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The Ultimate Picnic Basket (Posted On: Wednesday, April 04, 2007)

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There are three considerations when creating the ultimate picnic basket. Firstly, make sure it is the right basket or cooler for your purpose. Secondly – contents – do you have everything you will need? Thirdly – the food…I can’t help you there but do visit a great site at That’s My Home, for the newest picnic basket recipes for picnicking and tailgating.

Let’s start with your basket/cooler. Do match the size of your container with the amount of your contents – don’t lug around an enormous cooler for a couple of sandwiches and a few drinks. Use any basket, strong tote, cooler or the like. Rectangular will always fit better. I prefer the cooler style; hard-sided or soft-sided, as they will help to insulate your food and keep it cool. Hard-sided can double as a small table or a seat at your picnic site while soft-sided ones can usually fold into a smaller size once back home for storage. Consider how far you will have to carry the basket – are you hiking? Is it a long way? If you are traveling first or have quite a distance, do consider a cooler bag style over the traditional picnic basket. Cooler bags now come in back pack format, with great shoulder straps, and my favourite…with wheels!

Now, what to put in it…before you consider the food – let’s make sure you have everything else you need. Start with a tablecloth: the best bet is a plastic-coated tablecloth that can take the spills and be thrown in the wash. It should be big enough to comfortably hold all the food, containers and workspace and at least some sitting space. There is something special though about a heavy cotton tablecloth and as long as you are an expert at stain removal – go for it. Your tablecloth may have matching napkins or be sure to tuck in some paper ones. There are typically two approaches to the rest of the contents – are you trying to be ‘green’? If so – bring items that can all be returned home, washed and repacked for next time. If not – bring paper plates and other items that can be disposed of at the picnic site or the next nearest refuse container.

Most picnic baskets today come with a compliment of plates, cups/glasses, knives and forks, etc. If you have a basket without contents or have the ‘cooler style’ that comes without, take a shopping trip and pick up your picnic tableware. Stay away from breakable glass and china. I highly recommend Corel brand dishes – they are unbreakable ‘china’ with a great look and nice designs without the risk of breakage. Same goes for hard plastic glasses and cups. For cutlery, my preference is washable plastic – but choose what you like since you will be the one using it.

Years of picnicking at the ski club have helped me accumulate quite a collection of picnic basket ‘must have’s’. These are the items that even the best-healed picnic baskets often come without. Knives – do include a cheese knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. A small breadboard is also extremely useful. Include a salt and pepper set – Tupperware type brands have some with plastic lids so they don’t shake out all over the inside of your basket. And, of course include a corkscrew and a bottle stopper. Now for the unconventional – do include a pair of scissors, a flat pack of wet-wipes and a pen or Sharpie marker with a pad of paper…you just never know.

If you are going to be taking something that needs to stay hot or cold – do consider a stainless steel thermos – nothing works as well. They will generally keep food hot for up to 5 hours and cold for up to 7 hours.

Lastly, for convenience, do bring extra Tupperware containers for your leftovers, perhaps even a few zip-lock bags. Also bring a couple of grocery style plastic bags – use one for your dirty dishes, and one for your garbage – it can be tied up and kept in your bag until you are back to civilization.

Depending where you are going, do bring along a picnic blanket – although ideally it can attach to the outside of the basket.

If you are considering soft-sided cooler bags, do consider the brand carried by Thornbury Trading Company. There are many sizes and shapes available but my picks are the Scugog – which has an 18 can capacity – actually perfect for lunch for 2-4 and includes two drink holders in its lid. It is oval in shape and has a very comfortable shoulder strap. Planning a bigger lunch…a day at the beach…or more people – then you need the Cooler Bag on wheels. Seemingly huge with a 54-can capacity – this is the one I use at the ski club. It is perfect for lunch for 4-6 plus…snacks…extra drinks…extra clothes…etc. It even has a net cargo bag that comes out of the top and attaches to the handle – perfect for beach towels, extra clothes, or a picnic blanket.

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