The All Day, All Summer Picnic Basket

If your idea of a picnic conjures visions of a big wicker basket with a nice sturdy handle and lid, that comes complete with checkered blanket and matching napkins; filled with cold fried chicken and colder champagne. And you can picture it laid out on pristine grass under the shady branches of a mighty oak, while you and your loved ones enjoy Shakespeare in the Park, then this article is not for you.

For most families I know, it goes more like this. You drive around until you can locate the last available picnic table at an overcrowded lake. You no sooner pull up and park, before all the kids and two dogs pile out of the truck and run screaming for the water. If this sounds like your family, then this picnic “tub” is for you. Water toys and beach chairs notwithstanding, the well packed picnic is key to a fun day in the great outdoors.

That ideal wicker picnic basket from Pottery Barn already comes with cutlery and plate, and the cute little champagne glasses tucked neatly in the top. Your tub, however, is assembled for your group size with unbreakable, reusable plates, cups, forks and spoons.

Keep your “picnic tub” ready to go.

Some essentials to include are sunscreen, bug spray and a small first aid kit, sunburn soothing aloe and bug bite relief. And of course, don’t forget the hand sanitizer, paper towels and extra toilet paper.

You will want to have several kitchen size garbage bags along, not only to pack out what garbage was brought in, but for the dirty dishes before you return them to your tub. Garbage bags also work well for wet towels and bathing suits, too. And of course, refillable water bottles, a water bowl for the dogs and finally, headlamps. Yes, headlamps. For when the day is done, the wet kids and muddy dogs are dozing in the truck, and it’s getting dark, but you’re still packing up.

Before you even think about the food!

  • Reusable plastic or enamel plates. I like enamel, pie pan shaped camping plates that nest together.
  • Thrift store forks and spoons that won’t be mourned if lost. Serving spoons as needed. Steak knives. Long tongs for the grill.
  • Net or plastic covers to keep bugs off the food once outside the cooler.
  • Sharp knife (carefully packed) and a small, lightweight cutting board.
  • Sturdy plastic glasses that nest together.
  • Leak proof salt and pepper shakers.
  • Wash basin with biodegradable all-purpose soap.
  • Dishcloth and hand towel.
  • First Aid Kit, sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Hand Sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper.
  • Headlamp with extra batteries, matches (secured in a resealable, waterproof container) and perhaps a bug candle or two.
  • Garbage bags.
  • Durable blanket or waterproof tablecloth. Napkins.
  • Refillable water bottles.
  • Water bowl for the dogs.

Find the right container.

You’ll need a large rubber utility tub with tightly fitting lid that can be secured for travel. You don’t want your tub lid to blow off. I’ve seen sturdy tubs of different sizes and latching lids at Lowes or Home Depot. Some larger ones even have wheels!

Will you be grilling?

If your picnic includes a cookout, you will need grill tools (in most cases a good pair of tongs is enough) and perhaps steak knives as well. I use resealable gallon bags to hold my silverware. When I need to carry steak knives, I wrap them safely in a dish towel and put them in another bag.

Remember to bring charcoal or wood. And it helps to have a wire brush to prep the grill. Be sure to practice good fire safety by making sure your wood or charcoal is completely burned to ash and doused with water before you leave. Never try to burn uneaten food. Even micro-specks will attract wildlife.

Easy Clean Up.

I like to carry a large unbreakable bowl that can be used for handwashing and clean up. Mine is a wide brimmed, stainless steel mixing bowl that the enamel plates nest into for packing. Then slip the dirty dishes into a clean garbage bag before loading into your tub.

It’s good to include a large container of water for handwashing and cleanup in addition to extra drinking water for refilling water bottles, and if you’re not at a lake, then filling a water bowl for the dogs.

In little time and a pass through the dishwasher, your picnic tub necessities will be clean and restocked, sitting by the coolers and chairs, ready for the next trip to the lake, the park or the backyard. Enjoy!