We love picnics. Whether it’s a picnic on one of our favourite local beaches, a gathering in a nearby park, or even an impromptu picnic lunch in our own backyard, our summer is often filled with picnics. As soon as the weather becomes warm, one of the first things we do is pack up a bag of our favourite eco-friendly picnic gear, some delicious eats, and head on down to our closest, big park, which sits overlooking the river. I find that even though there are many great eco-friendly alternatives to things like disposable plates, napkins and containers, we often see the garbage pails full of this stuff. But you don’t need to invest in fancy picnic baskets or gear to help the environment. Today I’m going to share our secrets and tips for planning an eco-friendly picnic, and the best picnic gear to bring with you.
- Stay Closer to Home – If you’re just heading out for a simple picnic, try to find a location close to home that you can get to by walking, biking, or taking public transit. That’s not always do-able with little ones in tow (especially if you have a lot of things with you), but you can even set up the picnic in the backyard or a little nearby park as well.
- BYO Blanket – We enjoy spreading out and lounging on our picnics. Who doesn’t? We have a great big Mexican throw-type blanket we picked up at a local music and craft show, and it has served us well. You can bring along any good blanket or old quilt you have, or if you prefer to buy a special picnic blanket, I have heard great things about both the JJ Cole blanket and the Skip Hop outdoor blanket.
- Find a Good Bag or Basket – Again, you don’t need anything fancy to pack your gear. If you have a great picnic basket you love, that’s awesome. If not, you can easily use a big cooler bag or sturdy bag, like the one we use. A backpack (or a couple) can also work as well, and these are especially good if you’re hiking to get to your picnic location.
- Bring Food in Reusable Food Containers – When it comes to packing up delicious picnic grub, think re-usable. We normally use reusable glass containers to store food at home, but when we’re out, and packing lunches, stainless steel is the way to go. Not only is it so much lighter than glass (what we normally use at home), it’s also not breakable and it’s a great eco-friendly alternative to plastic, or even disposable styrofoam. Eco Lunchbox makes an amazing 3-in-1 stackable stainless steel container that allows you to bring an assortment of items. The two large containers are perfect for anything from sandwiches to salads, and you can easily put in some snack items in the smaller container, such as cheese and crackers, hummus or cut-up fruit or nuts. We also love this for meals on the go, whether it’s something heartier like rice and veggies and a side of fruit, or even a simple lunch, like a sandwich in one container, cut-up fresh veggies in another, and fresh fruit in the third. I love the fact it comes with two big containers and one snack pod – it works perfectly for school lunches. Plus, since it’s made from non-toxic stainless steel, it’s free from chemicals, BPA, phthalates, and bisphenol-S (BPS). You can also throw it in the dishwasher to clean.
- Don’t Forget Reusable Napkins – Using disposable napkins or paper towels can be convenient, but its hard on the environment. We bring simple cloth napkins from home that are super absorbent and can easily be washed once we get back home. They don’t take up much space, are lightweight and can even be used to wrap up food items or cutely that you bring with you. Kitchen Counter Chronicles has an excellent post on how to make cloth napkins, and Buggy and Buddy has a great tutorial on making cloth napkins for kids lunches, which can easily double as picnic napkins.
- Stay Hydrated with Reusable Drink Containers – Disposable cups may be convenient, but they are terrible for the environment. They never break down and instead end up in the oceans and sewage systems as well as other waterways and landfills. We all have our own personal Klean Kanteen, including little K, who actually has two Klean Kanteens (we ended up buying a second replacement when we thought he lost one, only to find it months later – yes, we love it that much!) He uses his for just water, but we also absolutely love the Klean Kanteen vacuum insulated bottle. They are my favourite reusable drink container, hands down. I use mine daily for smoothies and my husband loves to use his for coffee. The insulated bottle keeps cold beverages cold for 24 hours and hot beverages warm for 12 hours. Seriously. I’ve poured a cold smoothie into mine in the morning, brought it with me when I left for the day, and completely forgotten about it for hours and hours, only to remember it at the end of the day and find it’s still cold. In our tall insulated container, we love to bring a cold drink like lemonade or ice water to the picnic with us to share. If it’s a bit warmer out or you’re going for a night-time or chillier weather stroll, this is the perfect mug to bring a warm beverage in, like hot cocoa or tea or coffee. I love that all of Klean Kanteen’s drink containers are made out of sturdy stainless-steel and are super durable. You should see how many times K has dropped (or thrown, oops!) his Kid Kanteens, but they manage to stay in one piece, thankfully. The caps are also made out of sustainably harvested bamboo, food-grade silicone and stainless steel. These are our favourite portable, reusable drink containers to bring on an eco-friendly picnic, plus they are even recyclable, which is awesome.
- Choose Local and Organic Dishes – One of our favourite things to do is head to our the local farmer’s market to pick up whatever is in season before we pack up our picnic. Local fruit can come as is or be cut up quickly ahead of time. We love to also cut up fresh, local veggies and bring these with some hummus or other dips. Baguette, cheese and homemade goodies can also normally be found at many farmer’s markets and are good choices to bring on a picnic.
- Bring Reusable Cutlery – Bringing cutlery from home is a great option so you can refrain from using disposable plastic. There are also some good reusable travel cutlery options out there. The Kitchnn has a list of some of the best reusable cutlery sets, which would be the perfect addition to your eco-friendly picnic.
- Bring a Garbage Bag – Grab a bag to bring with you in order take away any garbage or recyclables if the location you’re heading to doesn’t have containers to dispose of these. You never want to leave garbage behind.
- Use Natural Sunscreen and Bug Spray – Bugs can be a nuisance and I’m finding the mosquitos to be especially bad this year, at least where we are in Ontario. Make sure you bring a good natural bug repellant with you. ALLterNATIVE Learning has a really helpful post on natural bug and sun protection with simple DIY recipes. It’s also important to protect yourself from the sun. Bring hats for everyone and lather up with some natural sunscreen. We love Badger sunscreen, but there are other many great natural companies as well, such as Green Beaver, Substance Company and Goddess Garden. For tips on applying sunscreen properly, check out Moms and Crafters for a free printable.
- Bring Fun Toys – Lastly, don’t forget toys to keep active kids busy if you’re heading to the picnic with children. Simple ideas that don’t take up much room in the bag include: frisbee, binoculars for bird or nature watching, bubbles and simple books. Here is a list of children’s books about picnics that would be fun to bring along as well to read while you’re picnic-ing. You can also take the time to just lie down and cloud watch. I used to love doing this as a child, deciphering different shapes and scenes in the clouds with my friends. Or head on a stroll – maybe you’re surrounded by beautiful flowers or gardens, or even near water.
I’d love to hear your ideas for the best things to bring on a picnic. Let me know.