping and slicing everything at home makes easy work of eating the snack board at your picnic site.

Can't find a baguette? Pick up one or two different kinds of gourmet crackers or pre-baked crostini at the bakery instead.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Spreader Knife for Soft Cheeses or Jams
  • A Swiss Army Knife or Small Paring Knife for Hard Fruits or Sausages

Finger Foods

Sandwich pinwheels, fresh bruschetta, or stacked crostini bites make the perfect finger food for a picnic.

You can assemble the pinwheels at home but for crostini bites you'll want to pack the elements separately and let everyone assemble their own at the picnic.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon for Each Topping

Sandwiches & Wraps

Picnic sandwiches are an easy way to prepare portable food on the go and have been a staple of picnic baskets for families forever.

You could make pre-wrapped sandwich wraps in a variety of flavors to give your friends a few options or prepare 2 - 3 different finger sandwich recipes and package them in small containers for displaying at the picnic site.

My turkey brie sandwiches are very portable and make ahead friendly, too.

Pasta Salads

A well picked pasta salad could easily work as a main dish if you wanted to add a little diced baked chicken breasts or roasted shrimp to the menu.

On their own, these fresh and flavorful pasta salads are delicious served room temperature and would be perfectly portable for a picnic.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • Plates or Bowls
  • Spoons or Forks
  • A Serving Spoon

Healthy Salads

Nothing tastes better in the heat than a juicy fresh piece of fruit or a ripe tomato. Plan your picnic around one of these easy salads that use simple dressings, crumbled bits of cheese, or fresh herbs for tons of flavor.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon
  • Plates or Bowls for Eating
  • Forks

Side Dishes

Keeping in line with our easy-to-eat finger foods, plan your side dishes around slow nibbles. Classic potato salads, veggies and dips, and other delicious items help slow your picnic down to a relaxing pace.

The photo collage shows a pint of potatoes ready to be made into potato salad next to photos of 2 prepared dips with chips.

Fresh Fruit Salad

At the most basic level, you could absolutely get away with picking the most gorgeous looking produce that is in season and simply washing it or pre-cutting it to put in a pretty container.

Grapes, slices of cantaloupe, fresh summer watermelon, berries of all kinds, these each make delicious picnic foods.

If you feel the need to elevate the fruit, you could add a bowl of my creamy Piña Colada fruit dip or you could turn fresh strawberries into a strawberry mango salsa and serve it with cinnamon pita chips.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon

Chips & Dips

Bowls of crispy raw veggies like carrots, celery, and baby tomatoes or bags of gourmet potato chips or fancy crackers could be served with a veggie-based dip for light bites.

Maybe try a brand new salsa like my chunky corn salsa or peach salsa, they both travel much more easily with less mess than a traditional restaurant style salsa would.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon
  • A Serving Container for the Chips

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Potato Salad

Most potato salads are made with mayo which isn't the best idea for a picnic.

My French potato salad does have bacon but it is made with a mustard vinaigrette instead of mayo so it is the perfect dish to pack.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon
  • Plates or Bowls for Eating
  • Forks

Hard Boiled Eggs

Hard boiled eggs are actually a very easy picnic food and are much easier to pack than traditional deviled eggs would be. If you pack a paring knife, you could slice the eggs and add them to a green salad for protein.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Paring Knife to Slice Them if Desired

Sweet Treats

The finale of your delicious picnic menu should always be something sweet. There are so many portable, packable treats you can easily put in a picnic basket or hamper.

The photo collage shows several packable treats for a picnic.

Brownies & Bars

Slice a pan of baked brownies or bars into squares before you head out on the picnic and pack them in a sturdy container to keep them from getting squished.

Want to really impress your friends? Make 2 or more and cut them into bite-sized squares so they don't feel guilty about sampling them all.

Cookies

A classic cookie is a sturdy packable treat that almost no one can turn down.

If you're planning a romantic picnic, I suggest you find a way to pack a thermos of ice-cold milk to go with this homemade treat! It's a "marry me now" move for sure.

Fruit Desserts

If you want to end things on a fresh and fruity note, these elegant desserts are shockingly easy to pack for a picnic.

Package the sliced strawberry shortcake biscuits and pack them separately. Put the berries in a separate container and bring a container of whipped cream in a cooler bag.

Pack a container of homemade lemon curd and a package of shortbread cookies for dipping.

Make a batch of roasted sweet cherries and add an orange liqueur to the mix for a grown-up treat.

Or for an old fashioned picnic staple, the creamy grape salad with brown sugar and pecans is always a hit.

Don't Forget to Pack:

  • A Serving Spoon
  • Plates or Bowls for Eating
  • Forks or Spoons as Needed

Beverages

As you're planning what to pack for your picnic, don't forget to think about the drinks you plan to bring. The beverage makes all the difference between a fancy grown-up picnic and a haphazard one.

The photo collage shows several options for festive picnic beverages.

Lemonade

THE Classic picnic drink is a glass of ice cold lemonade. Impress your picnic guests with an easy homemade version you can tote in a beverage cooler.

Add fresh mint and/or chunks of fresh fruit to take your lemonade to the next level.

Spritzers

A bottle of wine is never a bad option and requires the least amount of effort.

If you want something just a little "more," plan a simple wine spritzer with a bubbling bottle of white wine or rose and fruit juice.

You could plan mimosas, or combine white wine with the lemonades above.

Sweet Teas & Arnold Palmers

Bring your favorite sweet tea and lemonade to give your friends options. Then you can easily make a 50-50 Arnold Palmer drink if you desire.

Pack some lemon slices for dropping in each glass.

Fruit Infused Water

Plan ahead and infuse fresh water with citrus, berries, and/or mint. It is an easy way to upgrade plain water for a picnic that impresses.

Essential Picnic Supplies

While this list of ideas focuses mainly on the best picnic food to pack, learn what to pack for a picnic date, including supplies, fun picnic location ideas, and more picnic planning tips to make it all go smoothly.

A photo collage shows a picnic scene next to 4 recipe photos of dishes to pack.

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