Plan the Perfect Picnic: Preparing Your Picnic Foods


As a child, my family always went on picnics to celebrate my birthday. We’d pack a basket with all the essentials, roll up an old blanket to throw in the trunk of the car and head off to find warm weather and grassy fields. Picnics still hold this sense of celebration for me. Sharing a meal while sitting on the ground in the sun connects you to the earth and makes it easy to feel gratitude for your food, company, and environment. 

Another wonderful thing about a good picnic is that there is no right way to do it. Some people like to picnic after a hike or in a more secluded area. Others prefer a spot in a park where they can watch other groups enjoying themselves too. You might pack carefully prepared selections of food, or you might throw a baguette in a bag and call it a day. However you choose to do it, some picnic foods help make for a fabulous outing. 


Planning a Picnic

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You know the saying, you can plan a picnic, but you can’t predict the weather? While that does have some truth to it, you can certainly plan other aspects of your excursion. Planning a successful picnic begins before you even step out of your house. Some of the factors outside of your picnic foods to consider are: 

  1. Location

When picking a location, consider the occasion. If you want to be immersed in nature, spend some time looking up spots off the beaten trail. However, if you’re planning to picnic with a group of friends, it might be better to choose a park with plenty of grassy areas to play games.

2. Cutlery

This may seem trivial, but trust me, it’s not. There is nothing more devastating than taking the time to pack all the right picnic foods and then discovering you’ve forgotten a knife to cut the cheese! 

3. Cups and Plates

Cups and plates are great for allowing everyone to share food but keep their helpings personal. Keep in mind that each person has their own preferences in terms of sharing picnic foods. When choosing your cups and plates, always opt for reusable dishware to avoid creating unnecessary waste.

4. Picnic Blanket

A picnic blanket is a necessity if you’re eating your meal on the ground. You can invest in one that has a waterproof side to keep you dry as you dine, or you can just use an old blanket. Both work just fine! If you’re picnicking at a table, you can still cover it with a cloth but it’s optional.

5. Picnic Basket

Last but certainly not least, the picnic basket. If you don’t have a basket, you can utilize something you have in your house, like a reusable grocery bag. However, a basket works well because it keeps all the food from getting crushed together as you transport it. Plus, it looks so classic!

Picnic Foods List

Picnic foods can be adjusted to fit your own personal taste and the occasion. It can be helpful to think about the items you choose to include in your basket as building blocks. Then, each person will have the option to pick what they’d like and create their own meal experience from those pieces. This is great for picnickers with dietary restrictions, as they can just stay away from any items that they can’t eat. It also enables you to diversify your plate each time you go back for more. For example, if you start by assembling open-faced sandwiches, you can focus your second round of food on the fruits and veggies. This makes every plate exciting and keeps everyone smiling and satisfied. 

1: Bread

A fresh baguette that’s crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. A loaf of sourdough, sliced into pieces. There are so many options when it comes to what type of bread you’d like to include in your picnic foods. I like to think of bread as the vessel on which the other foods are served. Of course, if you’re gluten-free, you can always sub this out for an option that fits your diet, such as a seed-based cracker or a wheatless bread brand. 

bread, baguettes, fresh-baked bread, picnic food, grains

2: Cheese

Cheese is another picnic food essential. You can reach for a tried and true classic such as cheddar or Swiss, or you can experiment with some new cheeses. It can be nice to pack both a hard and a block of soft cheese as they serve different purposes. A soft cheese, like goat or brie, can be used as a spread for bread or crackers. A harder cheese, such as Manchego or Comte, can be sliced and paired with bread and meat to make an open-faced sandwich (or you can eat it solo). If you are vegan, feel free to skip the cheese altogether or opt for a dairy-free substitute.

cheese, picnic foods

3: Drinks

With every delicious meal comes a refreshing drink. As a rule of thumb, always bring water. You can fill a reusable bottle with tap or filtered water and bring cups to share. If you’re someone who prefers something a little stronger, a bottle of wine often pairs nicely with different picnic foods. Try reaching for a light white, but make sure you bring a wine opener! If alcohol isn’t for you, you can always bring something tasty and bubbly, like sparkling water or natural soda. 

lemonade, water, picnic drinks

4: Meat

If you eat meat and you’re not traveling a long distance to your picnic, it can be a great addition. I’d recommend choosing meats that are already sliced, like prosciutto or turkey. You can pair these with your bread and cheese for a satisfying and filling meal. 

meat, prosciutto, lunch meat, picnic meat

5: Olives

In addition to the heartier picnic foods, it’s also a great idea to include some items that can serve as sides. If you’re an olive lover, you can leave these out for people to put on their plates. Olives also make wonderful grazing food, filling that desire to keep eating salty snacks without committing to something heavier. I’d recommend looking up your nearest farmers market and purchasing some olives ahead of time if possible.

olives, picnic foods, finger food, snacks

6: Fruit

Selecting your favorite easy-to-eat fruits will balance out the saltiness of the cheese and meat, while simultaneously providing a refreshing burst of flavor. Consider prepping your fruits ahead of time so you can be sure that they are clean and ready to eat. You might even try slicing up a medley of your favorites and putting them in a reusable container as a fruit salad. 

fruit, melons, fruit salad, healthy picnic foods

7: Spreads

Spreads make wonderful alternatives to soft cheese for anyone that doesn’t include dairy in their diets. They are also a delicious option no matter your diet! A solid go-to spread is hummus, which comes in many different flavors. It goes excellently on bread or crackers, and you can even pick up some pita if you’d like. Another good spread to include is your favorite nut butter, which can make for a tasty snack.

hummus, picnic spreads, dips, picnic foods

8: Salad

Last but not least, greens! It’s important to include some veggies in your picnic foods. You can make a platter of different options, like broccoli and carrots, and dunk them in your preferred dipping sauce or eat them raw. If you’d like, you can put together a salad ahead of time. Some mixed greens, garbanzo beans, sliced almonds and croutons make a great salad base. Drizzle with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic, and you’ve got yourself a delicious side salad!


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Planning Your Picnic Photoshoot

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Did it even happen if you didn’t take a picture? Probably not. In an age where everyone is sharing mouth-watering photos of their food, it’s natural to want to join in the fun. After all, you did work hard to plan your day and pick the perfect picnic foods, why not show off a little? 

As anyone who has tried to take a quick photo of their full plate knows, it’s not always easy to get a picture that looks appetizing. Maybe the lighting is off and your food looks strangely discolored or unappealing. Perhaps the angle never feels quite right. Whatever it is, it can be tricky to snap the perfect picture. 

Fortunately, here are few tips that can help you secure that elusive foodie shot. 

  • Bring a platter or charcuterie board with you to arrange all the food in a way that is appealing to the eye. 
  • Lighting matters. When you’re searching for the perfect light, it might be tempting to reach for the sun first, but try your options. The shade can also provide decent lighting for your picture. Just remember to avoid shadows if possible. The uneven lighting will make it more difficult to get the perfect shot. 


odxcharcuterie, charcuterie board, food arrangements, picnic foods

Guerrero, Andgie. Odxcharcuterie Board. May, 2021.

Use these tips from Andgie Guerrero, owner and creator of Ongie Darlin Charcuterie (@odxcharcuterie), to arrange your picnic foods for the perfect photo. Andgie started her business because she has always had a passion for food and developed a love for catering as she got older. This is her happy medium of fulfilling catering orders while also being in the kitchen without having to cook too much. 

  • Use different types and varying shapes of cheeses.
  • Space out any accoutrements and place them in a small dish.
  • When selecting your fruits, use contrasting colors.

If you choose to set up a beautiful photo of your food, do try and remain present while you enjoy your meal. Put your devices aside and breathe deeply. Notice the breeze across your skin and the sound of it as it drifts through the trees. Appreciate your company, their laughter and conversation, and fill yourself up with all that the current moment and meal has to offer. 

Picturesque Days and Picnic Foods 

picnic foods, healthy meal

As we head into sunnier days, both as the seasons change and the ever-nearing end of our pandemic tunnel, it is a perfect time to head outdoors. Bring the picnic foods, the basket and your friends and family. Take the time to plan your perfect picnic, and make sure to include foods that fill you with excitement and satisfaction. 

At the end of the day, food can create and build communities and friendships. As you picnic, practice gratitude for both. If you do manage to snap that perfect picture, go ahead and tag @cookandculture…we’d love to see your creations! In the meantime, pick your perfect picnic foods and get planning! 

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Olivia deGregory

Written by Molly Doyle

Food Blogger Intern A native San Franciscan, Molly is an experienced educator and a dedicated writer. She holds her multiple subject teaching credential as well as her Master of Arts in Teaching. When not teaching children or creating new written pieces, Molly can be found kicking around a soccer ball, going for urban hikes or whipping up a batch of cookies. She currently lives in Seattle, her first home outside California.