A picnic is a wonderful way to embrace the outdoors, indulge in delicious food, and create memorable moments with loved ones. But before you head off for your outdoor adventure, a little preparation goes a long way.
From cool bags and water bottles to storage containers and food flasks, our picnic essentials checklist, with tips from expert chef Peter Sidwell, has you covered. We'll also share some picnic food and drink ideas and tips on keeping your goodies at the right temperature.
Essential items to take on a picnic
If you're planning to go on a picnic, you'll, of course, need a picnic blanket to lounge comfortably on the grass, sand, or any other surface. Choosing a waterproof one is a smart move, so you don't need to worry about any accidental spills or damp ground. One with a carrying handle or strap for easy transportation is a bonus! Just make sure it's big enough for all your picnic-goers
When packing for a picnic, don't forget food storage containers! From sandwiches to salads and cakes, they keep your food fresh and organised, ensuring everything stays mess-free. Just pop on the lids securely before packing your bag to prevent spills, and you're all set!
Peter says, "I usually take a selection of different-sized containers to hold food, or I make sure each person in the family has their own container. That way, you don't need to worry about plates and serving — you can just hand out the containers and enjoy your picnic without any hassle."
To find the perfect one, read our food storage guide.
Lunch bags and boxes keep your sandwiches, snacks, and drinks neatly packed and easily accessible.
If you're going on a picnic with the whole family, choose an extra large lunch bag so there's room for everyone's favourite snacks.
Cool bags are a great choice, as they keep all your food and drinks cold and fresh. They're like a mini fridge you can take anywhere!
Peter provides a handy tip: "The night before your picnic, open your cool bag and pop it in the fridge. This gives it a boost, ensuring your bag is thoroughly chilled from the get-go.
They're also great for keeping everything stored in one place and easily transportable to your picnic spot."
Instead, consider reusable plastic plates. They're lightweight for easy transportation to your picnic spot and you won't have to worry about them breaking.
Peter recommends: "I tend to take normal kitchen cutlery on a picnic, as there's nothing worse than struggling chopping and spooning food with flimsy disposable cutlery that's not strong enough to do the job. I just pop them in the dishwasher when I'm home for easy clean up!"
Water bottles are an absolute picnic essential to stay hydrated — especially if you're picnicking on a hot summer day.
Insulated reusable water bottles are a great eco-friendly option, reducing single-use plastic waste. They also keep your drinks colder for longer!
Corkscrew or bottle opener
There's nothing more frustrating than setting up your picnic and realising you don't have something to open your drinks with. That's why packing a corkscrew or bottle opener is essential.
Whether it's a bottle of wine, beer or a lemonade, having the right tool to hand ensures you can enjoy your drinks hassle-free.
Don't forget to bring some bin bags, so you can pack up and leave the picnic spot just as beautiful as you found it. They come in handy for getting rid of leftovers and any waste, making cleaning up a breeze.
Paper towels or wipes
From wiping off sticky fingers to cleaning up accidental spills, paper towels or wipes are handy essentials to keep your picnic area tidy.
How can I pack my food for a picnic safely?
1. Use food storage containers
Peter says, "make sure you use storage containers that fit together to prevent everything from rolling around. This reduces the chances of leaks or spills that could contaminate other foods or the picnic basket."
This is especially important if you're taking raw meat to your picnic that you plan to cook on-site using a barbeque or portable grill.
"The convenience of being able to throw the containers into the dishwasher when you get home also ensures proper cleaning and sanitation," says Peter.
2. Keep food cold for as long as possible
If perishable foods like cooked meats, dairy products, and salads are sat baking in the sun for a long time, harmful bacteria can grow rapidly, leading to foodborne illnesses. That's why eating your picnic food as soon as possible and keeping it cool is essential.
"I prefer to pack my food the night before and refrigerate it,” says Peter. “This way, it's thoroughly chilled and the cool temperature is retained throughout the picnic."
“If you have plastic water bottles to hand, freeze them before you head out on your picnic. They act as ice packs when you put them in your lunch bag, helping to keep your drinks and food cool throughout the day.
And if I'm in the garden or travelling to a picnic spot by car, I always try to bring a cool box. Not only does it keep food and drinks fresh, but it also doubles up as a handy table or seat."
3. Remember hand sanitiser
If you're heading to a picnic, you probably won't have access to soap and water. Pack some antibacterial gel so everyone can clean their hands before eating. This reduces the risk of spreading harmful bacteria from your hands to the food.
How can I keep food warm for a picnic?
Peter says, "keeping food warm for a picnic starts with choosing the right foods. It's best to avoid trying to keep crispy foods, like chips, warm in a closed container or insulated environment. The trapped moisture can cause them to become soft and soggy, taking away from their delightful texture.
If you do want some warm food on your picnic, opt for soups, stews, and pasta. These dishes have a high moisture content, which helps them retain their warmth.
A great way to keep wraps warm is to put them in a flask. I once made a sausage sandwich by cooking the sausages, rolling them up in a wrap, before rolling it in tin foil and sliding it into a preheated flask. This keeps your wrap warm until you're ready to eat!"
To preheat your flask, fill it with hot water, let it sit for a few minutes, and empty the water. Then, dry it thoroughly. If you're not ready to add your food yet, pop the lid on to keep in the heat.
"Coolbags and boxes also keep food warm as well as cold," explains Peter. "When you're preheating them, just make sure the water isn't too hot, as you could damage the material or cause it to melt. Once you've emptied the water and dried your bag, you can add tin foil to the bottom to create an additional layer of insulation. The insulated cooler will trap the heat inside, keeping it at the perfect temperature to store food until you're ready to serve.
Remember to pack your dishes closely together to minimise empty space, as less air means less heat loss."
To learn more about eating alfresco, check out our ultimate guide to outdoor dining.
How can I keep drinks cool for a picnic?
Of course, ice buckets are great for keeping drinks cool, but they may not be practical if you've got a bit of a walk to your picnic spot.
Peter says, "I recommend using an insulated water bottle to keep drinks cool when you're out and about, as they provide excellent temperature retention. They can stop ice from melting for a full 24 hours.
Filling your bottle with ice for around an hour before adding your drink ensures even longer-lasting coldness.
And if your water bottles are plastic, just freeze them overnight. As the frozen water gradually melts, you can enjoy sipping on chilled water, ensuring you stay hydrated and refreshed during your picnic."
Peter also gives us an excellent hack for keeping wine cool: "You can freeze grapes or berries and use them as makeshift ice cubes. Just put them in the freezer overnight.
On your picnic day, carefully pour your wine into an insulated bottle and pop in the frozen fruit. Not only will they keep your wine chilled without diluting it with ice cubes, but you can also enjoy the fruits once they've served their cooling purpose."
Picnic food ideas
Sandwiches and wraps
Sandwiches are perfect for picnics as they are portable, easy to eat, and offer various flavour combinations. You can prepare classic choices like ham and cheese or go for more adventurous options like pesto chicken and roasted vegetable wraps. Consider using different types of bread, like ciabatta, baguettes, or whole-grain slices, so there's something to suit everyone's taste.
Peter recommends: "You could roast a succulent leg of lamb or pork, shred it up using a carving knife and keep it warm in a well-insulated cool box or container. Then, when you arrive at your picnic spot, you can serve the tender meat with a zesty salsa verde and a crusty baguette."
The combination of juicy meat, vibrant flavours, and freshly baked bread will leave everyone wanting more!
But how can you prevent sandwiches from going soggy? Peter says, "don't forget to pack your sandwiches in secure containers to keep them fresh and intact during your outdoor feast! I also recommend buttering your sandwiches. This not only adds flavour but also creates a protective layer that helps prevent liquids from the filling, like sauces or juicy vegetables, from soaking into the bread and making it soggy.
Bread rolls are a good choice for picnics because they have less cut surface area exposed to air, so they don't become stale or dry as quickly.
You could even try a nice focaccia bread, as the olive oil in the dough forms a protective layer against extra moisture from other fillings, preventing sogginess. I love it filled with lots of antipasti, like mozzarella, pesto and roasted veggies. You can just cut it up into portions to serve."
Sausage rolls are a picnic favourite — a delicious and convenient finger food. And the best part is that they can be eaten cold, so you won't need to worry about reheating or keeping them warm.
Pair them with some tangy mustard or a tasty dipping sauce for an extra flavour boost.
Peter says, " I recommend making a large sausage roll that you can easily cut into portions and dish out.
If you're looking for an easy way to make sausage rolls, pre-buying your pastry is a smart time-saving option. You can find ready-made puff pastry sheets at most supermarkets, making the preparation process a breeze. Simply lay out the pastry sheet, add the seasoned sausage meat, and roll it all up into a big sausage roll. Once baked to golden perfection and after you've given it time to cool, slice the large roll into individual portions."
Pizza might not be the typical choice for a picnic, but according to Peter, it can be a great option: "Pizza is easy to keep warm when folded as a calzone or rolled up as a stromboli. Just avoid overloading your pizza, as excessive toppings can lead to a soggy crust."
And if you like a cold pizza, you won't need to worry about this!
For individual slices or folded calzones, you can place them in separate containers or wrap them individually in foil. Or, if you're taking a whole pizza, consider using a large box to keep it intact. And remember your pizza cutter so you can easily share it out.
For something a little different, try our beetroot base pizza recipe. Or you can even buy pre-made pizza bases from the shop and simply add your favourite toppings.
Salads are great to take to a picnic; they're quick to prepare and easy to share.
But salad is prone to going soggy. To prevent this, Peter recommends: "Choosing the right lettuce is key to avoiding a soggy salad. Some types of lettuce, like iceberg, tend to wilt faster than others due to the high water content and looser structure. That's why it's best to opt for more sturdier options like romaine or baby spinach.
Keep the dressing in a separate container and add it to the salad just before serving to maintain the crispness of the greens. And if you're including toppings like nuts, seeds, or croutons, keep them in a separate container and sprinkle them on the salad just before eating so they keep their crunch."
Pasta salad is also an excellent option for outdoor dining as it's delicious served cold. Peter says, "when making a pasta dish to eat on the go, make sure you slightly undercook the pasta. This step helps prevent the pasta from becoming stodgy, as it absorbs the moisture from the other wet ingredients."
Why not try our feta, quinoa and mandarin salad or fresh summer salad with figs, feta and parma ham recipe? Or, for some more inspiration, read our 12 summer salad recipe ideas.
Cakes and pastries are the perfect way to end your picnic, satisfying those sweet cravings. But desserts can be a bit tricky for outdoor settings — they can melt in the sun or crumble easily. From brownies and blondies to flapjacks and rice crispy treats, these goodies hold their shape well and are easy to cut and share.
Peter says, "cutting your traybake into individual slices or squares makes it much easier to serve without the need for a knife on your picnic."
Mini muffins or macarons also make for great choices, as they're small and easy to place into containers.
Peter provides a handy tip for packing your cakes: "Consider placing a piece of parchment paper between the cake and the container. This simple step prevents any sticking, helping your cakes stay intact."
Picnic drink ideas
A classic choice for picnics: lemonade is both refreshing and easy to make. For a twist, add some fresh fruits like berries or slices of citrus.
You can prepare a batch at home and bring it in an insulated water bottle. Then, just pop it in your cooler bag to keep it fresh. And don’t forget to bring some cups so you can serve up!
Whip up your own infused water by tossing slices of fruits, herbs, or even cucumber into a water bottle. These natural flavours will infuse the water, giving it a delicious twist and keeping you refreshed.
Why not consider making cocktails for your picnic? Mixing up a batch of your favourite cocktails in advance and storing them in a flask or bottle can be a fun way to enjoy your favourite drinks outdoors. Just be sure to keep them properly chilled in a cooler or with ice packs.
Tea or coffee
On cooler days, you may be craving a hot cup of tea or coffee to warm you up. Just brew your choice, pour it into a flask, and seal it tightly to preserve the temperature.
Peter says, "keep your tea and coffee black and store your milk in a separate flask. Your drink will taste much nicer and you won't have to worry about your milk curdling."
And if you're in the mood for something sweeter, don't forget about hot chocolate.
Best tools for a picnic
Best for eating food on-the-go: BUILT Tropics 1 Litre Lunch Box with Cutlery
A dependable packed lunch box is a must, especially for frequent picnickers. The BUILT lunch box features a secure, leak-proof lid that safeguards against spills during your journeys. The handy cutlery in the lid means you're ready to snack anywhere, anytime!
They're also great for creating individual portions, saving you the trouble of serving food at the picnic. Plus, the three compartments allow you to pack a variety of treats and keep them organised.
Peter adds, "these lunch boxes are a hit with my kids — we use them for school and days out all the time."
Best for carrying food and drinks: BUILT Puffer 7.2 Litre Insulated Backpack
This backpack cooler bag can maintain the chill in your sandwiches, salads, and other treats for up to four hours, thanks to its powerful insulation layer. And it's not just about keeping things cold — your hot foods and drinks will stay warm and cosy too.
Designed with comfort in mind, this cool bag comes with adjustable shoulder straps, perfect for the trek to your picnic spot.
Peter says, "this is a really useful bag that keeps all your food cool, safe, and all in one place. A tip for keeping it extra cold is to pop some ice packs or frozen water bottles in your bag."
Best for serving food: Colourworks Classics Set of Four Melamine Bowls
"These bowls are a really stylish way to serve your food", says Peter. "The shatterproof design is ideal for outdoor dining — you won't have to worry about them breaking!"
And they're not just limited to outdoor adventures: these Colourworks bowls seamlessly transition into your daily dining routine. Whether you're snacking on popcorn, serving up crisps for a party, or treating yourself to some ice cream, they're great for any occasion.
Best for keeping drinks cool: BUILT Planet Bottle - Recycled Reuseable Water Bottle with Leakproof Lid
"Water bottles are a staple in our household and I always make sure I fill mine up before I get in the car for a busy day at work", says Peter.
"This BUILT bottle is great at keeping drinks cool all day, plus they look sleek and stylish. The lid doubles up as a cup, making it perfect for staying hydrated on the go."
With this bottle, you'll not only stay refreshed on your picnic but also make a positive impact on the environment. It's made from around 15 recycled bottles!
Best for storing food: KitchenCraft Lulworth Extra-Large Nautical-Striped Family Cool Bag
Whether it's a picnic in the park or a day trip to the beach, this KitchenCraft family-sized cool bag has enough room to store all your favourite picnic snacks. It's designed with a water-resistant lining and can maintain the ideal temperature of food and drinks for up to four hours.
The bag's timeless sailor stripes in vibrant blue and white capture a sense of seaside bliss — even on those less sunny days!
Peter says, "this is a good-sized bag that will keep all your food fresh, cool and safe for all the family (including the dog!)."