Activities

5 tips to plan the ultimate family picnic

Picnics are the safest way to gather this summer but they don't have to be a Instagram-worthy affair. Here's how to eat al fresco without the fuss.

A cement mixer rumbles past and a bus wheezes to a stop in front of our picnic blanket. My five-year-old grabs another fistful of Goldfish Crackers and cheers as a firetruck wails past. Before having kids, I never would’ve noticed this strange triangle of grass with a view of the train tracks that is surrounded by roads on all sides, and I certainly wouldn’t have pegged it as a perfect picnic spot. But when picnicking with kids, “perfect” sometimes has a different aesthetic. A GO train zooms by and my daughter claps her hands. “This is the best picnic ever!” she insists, and it very well might be.

Instagram will make you believe that picnics have to be colour-coordinated affairs, complete with gingham, idyllic views, fig-dotted charcuterie boards and high-end baskets, but don’t believe those perfect little squares! Picnics can be simple and easy, and when you can’t stand the thought of strapping your kids into their booster seats for yet another meal or sweeping up smushed blueberries from the far corners of the kitchen, toss some crackers and cheese in a bag and head outside. 

Here are five quick tips to get you and your kids picnicking this summer:

1. Don’t overthink the food

I like to go simple on a picnic and bring food I know the kids will eat (because who needs another food battle). Sometimes I’ll throw containers of leftovers into the picnic bag, sometimes I’ll go the sandwich route, but I generally take a snack approach to picnicking—crackers, cheese, pickles, berries, cherries, bread—food that can handle an en route jostling. The key is not to overthink it. Go easy, go simple. Grab whatever you’ve got in the fridge.

2. The picnic basket (or, erm, bag)

Those upscale, Pinterest-esque baskets might be beautiful, but they are certainly not practical when wrangling a toddler and/or wearing a baby in a carrier. I prefer a large, sturdy tote bag or a backpack that will fit a picnic blanket (or beach towel or plastic tablecloth). Once it’s packed, I leave our picnic bag next to the front door from April to October, so I can grab it quickly.

3. What to pack

In addition to the food and picnic blanket, I keep my picnic bag stocked with sunscreen, water bottles, masks, hand sanitizer and extra snacks. I always make sure I have a ball packed, and a couple of books (Where’s Waldo is the ultimate picnic book!), plus a few plastic dinosaurs and cars. And after eating leftover noodles with my hands one too many times, I try to make sure I have utensils rolled up in a tea towel. 

4. Getting there

If the promise of a picnic isn’t enough to get your kids out the door, I recommend the promise of pre-picnic snacks on the way over. And if you don’t have a stroller basket to fill (RIP, stroller, I miss you every day), a wagon works for carrying kids and a bag. I also use the basket on my bike for picnics outside of our walkable radius.

5. Location, location, location

The triangular park, adjacent to the construction vehicles, is one of my kids’ favourite spots, but parks near playgrounds and wading pools have also been popular. Beach picnics were great for my first child, though picnicking near bodies of water might not be ideal if your kids (like my second) will do everything in their power to launch themselves into the water. Big open fields are super (high school fields are perfect for that), as are balconies and backyards. And if your picnic gets rained out, you can always hold it under the dining room table!

Get the picnic gear

green camo print kids' wagon

Photo: Courtesy of Radio Flyer

Radio Flyer Kid Fold Wagon 3-in-1, $170, indigo.ca

blue cup toy with red ball

Photo: Courtesy of Kolkid

Quut Cuppi, $12, kolkid.ca

orange and blue sport disks

Photo: Courtesy of Ogosport

Ogosport Mini Super Sports Disk, $30, canadiantire.ca

white beach blanket with rainbow design

Photo: Courtesy of California Beach Co.

California Beach Blanket, $110, thecaliforniabeachco.ca

orange and blue striped beach tent

Photo: Courtesy of Oui

Oui Beach Tent, $60, indigo.ca

white, green, pink and orange cooler bag

Photo: Courtesy of Business & Pleasure Co.

Business & Pleasure Co. Premium Cooler, $102, revolve.com