How to Pack for a Picnic with Little Ones

I’ll be the first to admit that as I wrote the title for this blog, I felt a little silly. I mean, packing a picnic isn’t that complicated. Then again, it is overwhelming just getting all three kids in the car to drop them off for school, so I can understand how packing up everything you need to eat outdoors could feel undesirable. I hope this blog post encourages you that it can be pretty simple and is worth the fun it will allow for you and your kids. I’m going to address the why, where, how, and what of picnics with little kids in this blog post. As always, let me know if this is helpful to you in the comments below. 

PIcnic at Holmes Chapel Falls
Picnic at Holmes Chapel Falls using our Bentgo boxes.

#1. Why Bother with a Picnic? 

This is a reasonable question due to the added effort involved in packing up a lunch for four people, three of which seem to eat infinitely more on a picnic than if served beautifully on a plate at home. The primary reason we pack a picnic is because we are headed somewhere fun! My crew can barely survive a short walk around the neighborhood without some snacks, so I know I’ll be packing up food either way. Might as well make it a fun, healthy meal that is part of the event. 

I prioritize time outdoors. It’s good for my mental health and the health of my kids. We get to explore new things, observe our magical world, and it’s a constant learning opportunity. Not to mention, I have observed my house stays cleaner, my kids fight less, and picnics don’t require me to vacuum under my dining room table for the second time in a day. Picnics are a low-lift way to get in some time outside and make something boring a little bit more exciting. You can read our Holmes Chapel Falls blog for some info on our picnic that inspired this post.

While I am going to give you a few fun meal ideas, I am not above going to the drive-thru. We have purchased hundreds of chic-fil-a nuggets over the years, but I know that with fresh nuggets in the car everyone will want to eat immediately rather than wait for our destination. Timing and location don’t always work out to where you can easily eat before leaving or pick up food on the way. But if the drive-thru is the best you can muster to execute your first picnic adventure, then go for it! Just save my recipes below for your next trip. 

Picnic at the Beach
Picnic at the beach!

#2. Where should I have this picnic? 

There is really no wrong answer here… except possibly indoors.  We enjoy a picnic in our backyard a couple of times a month, even more often in summer. For a little added adventure, take a walk on your local nature trail. In Athens, we love to head down the Swan Creek Trail and hang out on the rocks by the water. The local state parks like Joe Wheeler and Monte Sano are also great spots to take a short walk and enjoy a picnic with a view. At Joe Wheeler, the marina is actually a great spot for a picnic that can be followed by a hike on the Awesome Trail. At Monte Sano, the North Alabama Japanese Garden or one of the many overlooks would make for a perfect picnic. 

Picnic at Joe Wheeler State Park
Our very first picnic together at the Joe Wheeler Marina following a Forest School event.

If you aren’t quite comfortable taking your kids on a hike, try a picnic at the playground. Jimmy Gill Park is quickly becoming our favorite park in Athens. While the play structure is probably one of the best in town, my kids also love scouring the creek for tadpoles and playing in the gravel pile (it doesn’t take much to entertain a two year old). The Wellness Center Park is also shady and has a nice picnic area. All Kids Park is expansive and fun, but we currently avoid it because I find it hard to keep track of all three of my kids in the current layout and with all the wood structures. Nonetheless, it’s a great park with an adjacent picnic area.

Finally, a college campus, downtown square, or any other public area with large shade trees and space for kids to run wild are great places to enjoy a picnic.  The courthouse square in Athens has several picnic tables and lots of shade. You could even grab lunch from Wildwood Deli or Revive Cafe before setting up on the courthouse lawn.

#3. How-to Pack and Transport a Picnic

I dunno about you, but I do not actually own one of those beautiful wicker picnic baskets. Although I would happily do a sponsored post if someone wanted to send me one for free. Ha! Food for the fam can often be a lot and much of it may need to stay cool. Additionally, you may want to pack a blanket to sit on. Don’t forget you’ll all get thirsty, so bring plenty of water. I’m going to list our favorite picnic items and how we use them below. There are Amazon affiliate links to these products. If you purchase something using one of our links, we may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. 

Our favorite picnic gear items.
Irene’s cooler, bentgo boxes and yeti ramblers all pictured here.
  1. Cooler Bags. We’ve got two size options to recommend. Irene’s Packed Party Backpack Cooler is large, cute and affordable. If you only have one or two people to pack for and want something to fit inside your hiking pack, these Pack-it Lunch Bags are great because you just freeze the entire bag and it will stay cold all day!
  2. Bento Boxes. These are great for keeping items separated. I use mine to separate out meat, cheese, and fruit. The linked Bentgo option is especially great because it can be chilled to stay cold while you are out. 
  3. Water Bottles – The Yeto Rambler Jr. is a great durable, easy to clean bottle that keeps water icy cold. 
  4. Large Water Jug for refilling bottles – I have found that my crew can drink their 12 oz bottles very quickly on a warm day. I snagged a similar bottle to this during one of Aldi’s seasonal sales that included camping gear. I love having extra water refill out bottles and share with friends. 
  5. Picnic Blanket – We have this exact blanket that was gifted to us for the twins’ first birthday. Such a great gift that our whole family enjoys. It has a waterproof backing that keeps it dry and easy to wipe clean. We use this a lot!
  6. Hammock – If you really want to enjoy a longer stay, definitely bring a hammock! Hammocks are packable and provide seating for a few people. My kids all pile in and we can just relax by the creek. 

#4. What to pack? 

Of course, this is going to vary a lot depending on your food preferences, allergies, and what you have on hand. I am going to list a few of our favorite, easy picnic ideas. 

  1. Kid-friendly Charcuterie. This is just whatever meats and cheese I have on hand, usually ham, turkey, pepperoni, cheese cubes and cheese sticks. I also add in fruit such as grapes, berries, or mandarin oranges. 
  2. PB & J. A classic, perfect for a trip where you don’t want to pack a cooler. Pair it with pretzel or chips and some fruit. Easy peasy
  3. Deli Roll-ups. Cream cheese spread, lunchmeat, and veggies on a tortilla. Roll it up and you can even cut it into pinwheels. 
  4. Cheesy Tortilla Roll-ups. Flour tortilla sprinkled with cheese and microwaved to melt cheese. Roll it up while warm. Serve with salsa for dipping. Side of fruit and mixed veggies. 
  5. Pasta. Cheese Tortellini with pesto or buttered noodles keep well and taste good cold. Serve these with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls. 
Kids snackboard for a picnic.
Cheese crackers, fruit, yogurt and animal crackers. Yum!

If you didn’t plan ahead and don’t have time to pack a picnic at home, here are few great options you grab at the store or in the drive thru. 

  1. Footlong sub. Most places will allow you to customize each half and will even cut it as you like. I have had them cut mine into 3 pieces, so my kids can share.
  2. Popcorn chicken. Whether from the grocery or drive through, this is a great option to give the kids some protein and it taste good even once it has cooled off. 
  3. Pizza. A little awkward to transport if you are traveling far from the car, but if your picnic is at your local park this is a great option.
  4. Lunchables. At most groceries you can find the original Lunchables, as well as several other healthier and tastier options.

In the end, your memories from the picnic are unlikely to be about the food. They will be about the fun you had outside while doing something out of the ordinary. I hope this post has made an outdoor meal feel more accessible. Perhaps it simply offers something fun you can do with your kids that requires little effort on one of the days that you all just need out of the house. 

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