How to pack a killer picnic

Pack a picnic

Finally, it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and we’re packing it with picnics in the sun all across the Bay Area. 

Now that I have a toddler, picnics are a weekly activity during the summer, so I’ve learned a few things about what to pack and what to leave behind. If you’re planning on doing some of the same this weekend and beyond, I'm taking a little break from all that picnicking to share a few of my tips to up your picnic game — starting with the food.

Picnic Menu Ideas

The main rule I live by is keep the menu light, seasonal and simple. That means packing food that can be made ahead, is easy to transport and can be eaten with your hands (or very few utensils). Sandwiches and wraps made on sturdy bread are your best bet for a complete, filling meal in one neat little package. And they don’t have to be boring.

Roasted red pepper wraps

For instance, take these roasted red pepper, cucumber and garlic hummus wrap made on hearty whole-wheat naan that won’t fall apart. They have a little cilantro chutney and fresh mint, which makes them light, yet super flavorful and way more satisfying than your old standby sandwiches.

For sides, hearty salads made with beans or a grains hold up better than lettuce or vegetable salads and are much more filling, to boot. Store them in mason jars for easy cleanup and bring the dressing separately so that they don’t get soggy.

Mung bean salad

This mung bean salad with microgreens, diced carrots, cumin and herbs is a good option to go with that wrap.

I also think it’s essential to pack snack-type sides that you can nibble on throughout the day, like cheese, crackers, olives and nuts.

Dessert can be simple or fancy, but I think cookies and fresh fruit are always winners. Again, you can eat them with your hands and there’s nothing to clean up.

Drinks in a jar

Lastly, don’t forget the drinks. Wine is a given. But other than water to stay hydrated, why not make a little spa water with fresh herbs, citrus or fruit? Make them with sparkling water to up the fancy factor and bring along a cooler to keep them chilled.

Picnic Essentials Packing List

Packing a picnic

After getting my menu planned out, I always make a little list to ensure I don’t forget anything essential. Here’s what’s on it:

  1. Pillows. I've come to realize that pillow are key to creating the most comfortable picnic experience.
  2. Something to sit on. Any blanket or a sheet will do just fine, but I like to pack a little tarp or waterproof blanket to place underneath in case the grass is damp.
  3. Plates, cups and utensils. I typically use the compostable stuff so there’s minimal cleanup afterwards. However, I sometimes pack some nice-looking plastic plates.
  4. Wet wipes, napkins or tea towels. Could you ever have enough wet wipes?
  5. Reusable containers. Great for any leftovers.
  6. Cutting board and knife. Just in case. I find that I always need a knife.
  7. Corkscrew or bottle opener. For boozin.
  8. Garbage bag. Or multiple.
  9. A basket, cooler or both. And don’t forget the ice to keep it all cool! Reusable ice cubes are great to keep things dry.

Hopefully this is a helpful list! If I missed anything you find essential, I’d love to hear it in the comments.