How to Plan a Perfect Picnic for Free

One of my favorite items I registered for when we got married was a gorgeous picnic basket filled with enamelware dishes and all the basic necessities for a picnic for four. It remains among one of my most treasured gifts, and I love to dust it off when the warm weather hits for a day at the park with my family.

Living in a small town means there aren’t a lot of great kid-friendly destinations to keep the young’uns busy, and I try to keep our excursions to a limited budget anyway. What we do have, though, are loads of parks to discover and a large picnic basket to fill for a fun day together.

A few years ago, we began a family tradition to take a picnic—weather permitting—on the last day of school to toast the beginning of a new summer together. I love to build traditions around food and family, and a lovely picnic with my favorite kiddos has been a really special one to share.

Whether you’re building a tradition or just hunting for a fun outdoor activity to do with your kids, here are a few ideas to make your picnic outing a success! And don’t fret if you don’t have a pretty picnic basket on hand. Just toss some of your family’s favorite healthy snacks in a sack and get outside!

  1. Find a Great Destination

We love to hit our local parks when we go on a picnic, but last year we decided to broaden our horizons by finding new places to play. If you’re on the hunt for a new park to try out, search FindYourPark.com for a park location near you. We discovered we had some really incredible parks in our neighboring town. Getting out of our rut really increased the fun for our family picnics.

I also discovered our library has membership passes that can be checked out to a variety of local attractions, giving our family free admission to destinations that would normally be rather pricey. For example, the library has a membership pass to our local botanical garden, which is accessible to community members to check out for 24 hours. With their pass, we experienced a beautiful new location for our picnic without breaking the bank.

  1. Pack a Delicious Meal

To me, picnics aren’t elaborate affairs; rather, they involve throwing some simple foods into a basket that can be enjoyed snack-style while I flip through a book and the kids run around like a couple of crazies on the playground.

I love to roll up Land O’Frost lunch meats and serve it with cubed cheese and tons of easy-to-pop fruits and veggies. I have also found salads (fruit, veggie or quinoa) are perfectly portable in mason jars for a  picnic lunch. Here is one of my favorite tried-and-true recipes for a picnic in jar. If you want to increase the protein in this salad, just add a layer of Land O’Frost lunch meat or rotisserie chicken to each jar.

Quinoa Salad in a Jar

Ingredients:

1 pound spinach

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1-2 lemons

2 cups cooked quinoa (follow the instructions for preparation on the packaging)

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Prepare quinoa as directed on package (it’s just like cooking rice—1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid ratio. Veggie broth, chicken broth or water all work in this one). Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Halve grape or cherry tomatoes with a paring knife and add them to the mixing bowl.
  3. Once the quinoa is done, scoop equal amounts into four jars. Squirt the juice of your lemons over the quinoa and add a light drizzle of olive oil to each jar. Allow these to cool fully before adding the rest of your ingredients.
  4. Layer tomatoes and spinach on top of quinoa mixture.
  5. Lid your jar and store in your fridge for up to five days. Eat directly out of the jar or pour into a bowl for an easy picnic feast!
  1. Don’t Forget the Essentials

A waterproof blanket for sitting on, a bag or two for gathering up trash and dirty dishes, sunblock, bug spray, wet wipes, a small first aid kit for the inevitable injury and paper towels are just a few of the things I always keep handy. I’ve found keeping a small bag of items like this in our garage for easy grabbing helps cut down on the time spent packing to get our crew out the door.

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