Casual and Elegant Picnic Menus

Summer picnic spread on blanket with jam sandwiches, fruit and tea
Malcolm P Chapman / Getty Images

The fun thing about picnics is that you can have them any time of year and anywhere. Enjoy a picnic in your backyard, at the beach, on a boat, or on the living room floor in front of the fireplace. Food at picnics must be two things: delicious and easy to eat.

Planning a Picnic

Sandwiches and pasta salads are great, filling choices for picnics. Potato chips are nearly mandatory and cookies make the best dessert. A key to a good picnic is a well-packed picnic basket with foods that travel well and don't get soggy or misshapen. If you are using an actual basket, remember that the basket can't chill food. Plan to use ice packs, especially if you are traveling a long distance for your picnic. If you are packing the food in a cooler, the food will remain chilled for longer but it's still a good habit to use ice packs. A neat trick is to freeze water bottles prior to the picnic and use them as ice packs in the basket or cooler. Once the ice melts, you'll have cold drinking water to enjoy. Cook any food to safe temperatures and throw away any leftovers when the picnic is finished. Bring along a big blanket, sturdy plates, utensils, paper napkins and some garbage bags to neatly throw away the trash. 

Then enjoy the time with family and friends. If you've planned a picnic and the weather isn't nice, try this: have a picnic on the floor of your family room! It can be just as fun as a picnic outside; you won't miss the bugs or wind blowing things around.  As long as the food is great and you are together with people you like, what else matters?

  • 01 of 02

    The Perfect Casual Picnic Menu

    My Mother's Potato Salad
    My Mother's Potato Salad. Linda Larsen

    This is a classic picnic menu, perfect for a park day. Take the time to make the potato salad, sandwiches, and cookies and you won't be disappointed.  The secret to this picnic is selecting foods that travel well and taste even better a few hours after they are prepared. The sandwiches are made on hearty ciabatta rolls that won't get soggy. Avoid using thinner, standard sandwich bread for any picnic (unless it's in your living room), since it'll just result in a soggy mess. 

  • 02 of 02

    An Elegant Picnic Menu

    Mini Chicken Croissant Sandwiches. Linda Larsen

    An elegant picnic can be an ideal way to entertain in the summer (or any time of year). If you're lucky enough to have a boat, this would be a fabulous menu for a cruise. If not, the park or your own backyard are both wonderful settings for an upscale picnic. Even with an elegant picnic, the basic rules still apply. Plan on serving hearty foods that can be made ahead of time, like pasta salads, cold sandwiches, and bar cookies. Pack some inexpensive china for this menu, along with sturdy goblets, some chilled wine, and some nice stainless flatware. This picnic is too nice to serve on flimsy paper plates!