July is National Picnic Month, officially marking the start of summer. Enjoying a picnic with friends or family can be a great, budget-friendly and laidback way to spend an afternoon. Eating outdoors can also have huge health benefits including getting more vitamin D, time with others, mindful eating and often being exposed to fresh, healthier foods. However, the idea of a picnic can seem overwhelming planning-wise at times. The good thing is that there are plenty of ways to get outside and enjoy food with family and friends – dining al fresco at a restaurant, on the beach, in your back garden or on a friend’s terrace. I share my tips below to have the ultimate plant-based picnic with my favourite must-have picnic items.
1. Make a plan
A great meal requires a bit of planning. Think about the menu a couple of days in advance if you can as some of the best and tastiest dishes can be made ahead, whether it’s a pasta salad or homemade hummus. Have an idea of how many people you’d be catering for, any dietary requirements or food intolerances/ allergens, whether everyone can contribute a dish, your budget, contingency plans if it rains and what items you’ll need e.g. picnic blanket, games or a frisbee! You might need extra blankets, pillows or foldable chairs to make things more comfy too.
If you’re planning a picnic on the beach or it’s a sunny day at the park, stocking up on sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses is also sensible so you can enjoy the good weather without risk of sunburn.
2. My favourite items: balancing the savoury and the sweet
A good mix of savoury and sweet treats will appeal to all. Having lots of fresh fruits and vegetables brings a lot of colour and freshness to the meal and keeps everyone feeling energised.
Here are my favourite items for a picnic:
Fruit: clementines, boxes of cherries, strawberries or blueberries, stone fruit e.g. plums or nectarines, cantaloupe melon and watermelon.
Vegetables: raw carrot, celery and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, avocado (bring a butter knife to cut at the picnic so it doesn’t go brown). Avoid bagged salads as they go soggy fast!
Nuts: raw or toasted cashews, peanuts (check if anyone has an allergy), peanut butter in a sandwich, salted pistachios. Energy balls are a great way to enjoy seeds and nuts at picnics.
Grains: classic french baguette, sourdough buns for sandwiches/ burgers, couscous salad, pearl barley salad, whole grain rye sandwiches, pasta salad, popcorn and baked tortilla chips.
Plant-based protein: smoked tofu cubes in a tupperware, mixed bean and corn salad, my tofu “egg” sandwich filling, hummus.
Savoury items: nocellara olives, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, salted nuts, vegan quiche, seaweed crackers, wasabi peas, salted crisps.
Sweet items: smoothies, fruit, cakes, pastries, energy balls, sweets, dark chocolate, cookies, traybakes.
3. Opt for reusables and environmentally-friendly options
If you’ve ever walked around in a park after a long sunny day, you will notice overflowing bins and wrappers flying around. Picnics can produce a lot of waste so it’s a good idea to think about what you will do and keep aside a bag to take your rubbish home or dispose of it at a bin. The key things to bring:
- A picnic blanket – if you don’t have one, try to find a second hand one on ebay or borrow from a neighbour or friend! If you must buy new, buy one made from recycled waste.
- Reusable cutlery (or bring your regular cutlery from home!)
- Cloth napkins that you can later put in the washing machine at home
- Tupperware / reusable plates to eat out of
- Reusable water bottle/ cups
- Ice bucket
- Bottle opener
And of course, one of the most sustainable choices you can make is to opt for a plant-based menu at your picnic or gathering.
4. Consider some shop-bought items to lighten the load
As much as all those TikToks and Instagram reels present the image of a flawless, cottagecore worthy picnic, it’s far better to simplify and have a mix of shop-bought and homemade items so that you can relax on the day and enjoy the good food and company.
My favourite places to buy vegan picnic appropriate items includes:
Marks & Spencer: their small salads, punnets of berries, boxes of cherries, nocellara olives, nuts, fresh lemonade and bakery items all make the perfect picnic fare
GAIL’s: I love their coffee to go in a reusable cup and a packet of their chocolate tahini bites is perfect for sharing.
Lola’s: their vegan cupcakes and cakes are ideal especially if you are celebrating something special at your picnic or outdoor gathering.
Grape and Fig: They have a delicious vegan grazing box which is perfect for a picnic or party on the patio – it’s on the pricey side so I would save for a special occasion.
Pret: Grab a sandwich or salad and the vegan double chocolate chip cookie and head to the park!
Other shop-bought items that would be great for a picnic:
Deliciously Ella bars (I love the Hazelnut, Maple and Pecan Oat bars)
Moorish Hummus in snack pot sizes
Honestly Tasty vegan cheeses (now available in M&S)
Torres Black Truffle crisps
Propercorn Sweet and Salty
Howdah Bombay Mix
Pic’s peanut butter pouches
Don’t forget drinks and lots of ice: My current favourite this summer are the Three Spirit Blurred Vines which are non-alcoholic functional drinks. I also really love LA Brewery Kombucha and San Pellegrino Sparkling Water with fresh lemon slices and ice and fresh juices.
5. Eat outdoors to reap health benefits
Eating food in outdoor environments is a great way to get more sunlight, fresh air and spend time in nature. You also switch to a “rest and digest” mode as being outdoors tend to lower stress levels especially as it can encourage mindful eating away from mobile phones and tv screens.
A study in Foods journal shows that those who ate in natural environments were more relaxed and chose healthier, more vegetable-based dishes than those who did not.
It doesn’t need to be an especially sunny day either – make an effort to have breakfast or even a coffee out on your terrace/ garden to get exposure to natural morning light and help regulate your body’s internal clock (our circadian rhythm). Even 10 minutes makes a world of difference.
What are your favourite plant-based items for a picnic or outdoor gathering? Drop them in the comments below.