Perfect picnics

Picnics are a great British tradition and a good way for you and your family to eat a healthy meal together.

If you combine a picnic with some physical activity – such as games or a brisk walk – you can have a healthy and fun day out that doesn’t have to cost much.

Your picnic basket

So, what’s going in your picnic basket?

Start by basing your picnic on starchy food, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. These foods contain carbohydrates (carbs), which are an important source of energy.

Choose whole grain or wholemeal varieties and potatoes with their skins on whenever you can, such as whole grain bread for your sandwiches. A wholemeal pasta or rice salad also works well in a picnic, as does a new potato salad with the skins left on.

Next, add some protein, which is needed for growth and repair in our bodies. Meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, and dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt all contain protein. It's easy to add protein to your picnic. Cold meat, such as turkey or chicken breast, eggs and cheese are all good choices for sandwiches, or you could try adding beans and pulses like kidney beans, butter beans and chickpeas to your salads. To make healthier choices, use lean meat and lower-fat cheese where possible, or try to eat smaller amounts of fuller-fat varieties.

Swap sugary or fatty snacks, such as chocolate and cakes, for healthier snacks like unsalted rice cakes or a small handful of unsalted mixed nuts, or low-fat fruit yoghurt.

Don't forget to bring plenty to drink. Instead of sugary, fizzy drinks, you could take a flask of:

  • water
  • milk (ideally semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed)
  • small amounts (150ml per person) of diluted sugar-free squash, cordial or fruit juice

Find out more about healthy eating.

Picnics and your 5 A DAY

It's common knowledge that eating a variety of at least five portions of fruit and veg each day is important for our health. A picnic is a great chance for the whole family to get their 5 A DAY.

You could try adding some crunch to your sandwiches with peppers, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot and lettuce, or create a multicoloured salad. You could also take a piece of fruit for each member of the family to eat while on the move.

Fruit juice also counts towards your 5 A DAY, but it only counts as one portion no matter how much you drink. Even unsweetened fruit juice can be sugary, so try not to drink more than 150ml a day and drink it with your meal to reduce the chance of tooth decay.

Get more 5 A DAY ideas in 5 A DAY and your family.

Picnic food safety tips

According to the Food Standards Agency, cases of food poisoning soar during the summer months, as food bugs can grow more quickly in the warmer temperatures. Outdoor eating at picnics and barbecues can carry additional risks of food poisoning, so follow these tips to keep your picnic safe:

  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, to stop bacteria multiplying. Don’t leave food that you would store refrigerated standing around in the warm. You can get a cool bag for this purpose. Keep the number of times the bag is opened to a minimum until the food is eaten.
  • Consider packing drinks in one cool bag and perishable foods in another. That way, your family can open the drinks bag multiple times to replenish their drinks without exposing the picnic food to warm outdoor air temperatures.
  • If you are planning to barbecue at the picnic site, remember that raw meat and poultry can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning. To avoid cross-contamination, keep these separate from cooked meats and other ready-to-eat foods like salads and desserts. Never use the same utensils or chopping boards for both. Find out more about barbecue food safety.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water at home before packing them in the cool bag, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry them with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.

Get active with your kids

Once you’re outside, use the opportunity to get active. Physical activity helps both children and adults to stay healthy, and is a great way to spend time together.

Work up an appetite before the picnic with a brisk walk, bike ride or energetic ball game.

When lunch is over, try playing a gentle game of frisbee or badminton.

Children aged between 5 and 18 need on average to take 60 minutes of exercise a day. Anything that raises your heart rate counts. It could be something as simple as a game of tag.

Find more ideas for getting active with your kids and what the physical activity requirements for adults are.

Stay sun safe

Remember to protect yourself and the children from the sun while you’re outside.

Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Learn more about sun protection.

Bites and stings

Don't let wasps or midges ruin your day out. Make sure you pack the insect repellent and cover up if necessary.

Find out what the 10 UK insects that bite or sting are. If you or someone else gets bitten or stung, find out how to treat insect bites and stings.

Page last reviewed: 16/10/2014

Next review due: 16/10/2016

Ratings

How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 20 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating

Comments

How much is 5 A DAY?

Exactly how much is one portion of fruit or vegetables? Dietitian Azmina Govindji explains

Media last reviewed: 25/10/2013

Next review due: 25/10/2015

Do One Thing with Change4Life

Looking to make a healthy change in your life? Change4Life's Do One Thing is here to boost your success

Food and diet

Find out how to achieve a healthy, nutritious diet to help you look and feel your best

Plant dangers in the garden and countryside

Keep your family safe with this guide to plant hazards, and find out what to do if someone is affected

First aid essentials

First aid kit essentials

What to have in a basic first aid kit and how to use it