After spending the better part of the morning preparing Pinterest-worthy family picnic fare, our picnics usually dissolve into chaos over who gets which sandwich (even though they’re all the same), who ate all the chips and why we can’t eat dessert first.
That’s not to mention the drinks that invariably get knocked over (why do I always sit in the wet spot?), the tomato sauce footprints across the picnic blanket from someone obliviously traipsing through someone else’s plate, and the obligatory splinter that normally finds its way into a limb so dirty I can’t even see it (the splinter, not the limb).
Oh, and that’s before we even get into having to clean sticky fingers with single ply toilet paper from the bathroom as a result of not bringing any wipes because, you know, how much mess can you actually make eating sarmies?
Or having to fashion impromptu bandages from said single ply paper for the roastie you predicted when you told certain little people that attempting to run up the tree trunk wasn’t a good idea.
Because here’s the thing; take everything and the kitchen sink along on your family picnic, and you’ll use none of it. It’ll also take you more time to pack and unpack the car x2 than you’ll actually spend at the picnic.
Leave it all at home, and you’ll find yourself Googling ‘stinging nettle in South Africa’ on your phone with one hand while using the other to inspect the rash that could really be anything from gewone itchy bites to dried tomato sauce (now you know who traipsed through someone else’s plate).
No, if you’re going to do the family picnic thing, and perfect it, you need to use guerrilla tactics.
Firstly, never let them see your weakness. If you’re far from home and armed only with a wicker basket, that means never mentioning you left something behind, or that anything is soggy or melted.
Secondly, pack the healthiest food you can. That way around it really doesn’t matter who eats what, how much they devour and in what order they eat it. When it comes to picnic food, you may have to lose a battle or two to win the war.
Finally, be prepared. If you think it won’t happen, it probably will. Little things like taking along a change of clothes mean the difference between your kids being comfortable on their day out, and having to wear a skirt fashioned from your hoodie while their wet pants dry, flapping out the car window, on the drive home.
So, what to pack to survive your family picnic with your sanity intact?
Here are my top 10 picnic must-haves:
It sounds so obvious to take wipes along, but if you have older children who don’t use wipes, this won’t necessarily top your list. And if you have a baby on board, you might just have bum wipes.
I prefer using thicker hand and face wipes, which are great for dirty fingers and faces.
Sanitiser wipes are also a good idea; I’m a fan of the ones that specify they kill ecoli – a potential hazard when using the loos at public picnic sites.
For a zero-waste option, pack two or three wet facecloths in reusable Ziploc bags and use them instead.
Again, most moms of little kids always keep a spare set of clothes handy, but it’s not something you think of doing with 10-year-olds. I have now learnt that if there is a puddle to fall into, The Oldest Child will fall into it.
And generally, if there is water – no matter how much of it – all my kids will get wet.
And if I pack a costume and towel, their clothes…yes, will get wet.
So, on outings – even innocent ‘how-much-trouble-can-we-get-into picnics?’ – a change of clothes for all 3 boys is a must.
When you’ve stripped those wet clothes off, you need to put them somewhere.
Plastic bags come in handy for stashing wet stuff until you get home, as well as providing a place to put all your picnic waste (this is essential if you’re not picnicking in a designated site with rubbish bins).
Plastic bags also make for simple repositories for feathers, leaves and other gifts from nature your kids might want to collect and take home.
In our case it’s rocks. It’s always rocks.
So you took the time to do your research and choose a picnic site with a loo, only to get there and find there’s no toilet paper. Eeek!
Keeping a toilet roll in your picnic basket indefinitely is one way to ensure you’re never, ahem, caught with your pants down.
Most of us don’t leave the house armed with our first aid kit (I can barely get out the house without leaving a child behind), so packing a few first aid essentials can be a lifesaver.
A small toiletry bag is ideal, and can easily hold a pair of tweezers, a pack of plasters, cotton wool, and antiseptic liquid for cleaning and balm for healing.
I love Simply Bee Antiseptic Balm from Faithful-to-Nature. It only contains beeswax and propolis (both responsibly harvested), sweet almond oil, myrrh and tea tree essential oil, making it an all-natural product that is safe for everyone. It’s very affordable and highly effective too.
This is another essential that should live in your picnic basket. Like finding no toilet rolls in the loo, it’s not uncommon to find no soap at the basins either, especially in more rustic picnic locations.
Depending on the occasion, I usually wipe hands clean with regular or antibacterial wipes, and then use the waterless hand sanitiser afterwards for extra protection.
Look out for sanitisers with good germ-busting power, or that specify they kill ecoli (a must-have when food is involved).
You might think that because it’s spring, the bugs aren’t out yet. Well, we’ve already seen our fair share of miggies this season.
And let me tell you, forests and bushy areas always mean mozzies (and sometimes ticks too), so if your spring picnic takes you bundu bashing, a good insect repellent is vital.
There’s a move towards natural insect repellents* that don’t have strong chemicals in them. If you’re not sure, check the label. Ingredients like ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate or diethyltoluamide could be harmful or cause skin reactions.
Faithful-to-Nature stocks a wide range of natural insect repellents that are guaranteed free from harsh toxic irritants and well suited to children. Take a look here.
*Keep a look out for my upcoming review of natural insect repellents!
I think most families never leave home without sunblock these days, but it’s worth putting on the list nonetheless.
I love using sunblock sticks for faces, and lotions for bodies.
Like insect repellents, the trend towards natural sunblocks* is growing. While the jury is still out on the effects of the long-term use of regular chemical-based sunscreens, there is an increasing number of natural sunscreens available for the whole family.
Head on over here to check out tried and tested natural suncare products.
*Look out for my upcoming review of natural sunscreens for the whole family!
What is a picnic without some good old outdoor fun? Because you’re already lugging so much stuff to your picnic site and back, you don’t really want to be adding too much to your load.
Our action-packed picnic favourites are a frisbee, soccer ball (for kicking and throwing games) and set of badminton racquets and shuttle. These are all light and easy to pack.
Bubbles and soft balls are great for older babies and toddlers.
For laid back fun, spread out on your picnic blanket, look up at the sky, and make pictures in the clouds.
As romantic as lounging around on picnic blankets looks, grass – even soft, green grass – is actually not that comfortable and can be a real pain in the butt.
I find plump box cushions to be the comfiest. Pushed together, they also double as a snug bed for weary little ones when the excitement gets too much.
Look for plump cushions (the harder they are, the longer they’ll last), preferably covered with outdoor fabric, which is UV and water resistant, or at least a strong canvas material for added durability.
For more picnic ideas, you might like to read our review of the family picnic site, Jubilee Creek in Knysna. It tops our list of family picnic spots!
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