How to Plan a Picnic: Menus, Recipes, and Packing Tips

Updated on March 2, 2020
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

"The Picnic", Thomas Cole
"The Picnic", Thomas Cole | Source

Picnic [pik-nik] noun

1. an excursion or outing in which the participants carry home made food with them and share a lovely meal in the open air.

2. fast (take-out) food consumed at a park. The food is predictable, substandard and boring.

Guess which one is my choice?

How It All Began

Although cavemen no doubt ate outdoors, their repast was hardly what one might deem a "picnic." (Could you relax knowing that a man-eating beast might be lurking behind the very next rock?)

Originally, the term picnic (piquenique in French) was the term used for the foods assembled at a social gathering rather than the gathering itself. Each invitee was expected to contribute something to the function. However, over time, the meaning of the word shifted to punctuate the alfresco element of the meal.

What Constitutes a Perfect Picnic?

There is no single plan for the "perfect picnic." This is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and that is why I am writing. Picnics can be as easy or as complicated as you want them to be. What is key is the planning. Here are the things you should keep in mind:

Packing Tips

Packing Tips for a Picnic

Getting There:

  • Every picnic requires utensils: plates, eating implements, etc. A spur-of-the-moment picnic can be done with paper plates and plastic spoons and forks. A more romantic or formal (planned) meal might utilize real plates and silverware.
  • Tablecloth or blanket--even if there is a picnic table, you will want to cover it so that you are eating on a clean surface.

Being There:

  • Food safety: unless you will consume everything that you bring with you, consider packing foods that are less perishable. Mayonnaise-laden potato salads and fried chicken are not safe if left un-refrigerated for more than 2 hours.

Leaving There:

  • Clean-up: Have available wet-wipes to clean sticky fingers.
  • Trash bags: Never leave a mess for someone else to deal with. If you carted it in, you should cart it out.

Breakfast/Brunch Menu and Recipes

fresh strawberries
fresh strawberries | Source
  • Strawberries Balsamic (below)
  • Sliced smoked ham or smoked turkey
  • Caramelized onion tart (below)
  • Champagne or other sparkling wine

Strawberries Balsamic Ingredients:

  • 2 pints strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar


Toss all ingredients in bowl. Cover and let stand 1 hour before serving.

Caramelized Onion Tart


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 pound cipollini, vertically sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 of a 14-oz. pkg. refrigerated pie dough
  • 1/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 1 large egg, beaten


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Peel the onions. Using a mandoline or the slicing blade of a food processor, thinly slice the yellow and red onions. Slice the cipollini with a sharp knife. Line a baking sheet with paper towels; place the onions on the paper towels, and allow to sit for about 10 minutes to remove some of the excess moisture. (Did you know that onions are 89 percent water?)
  3. Heat the oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper in the pan and cook, stirring occasionally about 20 minutes or until the onions are softened and begin to turn golden brown. Don't hurry the process by turning up the heat: the onions will burn and taste bitter. You want them to caramelize.
  4. Line a 10-inch tart pan with the pie dough.
  5. Sprinkle feta cheese on the pastry, followed by the parmesan and gorgonzola cheeses. Top with the onion mixture. Bake at 425° for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool for 10 minutes.

Romantic Meal for Two Menu and Recipes

asparagus | Source
  • Asparagus, Parmesan and Prosciutto Bundles (recipe below)
  • Fresh baguette
  • skewers of grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, zucchini chunks
  • Dark Chocolate Salted Brownies
  • Sauvignon Blanc or any other fruity (non-oaked) wine

Asparagus, Parmesan, and Prosciutto Bundles


  • 6 thin asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of prosciutto
  • About 1.5 ounces of Parmesan cut into sticks 3 inches long x ½ inch thick


  1. Snap the tough ends from each asparagus spear. Cook in boiling, salted water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Immediately plunge into ice water. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Cut each spear in half (one half will contain the tip and the other half will contain the bottom of the spear).
  3. Lay prosciutto slices in a single layer on the work surface. Place one asparagus tip and one asparagus bottom crosswise near the short end of each slice of prosciutto. Place one cheese stick on top of each pair of asparagus spears. Roll up prosciutto to enclose asparagus and cheese. Cover and keep chilled until ready to serve.

Vegetarian Feast (Menu and Recipes)

tabbouleh salad
tabbouleh salad | Source

Tabbouleh Salad


  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained


  1. Combine bulgur wheat and boiling water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15–20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
  2. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2–3 hours.
  3. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

"With the Kids" Menu and Recipes

trail mix
trail mix | Source
  • Homemade trail mix (any combination of pretzels, dried fruits, nuts, dry cereal)
  • Fresh fruit kabobs made with grapes and melon chunks
  • Turkey sandwiches (oatmeal bread, sliced deli turkey, dried cranberries, cream cheese)
  • Homemade or store-bought cookies

A Grown-Up Gathering (Menu and Recipes)

"When Harry Met Sally" Chocolate Cake
"When Harry Met Sally" Chocolate Cake | Source

Provolone Terrine Ingredients:

  • 1/2 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
  • 1 lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • garlic cream sauce (recipe below)

Garlic Cream Sauce Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts

Combine cream cheese, butter, and garlic in a bowl or food processor. Blend until combined and smooth. Stir in nuts.


  1. Line a 4x8-inch loaf pan with dampened cheesecloth (soak the cloth and then wring out).
  2. Cut provolone slices in half. Slightly overlapping slices, cover bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the loaf pan (use about 1/2 of the cheese). Divide the remaining half of the cheese into 3 equal portions and set aside.

Now, begin layering as follows:

  • Spread one-half of the pesto over the provolone in the pan.
  • Cover pesto with 1/3 of the remaining provolone.
  • Sprinkle with 1/2 of the tomatoes
  • Spread garlic cream over the tomatoes
  • Sprinkle remaining tomatoes over the garlic cream
  • Cover with the 2nd third of provolone
  • Spread remaining pesto over the provolone
  • Lay remaining provolone over the pesto.

Fold cheesecloth over the loaf; press gently with your hands to compact.

Chill about 2 hours. Fold back the cloth, invert on a serving plate and unmold. Remove cheesecloth. Serve with toasted baguette or crackers.

Wild Rice Spinach Salad

Ingredients and Instructions for the Salad

  • 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 3 cups cooked wild rice
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 4 slices turkey bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 1 cup smoked turkey breast from the deli, diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  1. Squeeze as much water as possible from the thawed spinach.
  2. Mix the spinach and all remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad. Toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Ingredients for the Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

So, Let's Recap

Here is a table showing all of the suggested dishes in today's menus. The items for which I have given recipes are in bold type. I hope you will feel free to pick and choose from the columns to create your own perfect picnic meal.

Main Dish #1
Main Dish #2 or Salad
Onion tart
deli ham or turkey
strawberries balsamic
Asparagus Bundles
fresh veg.
dark chocolate salted brownies
Tabbouleh salad
carrot cake
turkey sandwiches
fruit kabobs
provolone terrine
rice spinach salad
chocolate cake

Do you think you might try one of these picnic menus?

See results

© 2016 Linda Lum


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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      3 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bravewarrior - It was a fun list to put together. I hope you find an opportunity to put together a picnic meal and use some of these recipes.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      3 years ago from Central Florida

      I haven't been on a picnic in forever! These all sound delicious and perfect for a summer meal in the backyard - or the beach, or wherever....

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, happy Friday to you as well, although today does NOT look like "picnic" weather, does it? The history lesson? I would have written more, but sometimes you just have to get down to business and write about food.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I always love that you give us a little history lesson. The French? Well bully for them!!!

      Thanks, Linda, and Happy Friday to you!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Good morning Eric. My favorite thing in all of these is the tabbouleh salad. It has a bright refreshing taste (from the lemon juice) and it is quite filling. And, if you are a chocolate lover (I honestly don't understand those who are not--what a sad existence), you must at some point in time bake the dark chocolate salted brownies.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Oh my this sure beats granola trail mix, carrots and an apple. I either hike in a few miles or picnic at the beach. Some of these could work for both. Really fun read. As always you make me hungry.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Hi Jackie - Haven't heard from you for a while. So happy you came by. I LOVE to cook, and I love to share my food with those I love. The only thing that (I think) can make that better is enjoying this food outdoors.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      4 years ago from the beautiful south

      Yum, yum, would love to go on your picnic! Been awhile, sure sounds like fun.



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