4 Picnic Essentials and Picnic Food Ideas

What better way to celebrate the return of sunny days than with a picnic? It’s a simple way to turn an ordinary day into something special, and a picnic is an ideal excuse to satisfy your craving for the great outdoors while spending time with friends, family or a good book.

You don’t even need to wait for a day off! Pack a picnic and take your lunch break in the shade to get some fresh air. And while you’re packing, here are some picnic basket essentials to take along to help with your wellness goals.

Infused Water

Grab your reusable water bottle or pitcher, pop in a few fresh ingredients, top it off with filtered water, and you have a hydrating, refreshing, picnic-perfect drink. Infused water is so much healthier than sodas and sugary commercial beverages. It’s also a lot easier on your wallet and the environment than buying flavored water in cans. And you get to pick what goes in it, so you will always know you’re only getting fresh, natural ingredients.

What you’ll need:

  • Water bottles or pitcher
  • Fruits and herbs
  • Filtered water

Infused water makes trying new flavor combinations fun and easy. Cherry and lime, watermelon and basil, orange and ginger—you’ll never run out of new options to try. Find more ideas in Infused Water Benefits and Water for the Win: Benefits of Water, Plus 5 Water Infusions to Try.

Simple, Real Picnic Foods

Not sure which foods to pack for your picnic? Fill your picnic basket with these real food options for optimal nutrition and energy wherever you plan your picnic.

Veggies and Fruits

Veggies and fruits store and transport easily in mason jars for a picnic. You can even layer salad ingredients in mason jars to eat straight from the jar with a fork.  And step up the flavor with a zesty, home-made apple cider vinegar salad dressing (recipe below).

Brightly-colored produce is rich in carotenoids, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect your eyes from blue light. Learn more about carotenoids and why you need them in What are Carotenoids?

Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey Vinaigrette

Combine apple cider vinegar, water, honey, salt and pepper in a blender, then drizzle olive oil into the blender until combined.1

Healthy Proteins

Pack in some protein-rich options for your picnic to keep your energy up and give you a healthy dose of omega fatty acids. Sealed pouches of tuna and salmon are picnic-friendly proteins that make for easy additions to salads or wraps. Boiled eggs are great too, and nuts and seeds are excellent vegan options that provide protein-packed picnic lunch or snack options.

Also, check out Pack Your Pantry: How to Make a Real Food Pantry for ideas that will have you ready to whip up healthy picnic recipes any time.

Essential Oils

Want an easy way to ward off insects while picnicking? Essential oils have your back! They aren’t just for aromatherapy. The strong scents of many of essential oils work well to deter bugs. Here are a few insect-repelling essential oils:

You can make your own bug repellent spray easily with any one of these essential oils (recipe below). If you plan to spray it on areas of exposed skin, read the product label first to make sure the essential oil you’ve chosen is skin-friendly, and test your spray on a small area of skin to check for sensitivity.

Essential Oil Insect Deterrent

Start with a teaspoon of a carrier oil like avocado oil or jojoba oil and add in 10-20 drops of essential oil, then dilute the mixture with 1½ teaspoon of distilled water and 1 teaspoon of witch hazel. Add to a spray bottle and you’re good to go! Spray it on your picnic blanket for a little extra protection.

  • 1 teaspoon carrier oil like avocado oil or jojoba oil
  • 10-20 drops of skin-friendly essential oil
  • 1½ teaspoon of distilled water
  • 1 teaspoon of witch hazel

Learn more ways to use essential oil in Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Beginner’s Guide to Using Essential Oils.

Protect Your Skin

Despite the skin health concerns and signs of skin aging related to UV exposure, most Americans don’t use sunscreen.2Sunscreen use should not be limited to days on the beach. So, protect your skin by applying sunscreen. Apply it every day that you will be outside, even if the sun isn’t out.3 Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate your skin on cloudy days.3

What else can you do to support skin health outdoors? Try astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant carotenoid that accumulates in the dermis (the skin’s thickest layer) and may help promote skin health.4 The antioxidant benefits of astaxanthin also help protect skin cells, and it may boost the skin’s ability to retain moisture and help with wrinkles, age spots, skin texture and elasticity.5

Astaxanthin is not a replacement for sunscreen, but why not do everything you can to help nourish and protect your skin inside and out? Astaxanthin helps your body in other ways too, learn more about it in Astaxanthin Benefits.

What to Take on a Picnic?

What healthy items do you pack for a picnic? Share your picnic favorites in the comments below. And check out Pack Your Pantry: How to Make a Real Food Pantry and What are Carotenoids? Plus Foods High in Carotenoids for more nutritious food ideas. 

Lindsey Toth, MS, RD | Swanson Health Products

About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products

Lindsey is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for pie. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food. Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.


1 Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey Vinaigrette Dressing. Genius Kitchen. http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/apple-cider-vinegar-and-honey-vinaigrette-dressing-396343 (Accessed 01/22/2018)

2 Study: Most Americans don’t use sunscreen. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/study-most-americans-don-t-use-sunscreen (Accessed 4/18/2018)

3 Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22428137 (Accessed 1/23/2018)

4 Sun Safety. American Skin Association. http://www.americanskin.org/resource/safety.php (Accessed 4/18/2018)

5 Cosmetic benefits of astaxanthin on human subjects. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22428137 (Accessed 1/23/2018)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.