Family picnics are exceptional memories for my family. While it might seem as simple as picking some food and going somewhere nice, there are actually a lot of other considerations, especially if you have little kids. Ask me how I know!
In this article, I’ll teach you all about the best things to bring, the best places to go, and how to manage a family picnic, even when you have little kids along. As of this writing, I have 5 kids under the age of 9, and it can be a real challenge!
In fact, we often spend our weekends at the park with the kids, just enjoying being together. The problem is that we have very little time to ourselves, so we have to make sure that the whole family has fun while still keeping a schedule for everyone. A family picnic is a perfect opportunity to connect with your family and get away from it all. It’s also a great way to get away from cooking and meal prep, which can be a pain if you have little kids. So let’s dive into the best things to bring and the best places to go for a family picnic.
How To Have A Fun Picnic With Little Kids
While the first goal is to make wonderful family memories, a close second is to tire the kids! The good news is: kids love blowing off all of their energy. So it’s our job as parents to give them a fun, safe way to do it! We’re about to cover the easiest, cheapest ways to do that and a bunch of the tricks I’ve learned along the way.
What’s more, you can even use the ideas for other kinds of family outings.
Where To Have Your Picnic
Of course, we need to talk about one of the most critical factors, the location of your picnic!
Having A Picnic With Little Kids At Home
Sometimes, you don’t feel like loading all the kids into the car, filling the trunk with everything, and driving somewhere. I can tell you that wrestling a toddler into a car seat and trying to buckle them before they arch their back and scream is not my idea of a “good time.” So, what other options are there? Your very own backyard!
Pros of a backyard picnic with your kids
One of my favorite pros is that there’s no traffic or other people you need to watch for. Your kids just get to enjoy the backyard, sun, plants and explore their world in a safe, familiar place. It’s also nice that you have access to all things you might want or need, like foods, drinks, toys, and sunscreens.
Cons of a backyard picnic with your kids
The big drawback is having a small backyard or no backyard at all. When we lived in an apartment, we didn’t have the luxury of a backyard, so we had to use communal areas. This isn’t ideal, but it is an option if you have access to them.
Other drawbacks include that your kids may not be super interested in the picnic because they’re already very familiar with the backyard. Some ways to get around this are to have new toys or activities to do (which we’ll cover later in this article).
Having a Picnic With Little Kids At The Park
There are many parks in our area, and most of them offer plenty of space for kids to play. This makes them the perfect picnic spot. If you have a nice park nearby, then definitely consider it for your next picnic. Parks are a picnic lunch family favorite for us!
Pros for picnics at the park
We’ve found that having a picnic in a park is great for many reasons: You don’t have to worry about traffic or other people around you. Your kids will enjoy the playgrounds, swings, and other fun activities. You can easily find shade and/or open areas where you can relax and enjoy the view.
Additionally, there are often open pavilions and plenty of picnic tables to sit at and grills you can use if you want to get a little adventurous and cook some food at the park!
Cons against picnics at the park
Around us, it’s common for play areas to not be fenced in. I can’t emphasize how nice a fenced-in playground is. You don’t have to worry about kids wandering into the parking lot, and you have only one area that you have to focus on (the exit gate).
Additionally, if you only have weekends available to you, that’s when parks can get very busy. While this presents excellent social opportunities for kids, it can also make keeping an eye on them a lot harder.
One of our tricks is to put all of our kids into brightly colored matching shirts. Recently, my cousin was at a theme park with her two sons. One of them wandered off, but a stranger recognized and pointed him out because her sons wore the same shirts.
Besides these cons, parks are our favorite places to have picnics with the kids.
A Neighborhood Common Area
If you live in a small town or neighborhood with other families, you may have a common area used for picnics. The best thing about this is that there are usually benches that you can sit at and enjoy the view. Also, if you have a grill, you can cook food there!
Pros of a picnic at the neighborhood common area
One of the biggest pluses of a neighborhood common area is that it’s a familiar place for your kids. They know where they’re going, who’s around, and what to expect. Also, if your common area is friendly and open, it will give your kids a lot of space to run around and get tired!
Cons for a picnic in a neighborhood common area
While it’s nice that it’s familiar and safe for them, they may not feel like they’re doing anything special in particular. This is where novelty things like laying out the picnic blanket and eating on it can make all the difference. So do not underestimate how excited your kids will be about sitting on a blanket on the ground!
Another con is that neighborhood communal areas tend to be open with streets around them, so that is definitely something to consider if your little ones like to wander around and explore.
The Beach or Lakeside
Another popular choice for a picnic with little kids is a lakeside or beach. These areas are typically more open and less crowded than parks or common areas. If you’re at a lake, you can usually see boats, kayaks, and other water activities happening in the distance. It’s also a great place to find some shade and/or a grill to cook food. Don’t forget to bring beach towels!
Pros of picnics on the beach or lakeside
These places are very kid-friendly! You can sit on the beach, play in the sand, and enjoy the beautiful views. In addition, there are usually open pavilions and picnic tables that you can use.
Cons for picnics on the beach or lakeside
As lovely as the beach or a lake may be, you need to be very attentive with little kids near the water! Additionally, shaded areas at the beach tend to be more scarce than parks. Finally, if your little ones are very sensitive to heat, or direct sunlight, then a beach may not be the best option.
How To Make It Safe
Here are some things that you can do to make sure that your picnic is safe for your kids: Make sure that you have an excellent first aid kit on hand. It’s always good to have a first aid kit at your picnic site. You never know when your kid will get hurt, so it’s always wise to have a kit on hand. We usually keep our first aid kits in our car, but it’s also a good idea to keep a small one in your picnic basket. Include things like band-aids, Neosporin, and a travel-sized anti-septic spray.
It might sound like overkill, but trying to wrangle multiple children to the car because of a scraped knee or a minor cut is a bigger chore than it might seem (especially when you factor in kids crying because they think you’re leaving)!
It should go without saying, but keep an eye on your kids! I often see parents just staring at their phones, and they have no idea what their kids are up to.
One of the biggest dangers of picnics is that kids get away from their parents. So you need to ensure that you’re always keeping an eye on them. The best thing you can do is make sure that you have a lot of fun activities for your kids. If they’re bored, they may decide to wander off by themselves.
Being prepared for minor injuries and watching your kids will eliminate most of the safety risks with your family picnic.
Fun Activities For Your Family Picnic With Little Kids
A picnic wouldn’t be a picnic without a ton of fun to tire the children out! What follows are some fun ideas for kids to do at your picnic to capture their attention, get them moving, and enjoy their time even more!
A Blanket With Whiffle Balls or Tennis Balls
This is one of my go-to ideas for kids. I even have my children do this in our backyard because they enjoy it so much. Have each kid grab a section of the blanket and pull it tight. Next, put the balls in the center of the blanket and have them start shaking their arms up and down, wildly shaking the blanket.
The balls will begin to move around and pop up and down. The kids love this activity. You can also show them how they can make incredible things happen if they all move in unison. For example, lift the blanket high up together, then pull the blanket down to the ground as fast as possible. This will cause all of the balls to pop high up into the air.
Kites are a great activity to do with your little ones. It’s pretty simple to do, and you can find some really fun-looking kites. The kids are always amazed when they see how their kite moves across the sky. Try to find a nice spot that is open and away from trees or other objects. If you’re at a lake, then you can always find a place where the wind is blowing.
Throwing balls and playing catch is a great developmental activity and it’s one the simplest outdoor games. If your kids are still learning to catch, make sure that the balls are soft. You can also give them a baseball mitt to make catching easier. Consider using larger balls like a dodge ball or soccer ball if they are still learning.
Bonfires (where allowed)
If you’re allowed to have bonfires, then this is a fun way for your kids to burn off some energy (pardon the pun!). Bonfires are a fun outdoor activity to spend some time as long as your little ones understand fire safety. You can roast hot dogs, marshmallows, or you can find cool gadgets at stores like Walmart that let you make sandwiches like grilled cheeses over the campfire.
I definitely suggest getting some playground time in if a park is nearby. One of the best rewards for parents who have a family picnic is tired kids! Naptime is a golden time in a parent’s life when everything is right in the world!
If you can plan ahead for being near an enclosed playground, that makes things even better. Fenced-in playgrounds are amazing. We don’t have many around us, but we rejoice every time we find one!
It might seem a little gross, but I also have many sons. I was destined to look at bugs! So bring along a magnifying glass and help your kids find bugs to look at. This is also an excellent opportunity to teach them about safety and not to touch bugs, especially if they don’t know what they are! This is another staple outdoor activity for us.
A favorite is Antlions which are very easy to find because they have inverted cone-style holes in the sandy dirt. If you drop an ant into their cone-shaped trap, the Antlion begins flicking the sand up to make the ant slip down into the hole where the Antlion awaits. It’s pretty cool, and the kids love it!
When you’re out walking through nature, be sure to pick some flowers and leaves to bring home. It’s fun for your kids to hold them in their hands and smell the flowers. This is a great way to get them interested in nature. Then, you can let them dry out naturally or teach your kids the art of flower pressing.
To kids, everything is a treasure. I literally have a pile of limestone rocks on my patio as I type this. It doesn’t matter how common the stone is. Kids are just excited to collect things. It’s probably worthwhile to set limits like only keeping the 3 most fantastic-looking rocks, so you don’t end up with a pile of limestone rocks on your patio.
The Clean Up Game
I was always taught to leave a place cleaner than when you arrived. It’s great to teach this to your kids, so they learn lessons on responsibility. One of the best ways to do this is to turn it into a game. While it may not seem like a fun game to you, it can be one of the most interactive games your children play all day!
Give each kid a grocery bag and those cool trash grabber tools (those tools make it much more sanitary, and the kids LOVE using them). The first kid to fill their bag completely, wins! It’ll likely never be their favorite game, but never underestimate how motivating competition between siblings can be!
What To Do When The Kids Get Hungry
Once the activities for kids are done, naturally, the kids will work up an appetite! What should you do?
Firstly, I emphasize bringing easy foods! If you’re like me, you want to avoid cooking, but you still want to make sure that the food is delicious and nutritious. So let’s get into what to pack.
What Food To Pack (Especially If You Don’t Want To Cook)
You want cheap, easy, and nutritious when it comes to food. Most kids I know love fruit, so that is my first stop. Important considerations when choosing fruits are:
- Do they need to be peeled and cut up?
- Can my kids peel the fruit themselves?
- Can my youngest kids eat this fruit without the fear of choking?
Things that make a fruit difficult are thick peels or hard to peel, seeds, pits, and the messiness factor. So taking those things into account, here are my go-to picnic fruits.
Apples are perfect because they keep well, don’t need to be peeled, and are generally easy to eat. If your family prefers apple slices, it’s an easy prep-ahead option if you’ve got a little lemon juice on hand!
Mandarin Oranges (and similar kinds of citrus)
For me, a close second is mandarin oranges, tangerines, tangelos, cuties, and any other type of seedless thin-skinned citrus fruit. They’re effortless to peel. So basically, you want something that you can peel and hand to a kid or let the kids peel themselves.
These can be a little messier, but they’re still great. I’ll never forget when one of my sons tried to peel a mandarin orange. After a little while of trying, he brought me the orange with the handle of a measuring spoon jammed entirely through the center of it.
These don’t keep as well, but my kids go through bananas like they’re monkeys. The peels are a bit more challenging to manage, but if your picnic location has a garbage can, then it’s really not a big deal.
Fruit Cocktail in Water (with a bonus tip!)
These can definitely increase the messiness factor, but they’re still almost effortless, and you can drain off the water or juice to make them “little kid” friendly. Parenting hack: all kids love the maraschino cherries in fruit cocktails, but often, they don’t include many. Grab a jar of maraschino cherries to add more to the cocktail. You obviously will need to bring spoons for this treat, but it might be worth the trade-off of having these in your pantry.
For vegetables, often, you need dips to convince the kids. I like using peanut butter, ranch dressing, and sometimes I can get away with a nicely flavored hummus. Also, I know it will sound gross, but sometimes all you need is a little bit of ketchup. Kids throw convention out the window, so just because something sounds repulsive to you and me doesn’t mean it won’t work for the kids.
Celery is the go-to vegetable. It’s “dipping friendly,” keeps for a long time, it’s easy to prepare, and portion and the kids like it.
Baby carrots are another dip-friendly veggie that the kids enjoy. Sometimes they’ll even eat them without the dip! Win!
This one can be hit or miss, but we market them to the kids as “broccoli dippers.” They’re dip-friendly with ranch dressing, and the kids like them. I usually only have one kid snub them entirely, and funny enough, it’s not always the same kid!
Other Convenience Foods
I prefer bringing baked chips over fried, but you know what’s suitable for your family. Chips are an easy, portionable snack that you can hand to your kids without much worry. Also, the variety of flavors available ensures that even your pickiest eater will have a flavor they enjoy.
I love dehydrated fruits. It’s like handing candy to the kids, but it at least has vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Again, it’s also very portionable, and you can usually please everyone with something. Dehydrated mango is particularly popular in my house. One thing to know: most dehydrated fruits have added sugars to protect them from bacteria/mold and make them more palatable. In my experience, raisins don’t have this but check the ingredients list and nutrition label if that’s a concern for you.
Little bottles of water are essential. My kids get rosy-cheeked very quickly in the southern United States, so we always keep lots of water on hand. I like to use sports bottles filled with filtered water from our fridge, but bottles of spring water will suffice if you’re in a rush. Kids like feeling like “big boys” and “big girls” when they drink from sports bottles rather than sippy cups.
Juice boxes are a favorite in our house, but I try to avoid the really sugary juices. One of my favorite brands is honest kids. It’s a very subtle juice rather than some more common juice boxes. But, again, you know what’s suitable for your family.
What To Do Before You Leave
Leaving a fun event or location goes over about as well as bedtime. If your idea of carrying a kicking and screaming toddler out of a park is your idea of a good time, then you’re in for a treat!
The good news is there are a few things we can do. The first thing I do, before we go anywhere, is I get my older kids to agree that they will not complain once I say it’s time to leave. Them complaining makes my younger kids complain. This makes a big difference.
Next, make sure you’re keeping things on schedule:
Are the kids done eating? Ensure everything is packed away and ready to be carried back to the vehicle. Do the kids look like they’re running out of steam? Make sure they find all of their toys, cups, and shoes. Make sure they pick up any trash and throw it out.
Also, make sure the kids do their favorite activities. For example, I know my oldest son loves going down the slide, so I remind him to get his sliding in before leaving the park. This eliminates one of the possible complaints on the car ride home.
Another way to ease any possible tension is to let them know they have a certain number of things left before leaving. For example, with my oldest son, I might say, “3 more times down the slide, then we’ll be leaving.”
What To Do When The Kids Are Ready To Go Home
Here’s another good part, if you do your picnic correctly, your kids will actually ask you to leave. Once kids run out of energy, they really do ask to leave. So what you need to do as a parent is to ensure that you’re keeping things in order as the day progresses.
In the previous section, I mention keeping things on schedule. This is because once the kids are begging to leave, temper tantrums will ensue if it’s delayed for any reason.
This is why it’s essential to have things packed up, cleaned up, thrown out, and collected as you go. Then, eventually, you’ll hear the magical words “I’m getting tired” or “can we leave?” I call these magic words because it means you’ve done an incredible job.
Conclusion: Enjoy Your Picnic!
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but most of it will come second nature as you do it more often. It can seem overwhelming, but you’ll figure out what works best for your family.
Lastly, remember to take care of yourself, enjoy every minute of your time together, don’t forget to take lots of pictures, and I’d recommend that you read some of our other resources, including: