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Try These 13 Simple Picnic Food Ideas

A summer picnic doesn’t have to be complicated to be lovely. Sure, you can add as many flourishes as you’d like, and really set the scene with decor that would put Hollywood set designers to shame. Or, you can grab your favorite person, a gingham blanket, a bottle of wine, a bit of privacy, and have a whole different vibe to your picnic.

There’s beauty and fun in each of these scenarios, and in everything in between. So before asking your special someone to a private picnic for two, or scheduling a family day in the park, stop to consider what sort of feel you’re going for in your small picnic. Intimate and sexy? Friendly and packed with lots of laughs? A fun way to entertain the kids on those long summer, school-less afternoons? Whatever your mission, feel free to keep it simple with these easy tips.

How Do You Make a Simple Picnic?

Picnic Time Piccadilly Picnic Basket with Service for Two.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

To really nail elegant simplicity, you have to make your choices thoughtfully. To create a simple, albeit memorable ambiance, take some care in choosing what to bring. For example, a package of paper plates, hastily purchased from 7-11 on the way to the park, certainly, is the easiest choice. And one we’ve all made, to be sure. But with just a teensy bit more effort, you might consider packing some actual dishes and glassware. Placed on a pretty quilt, spread on a hillside, they will create a very Insta-worthy spread. And there’s something pretty magical about the sound of clinking champagne glasses in nature.

As far as the food is concerned, no one is asking you to be Julia Child. Delicious ingredients and simple appetizers spread on a wooden charcuterie board look elegant and take hardly any time at all to arrange. About as much time as unwrapping a Subway sandwich. So make thoughtful choices. When in doubt, ask yourself, what would Cary Grant do?

What Should I Bring to a Little Picnic?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Firstly, something to sip (in a pretty glass) is essential. Depending on your type of picnic, you may opt for some Italian sodas, sangria, or, if the occasion calls for it (and when does it not?), champagne. Think fizzy and/or fruity. For those who don’t drink alcohol, there are tons of fun mocktail recipes out there, like the delicious Sangria recipe below.

For simple, elegant, and delicious food, there’s no need for any complicated recipes. Keep it easy by arranging a charcuterie board filled with your favorite things. Start with a baguette and crackers, and add on some beautiful fruits like berries and figs. Specialty cheeses are always popular, too. Just unwrap and pop it onto your board. Elegant, delicious, and ridiculously simple.

As far as your picnic setting goes, create some cozy with a big blanket, and perhaps even a couple of throw pillows. A portable speaker with some Beatles tunes never did anyone any harm, either.

Sangria Mocktail (non-alcoholic Sangria) Recipe

Recipes From a Pantry

(From Recipes from a Pantry)


  • 3 cups red grape juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sparkling water
  • 1 1/2 cups cranberry juice or orange juice
  • 2 cups fresh fruit, chopped
  • Ice
  • Herbs and fresh citrus slices, for garnish


  1. In a large pitcher, combine juices, sparkling water, and fresh fruit.
  2. Allow to chill for at least one hour.
  3. Garnish with herbs and additional citrus slices.

Simple Picnic Setup Ideas

Siesta Siesta/Getty Images

A small picnic will likely fall into one of three categories or some blending of the three. Romantic, Friendly, or Family. Below are 13 simple tips to create your perfect small picnic, no matter the occasion.

Easy Ideas for a Romantic Picnic

For a romantic picnic, you’re going to want an intimate mood. Follow these easy tips below, and you’ve just created one hell of a date night.

  • Schedule your picnic around sunset, instead of lunchtime. You’ll have more privacy in a less crowded park, and the lighting will be just right for romance.
  • Nothing sets the mood quite like some romantic desserts – chocolate-covered strawberries, anyone?
  • Don’t forget the wine! Red wine is best for this situation because it can be enjoyed at room temperature. No need to worry about lugging around a bucket of ice.
  • Nothing kills a mood quite like awkward silence. Don’t forget the portable Bluetooth speaker with some Sinatra on standby.
  • Feeling especially sappy? Maybe a proposal is on the agenda? Some sprinkled rose petals on the blanket may sound a little corny, but will really enhance the romantic mood.

Easy Ideas for a Friend Picnic

For a small picnic with friends, you may want to keep things a bit more PG. More Gerbera daisies, less long stemmed red roses. Entertainment is more important in this category, too. Unlike during a romantic picnic, gazing into each other’s eyes will hardly suffice as a good way to pass the time. But just because you’re not trying to romance your partner, doesn’t mean you can’t create a lovely scene. Your friends deserve thoughtfulness, too, so take care in setting up a memorable ambiance.

  •  Fresh flowers in charmingly mismatched jars and vases, dotted throughout the spread is a very cute touch. No need to get too fancy here, just pick up a few inexpensive bouquets at the grocery store, and use whatever you have around the house to display them. Wine and coke bottles are great for this! Old books make for great places to set your flowers, to avoid tipping on an uneven ground.
  • Be creative with your food choices! One-bite dishes such as meatballs or deviled eggs are always a hit. The beautiful thing about a picnic spread is that it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be an elegant, 5-course meal. This is the chance to spread everything out at once, and create a beautiful hodge podge of deliciousness. No protein+vegetable+starch rule here! You can even create a culinary theme. Maybe every dish is vegetarian, or everything must come from the sea. There are no rules!
  • Picnics are great for sports, be it soccer, volleyball, baseball, or even croquet. So bring whatever you have lying around in the garage. But for those who are less athletically inclined…
  • Pack some board games! This might not be the first activity that comes to mind when picnic planning, but classic board games are a blast to play outside.

Easy Ideas for a Family Picnic

If you have older children, your picnic may look a lot like a “Friendly” picnic. If, however, you have kids under ten or so, there are special considerations to be made.

  • Depending on the age of your kids, this may be the one time glassware isn’t the best idea. Some sugared-up children, karate chopping, and break dancing around the spread isn’t the greatest place for fine china. That doesn’t mean you have to totally sacrifice your design though. There are plenty of aesthetically pleasing plastic options for dishware these days. It’s not the real thing, but in this case, the real thing just isn’t worth it. Sorry, kiddos.
  • Entertainment is important in this category, too. Lying on the grass and watching the clouds roll by will only keep most children entertained for all of 14 seconds. The more athletic activities that will tire those kids out, the better. Bring along the jump ropes, the hacky sacks, the frisbees, and the horseshoes. But also…
  • Consider quiet time. If you have younger children, and you’re planning a full day outdoors, take along some quieter activities like coloring books and small crafts. If they’ll be napping at some point, a pop-up tent can be tremendously helpful.
  • Let the kids be a part of the preparation! Sweet treats are an absolute must at a picnic, and they will have so much fun helping you bake these cookies that are picnic-perfect:

S’mores Cookies Recipe

Preppy Kitchen

(From Preppy Kitchen)


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 bar Hershey’s chocolate
  • 4 Graham crackers


  1. Roughly chop the Graham crackers and Hershey’s bar, then tear the mini marshmallows in half. Set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cornstarch in a bowl then whisk together and set aside.
  3. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat butter and sugars in a bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add in egg and vanilla and until combined. Scrape the bowl down and mix once more.
  4. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on low speed until just combined.
  5. Reserve a handful of the torn marshmallows and set aside then add the remaining marshmallows, chocolate chips, and Graham crackers to the dough and mix on low until just combined
  6. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.
  7. Heat oven to 350F. Portion out roughly two tablespoon sized pieces of dough. Roll into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.
  8. Bake for 8 minutes then top the cookies with the reserved marshmallow and Hershey’s bar pieces.
  9. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes to finish baking.

Keep in mind that no matter what sort of simple picnic you’re hosting, there’s just no wrong way to spend time with those you love outdoors, eating great food and enjoying beautiful weather. So keep it simple, but thoughtful. Take care and have fun in the planning, but never stress. Create memories by being present, and taking the extra time to make the moment special. And don’t forget the bug spray.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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