Picnics are a national pastime in Britain. I don’t know about you, but in the past few years my picnics have been a bit uninspired. I got into this rut of grabbing a drink, crisps and a veggie sausage roll, stuffing them in my handbag and dashing out of the house before it rains again.
This article is me saying, no more! I’ve got a toddler now, and a newborn, and we are going to do good picnics by Jove or I’ll cry trying. I want to transform eating on the hoof into a fun and exciting experience that forms treasured memories in years to come for our family. So I’m pulling together all my thoughts on how to make the perfect picnic happen, so I can use it as a reference (and maybe you can, too) whenever I’m making a picnic.
This is particularly important to me because picnics run in my family. We are so fond of picnics that there’s a family legend about how, when the M1 motorway first opened in the 1960s, my Great Aunt Maureen (or maybe Noreen) got into trouble for parking on the hard shoulder and having a family picnic on the grass verge.
What makes a great picnic?
Some posh people refer to picnics as “al fresco dining”. A picnic usually resembles a packed lunch but for the whole family. To make a proper British picnic for your summer adventure, you may want to pack the following:
Sandwiches: Bread buttered and filled with something such as ham slices, egg mayonnaise, tuna and sweetcorn or a vegan filling such as falafel and lettuce. Alternatives include wraps, bagels, or pitta breads. Mandatory: Thin-sliced cucumber in the sandwiches.
Drink: Traditional picnics involve lemonade, but British classics include Ribena (a blackcurrant cordial which you dilute with water), ginger beer (it’s not alcoholic), dandelion and burdock, cream soda (it’s a non-dairy, clear drink), iced tea or if you want a pre-packed drink that’s really easy to transport, Capri Sun (an orange flavoured drink).
Savoury nibbles: A lovely garden salad, sausage rolls (meat or vegan), potato crisps (Americans call them chips), Dairylea dunkers (a pre-packed snack of cream cheese with breadsticks), olives, spring rolls, vegetable samosas and pakora are all available in the chilled food section of any supermarket.
Sweet nibbles: Chocolate bars, cake, donuts, cookies or biscuits.
Fresh fruit: Apples, bananas or tangerines are most commonly found in a picnic. I don’t really like tangerines as they’re a right faff. If you’re sharing, blueberries, cherries or strawberries are also great choices.
10 tips for a great picnic:
- Don’t pack anything that spoils if it gets a little warm. If you do, use a cool bag with an ice pack.
- Think about the distance you will need to carry the food. If it’s heavy, look for parking or share the load in a couple of smaller bags.
- At the beach, consider using a wind break or parasol (or even an umbrella laid on its side). No one likes sand in their sandwiches!
- Choose a waterproof blanket: In Britain, the ground can be wet on the hottest days. A waterproof blanket will keep you dry and happy.
- Cans aren’t so convenient, especially for little ones. They can’t be re-sealed so decant your drinks into reusable bottles before you go.
- Don’t take glass or crockery! Yeah, it looks pretty on Instagram but it’s heavy and breakable. Bamboo or palm leaf plates/bowls or sandwich boxes are much easier and safer.
- Take extra drinks, especially if you’re going for a long day. Dehydration can cause children all sorts of problems from headaches to being impossibly cranky.
- Give children one thing to eat at a time. Laying out all the food looks pretty but kids will want their cake first. If they have a full plate, it’s easy for them to drop their food. Having all the food out at once also attracts pests like flies and bees. And it’s unhygienic as leaves or sand can blow into it.
- Take wipes or kitchen roll! Wipes, kitchen paper, or both, are essential for cleaning up when little hands are involved. Children are geniuses at managing to cover themselves in chocolate, cream cheese, or anything else they eat.
- Avoid chopping. Don’t take anything that needs loads of preparation. Picnics should be easy to eat, do the prep at home!
Embrace the perfect imperfections! Nothing is ever going to be Instagram perfect. They don’t actually do picnics, those Instagram influencers. They travel to a place, stage some photos, while their poor kids look SO BORED then they leave again without ever being present in the moment or enjoying the day. Pity them, don’t envy them.