14 Tips For The Perfect Spring Picnic Spread

Spring is finally here, and that means it's time to spend more time outside, enjoying the sunshine and taking in the fresh air before the hot summer months force us into our air-conditioned homes once again. Taking a walk is a nice start, but if you really want to enjoy the great outdoors this spring, a picnic may be the best way to do it. By having a picnic, you get to really slow down and relax. It's the best way to take advantage of your local park and have fun without spending a ton of money.

But if you've ever had a picnic before, you know that you have to plan in advance if you want it to be the best it can be. By thinking about a menu ahead of time and packing all your necessary supplies, you can ensure a park day that's fun and relaxed. We've compiled a list of the best spring picnic tips to get you started, but don't forget to make your picnic your own. Let's get started with some of the basics.

Keep your menu simple

As you know, picnics are all about food, which is why we're starting with the menu first. It's the most important aspect of the picnic, and it's also the one that takes the most effort. When you're picking out a recipe for a perfect picnic, you're going to want to keep things simple. While, yes, you may have seen those over-the-top picnic spreads on social media, the reality is that it's pretty difficult to host a several-course meal on a blanket. If you want to keep things as easy and as stress-free as possible, don't go overboard — just pick a few different easy dishes and throw them in your basket or cooler.

For example, you might want to try making a pasta salad, and we think this chicken macaroni salad is a particularly tasty choice. You can also opt for a greens-based salad if you're not a big pasta person. A Cuban sandwich is a mouthwatering option that requires very little work to put together. And, of course, you don't want to forget something fresh, which is why we love packing a grilled watermelon salad. With just a few easy dishes, you can make a fuss-free meal to enjoy at your picnic.

Opt for finger foods

It probably goes without saying that soup isn't a great dish to bring to a picnic. If you ask us, your best bet is to try to nix the utensils as much as possible. When you're sitting on the ground on a blanket, it can be difficult to use utensils like you would at a normal table. That's why we always advocate for finger foods at a picnic.

If you're like us, a sandwich is the first thing that comes to mind. Not only are sandwiches especially easy to make and pack for a picnic, but because they require no utensils, they'll be easy for you and your guests to eat as well. You can keep it simple with a standard turkey-on-white situation or go all-out by throwing together a roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich (which is still pretty easy to make, by the way). If you want to keep things lighter, try a wrap. We love a classic chicken bacon ranch wrap, but you can put basically anything into a tortilla and call it a meal.

You don't have to stick to sandwiches, either. Try chicken fingers, snacks like pretzels, or even pizza if you're looking for easy-to-eat alternatives.

Grab pre-made food from the grocery store

Let's face it: Most of us live busy lives, and sometimes, you may not have time to whip up a whole meal to take to the park with you. If you want to enjoy a nice meal outdoors but don't want to have to put in the effort of making and packing everything, then you should just make things easier on yourself by picking up some pre-made food from the grocery store. Will it cost more money than it would if you were to make it yourself? Probably. But if shelling out those extra few dollars is worth avoiding more time in the kitchen, we think you should go for it.

Grocery store delis often offer sandwiches and salads, which are also solid options, but we also love grabbing some hot chicken tenders to snack on as well. You'll likely find a variety of dips in the refrigerator section, which are the perfect companion for chips, pretzels, and other dry, snacky foods. Within 15 minutes, you can be in and out of the grocery store with all the supplies you need for a perfect picnic.

Try a spoon salad

What is a spoon salad, you ask? In the simplest terms, it's a salad you can easily eat with a spoon. While green, leafy salads often require a fork, the same isn't true for spoon salads. The ingredients are cut up nice and small, so they fit on a spoon, and they tend to be on the heartier side, so they won't wilt. This kind of salad is perfect for a picnic because it's easy to eat and it's unlikely to wilt while it's being transported. That way, you don't have to make and store the dressing separately.

Go on any recipe website, and you'll be able to find a wide variety of spoon salads. We're partial to this broccoli salad, which offers plenty of crunch and freshness without any of the wilting. You can also try any kind of bean salad, like a creamy kidney bean salad — most bean salads are spoon salads by definition.

Try canned wine and cocktails

Booze-free picnics are always an option, especially if you're having a lunch picnic in the middle of the day. But if you do want to imbibe while you're enjoying the sun, then you should consider canned wine and cocktails. Lugging wine bottles to a picnic can be a hassle, as they can be quite heavy. Plus, if the park you're going to doesn't allow glass bottles, then you're out of luck. And when it comes to cocktails, we doubt you're going to want to bring your own spirits and mixers just to whip something up on the fly.

That's why canned wine and cocktails are such amazing options. They're easy to pack and serve, and they're not too heavy to carry. On the wine front, we love canned options like Ramona and Archer Roose. If you're partial to natural wines, you may want to check out Djuce, which sells curated low-intervention wines from celebrated producers. Prefer canned cocktails? Check out options like Tip Top Proper Cocktails and Social Hour Cocktails.

Bring your leftover fast food sauce packets

Should you bring your huge bottle of sriracha with you on your picnic? If you're trying to keep things simple and easy to carry, it's probably best to skip on a lot of those bulky condiments. But that doesn't mean you have to live with a sauceless meal. Instead of trying to figure out how to package your condiments to take with you to the park, just remember to save the leftover fast food sauce packets you don't use when you go through the drive-thru or grab a sandwich at a gas station. Stash them in a drawer in your kitchen, and then raid the drawer whenever you're having a picnic. That tiny package of mayo may have seemed unnecessary when you first saw it in the bottom of a grease-stained bag, but it'll eventually come in handy.

Ketchup and mustard are generally pretty easy to find at most fast food joints, but we love the mayo you can usually only snag when you're someplace that serves fresher menu items. Don't forget hot sauce packets, either. You may also want to stock up on those tiny packets of salt and pepper — they can certainly come in handy when you're having a picnic and need a little extra seasoning.

Remember to bring a small cooler

Whether you're bringing drinks with you and want to make sure they stay cold or you just want to ensure that the potato salad isn't going to go off while you're in the warm weather, using a cooler is a smart move when you're having a picnic. Packing your stuff in a cooler may not look as cute as putting it all in a picnic basket, but it'll protect your food and keep your drinks icy cold while you're enjoying the outdoors.

It's probably not necessary to bring a huge cooler along with you unless you're going to be feeding a lot of people. Rather, we prefer opting for a small cooler you can sling over your shoulder so it's easy to carry in or out. Remember to add a few ice packs if you're transporting perishable food. Even if you don't have a cooler that's large enough to carry all of your supplies, you can use a small cooler for the drinks and the dishes that absolutely need to stay cool.

Bring a blanket large enough for you and the food

Picnics are mostly about the food, but that doesn't mean the food is all you have to think about. Unless you plan on eating at a picnic table (which, depending on what kind of park you go to, can be difficult to find during the height of spring when everyone wants to get outside and eat at the park), you'll want to bring a blanket along with you as well. It's important to make sure it's large enough for you and all your guests, of course, but remember that you're also going to be serving a meal on it. Ideally, your picnic blanket will be large enough to fit all the people you're feeding along with the food.

Don't have a blanket that's big enough for everything you plan on bringing? Not a problem. Just bring several blankets, and place them all together on the ground to create one large blanket. You can also use beach towels if you can't find a suitable blanket.

Pack your food in containers with lids

You never know what kind of conditions you're going to encounter at the park, so it's always a good idea to prepare yourself for wind, bugs, and other annoyances. That's why we think it's always best to pack your food in containers that have lids. Sure, it may seem easy enough to throw some sandwiches in a disposable bag and forget about it, but unless you're going to eat those sandwiches in one swift motion, you may want to have something to cover them with. By packing your food in containers with lids, you can easily shut the lids when you're not eating out of them. This will prevent insects and other pests from infiltrating your food supply and ensure none of your food is exposed to the elements for too long.

It's always possible to buy your own lidded food containers, but you can also use the leftover containers you get from takeout meals. It's a smart way to save money and reduce waste in the process.

Skip the cheese

When you're thinking about what you want on your picnic menu, you may consider packing a cheese board. But, unfortunately, cheese can be a less-than-ideal option for your picnic, especially if you're having your picnic on a hotter spring day. If you want to make sure everything stays as fresh as possible for your picnic, you should probably skip the cheese entirely.

First of all, it melts easily, which can result in a big mess. Cheeses like cheddar and American are major culprits here, and don't even think of bringing a soft cheese like brie. But it's not just about the melted mess you'll have to contend with if you do decide to pack cheese. The harder, heartier, and less-meltable varieties of cheese can be difficult to cut, which can make them a hassle on your picnic spread. Our advice? Save the cheese for after you get home. Other charcuterie ingredients, though, like meat and olives, can be solid picnic foods.

Don't forget some lightweight tableware

You can always eat out of the plastic containers you've packed your food in if you need to, and for a more casual picnic, that may be the way to go. But if you're trying to make things a little bit nicer, you might want to think about bringing some tableware with you. The easiest way to do that is to grab some paper plates and plastic utensils from the store before you head to the park. It's an easy option because it's disposable, and it's not too heavy to carry.

However, if you want things to feel just slightly more upscale, you can opt for reusable plastic plates or even enamel if you really want to kick things up a notch. This is the way to go if you want to reduce the amount of trash you produce during the course of your picnic. And the best part? You get to use them over and over again!

Make sure you bring wet wipes

You've got it all, right? You brought the blanket, the cooler is already packed, and you secured and prepared all the dishes, snacks, and drinks you wanted to bring along. You've even remembered to include those fast food sauce packets you forgot about until now. But there's one thing that's still missing, and it's an important one: wet wipes.

Picnics can be messy, especially if you're eating on the ground and not at a picnic table. You're probably eating a lot of the food you packed with your hands, and balancing a plate between your legs while you reach for another serving can have precarious — and messy — results. Your best bet is to bring some wet wipes along with you so you can easily clean up any spills. Don't have any? No worries. Just bring some napkins or paper towels and a bottle of water you can wet them with.

Don't forget a dessert

When you think of picnic food, sandwiches and pasta salad are probably the first things to come to mind. But just because you've already figured out the main course doesn't mean you're not going to want something sweet to finish your meal. If you have some extra time before your picnic, consider making a dessert to share with your friends. This can be as simple as an easy trail mix, but if you want to kick it up a notch, you can make something a little more impressive — maybe a rhubarb galette with strawberry-lavender glaze. We love galettes for picnics because they are so much easier to make than a pie but still feature that crispy, flavorful crust that makes your fresh produce shine.

Whether you buy a pre-made dessert from the grocery store or you get in the kitchen and you make one yourself, you'll be glad you have dessert when all of the main courses have been consumed.

Pick up after yourself

Unless you're having a picnic on your own private property, you're always going to pick up after yourself once you're finished with your picnic. It can be easy to let paper, plastic, and other trash fly away while you're eating, so keep a trash bag handy to avoid accidentally littering. If there's still uneaten food left over after you've finished your meal, you can either throw it out at the park or (even better!) take it home and eat the rest as leftovers. Remember to locate a trash can when you get to the park so you know where to throw your stuff when you're all done. If there's not a recycling bin at the park you're visiting, take your used cans and bottles with you so you can recycle them at home.

If you love spending time at your local parks as much as we do, then it's your responsibility to make sure they stay clean and tidy so everyone can enjoy them.