It may seem strange that even though picnics make it on every parent’s free summer fun list, they rarely get executed. If you have tried going on a picnic with small children, you know that there is nothing strange about it. Unless you are a human octopus getting ready for a picnic is complicated. Or so I thought when I just started. It took a few years of training and a few blunders along the way for me to learn that picnics can be easy. Now I frequently go on picnics with three small children and we all have lots of fun. I encourage you to take apart your idea of a picnic and put together a new, downsized and simplified version of it. Follow my guide for a less hectic and hopefully more enjoyable picnic with small children.
There was a time when picnic was about you and a basket was more of a sexy little accessory for your cute little summer dress.
Those days are gone for now! You need a family basket. It means something that can zip up everywhere, so food doesn’t fall out when little feet kick it over. You should also be able to carry it on a shoulder because you need your hands for better things like holding on to small sticky hands. Don’t forget that you also need to carry a diaper bag, a toy bag and a picnic blanket. Or to maneuver a stroller that keeps getting stuck in grass/sand/rocks. Or you might need to push a stroller, while carrying a child. Or… well, you got my idea, you don’t need a basket that needs to be carried in your hand.
There are lots of different models of family bags/baskets out there. Some even have wheels. This durable, convenient picnic bag is what we have. It is lined with insulation material that keeps food relatively cool. And it’s just the right size for our family of five.
The best picnic blanket is washable, waterproof, has a handle, a shoulder strap, can easily attach to the stroller and come with a human valet. The winner in my eyes is this One Step Ahead blanket that satisfies all of the above requirements. Except the human valet.
Picnic Check List
There is nothing more frenzy inducing as trying to remember everything you need for a picnic the morning of the picnic. Sit down and make a list of everything you will need (it will improve over time) or print my list to get you started. Laminate the list and keep it in your picnic basket. Just cross out the items as you pack them.
- Wet napkins
- Dry napkins
- Water and other beverages
- Bug spray – homemade stuff is so much better than anything you can buy at the store
- First aid antibiotic ointment – wash the scraped knee thoroughly with water, apply the antibiotic ointment to keep infection out of the wound
- Band-Aids – work for anything from keeping straw attached to the bottle to fixing cranky baby with a bandaid on his nose. When you notice a little child sliding in a bad mood say, “Oh my! It looks like ball needs a bandaid!”
- Tweezers – can help you remove a splinter or a stinger left behind by a bee
- Hand sanitizer – soap and water are still the best way to remove microbes from hands, but when there is no running water a sanitizer can help. Read the truth about hand sanitizer expiration date.
- Diaper bag
- Small trash bag
I like to stick to foods that don’t need refrigeration. This means avoiding deli meats and mayo-based sandwiches and salads. Salads are not a good choice anyway. Salads need to be eaten with utensils. And eating salads takes a long time. My rules are: avoid glass jars, any foods that need utensils and ice packs. You see! Your basket is already much lighter.
Best picnic foods
- Granola bars – Healthy and nutritious these homemade bars will fuel hours of outdoor fun.
- Banquette sandwiches – Made with just two ingredients – spreadable cheese and cucumbers – these sandwiches are great portable food that doesn’t need ice packs.
- Crackers and peanut butter – Two foods that were made for each other.
- Fruit and yogurt – We go for hard fruits like apples, pears and bananas and go-yogurts or kefir. Berries are also great, if you have a light container that will keep them from squashing.
- Waffles and pancakes – Easy, no mess food that can be cut in long stripes for convenience. Chase it with a bottle of milk.
- Baby carrots and hummus – I like to transport hummus in stainless steel mini container with leak-proof lead.
- Fruit and Nut energy bars – 5 minutes of prep time and 1 hour of refrigeration to get those healthy and sweet energy bars that kids love.
- Croissant Sandwiches – Insert mini Babybel cheese inside precut croissants when you get to the destination.
- Brownies (just call them energy bites) – Easy to pack up and take with you on any adventure.
- Lemon Bars (gluten free) – They might not be your idea of a healthy kid food, but they are guaranteed to increase the “wow” factor.
- Peach Bars (gluten free) – We love peaches when they are in season and can not get enough of them.
- Homemade yogurt melts – You would think it will only work for your toddler, but older kids will be all over it as well. You might want to freeze them overnight, so they stay cool till you are ready for it.
- Leftover pizza – Need I say more?
And if you don’t think ants will take over the world, read this.
We don’t drink juice, soda or lemonade, but just because I want to make picnics super special for my kids I let them make our homemade lemonade.
- Single serve milk cartons or milk brought in stainless steel bottles. I like to keep our milk in this stainless steel mug. The milk stays cool for hours. It’s also great for keeping my hot tea hot.
- Single serve kefir or portable yogurt bottles
- Homemade lemonade. Lemonade?! That’s not easy! Oh, yes it is with my method. Put a quarter of a lemon in a plastic bag with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Seal well (very well). When you get to your destination open the bag and add a cup of water. Zip it up leaving a small opening for a straw. Voila homemade lemonade with no fuss.
It takes five minutes for little kids to finish eating. What’s next? If you are lucky, your kids will find something to do with sticks and stones. And if you are extra lucky, your picnic area has lots of nice open space to run around. If not, use the suggestions below.
- Bug hunt – Grab magnifying glass and a plastic jar, if you want to turn bug exploration into a full blown science activity.
- Leaf detectives – Kids love looking for leaves. Whoever can find the most number of different kinds of leaves is the winner. Take the leaves home, press them between the pages of a thick book and you will have wonderful craft material come fall. For the smallest kids just stuffing a bag with leaves is enough of challenge.
- Ogo Disk – Great exercise for all ages and loads of fun
- Homemade Bubbles – Bubbles make for great photo ops and they are always fun entertain for the little ones. We like to use homemade wands for extra large bubbles!
- Picnic Books – You can not find a better setting for reading picnic books than a picnic!
- Two Truth One Lie or other picnic games ides from Tesco Living
- Balls – the smaller ones are even more fun than the bigger ones and easier to carry to the picnic. We like rhino skin ones.
- Toddler activity bag – a collection of small cars, lego bricks, and some of your toddler’s favorite small toys.
- Active Listening – lie down on the blanket, close your eyes and listen to the sounds all around you. What do you hear?
- Older siblings might like the idea of carrying their own lunch boxes, especially, if they are as cute as this one. I always welcome the idea of older kids carrying their own lunches.
- If you must bring some ice packs, those car shaped ones are our favorite. They also have a magic power of healing boo-boos on the spot.
- If you want to have a theme, how about a Teddy Bear Picnic. Invite some friends, bring your favorite teddy bears to a picnic, and sing some teddy bear songs.
- And if it’s raining the day of picnic, you can always set up a fabulous indoor picnic with those ideas from Disney Entertainment.
When and Where
Most picnics do not happen because they are not scheduled. There are always one thousand things to do. List the possible locations available to you and pick one today. Put it on a calendar and commit to it. Make sure that your location has restrooms nearby or bring a portable potty for kids. I have one (that we have been using for six years) that folds flat and fits inside my purse.
- Zoo lawn
- A patch of green grass behind your apartment building
- Your own backyard
- If all else fails, start practicing with a living room picnic.
How to get ready for a picnic in 5 minutes
Have a picnic bag ready and filled with all the essentials from the Picnic Checklist (except food and beverages). Have a toy bag and diaper bag ready. Prepare the food the night before. In the morning, transfer the food from the fridge into the picnic bag. Add beverages. You are ready! Or you can make your life easier and pick something up on the way to the picnic place. Have fun!
With a lot of practice picnics became one of my favorite things to do with my children. It’s a great way to enjoy nature, while doing something fun together. On our last picnic my 4-year old sighed dreamily and said, “I love this picnic … You are the best mom in the world.”
When was the last time you went on a picnic? What are your tips for a successful picnic with small kids?