Pack the Perfect Fall Picnic | Midwest Living

Pack the Perfect Fall Picnic

Whether tailgating or leaf-peeping, pack the perfect picnic using our suggestions for this classic Midwest outing.
  • Fall picnic tips

    Summer picnics get all the glory, but as autumn-loving Midwesterners, we prefer this colorful season for eating outside. Cooler temperatures, fewer bugs, not to mention splendid scenery. For ways to make your picnic magical, click ahead. Whether you follow all our tips or just a few, we hope our day at Wills Family Orchard ( in Adel, Iowa, inspires you to escape to a pumpkin patch, family farm or leafy lakeshore to savor fall.

  • Rummage for gear

    Look closely, and you’ll see that our spiffy picnic uses supplies you probably have on hand.

    Baskets Classic for a reason—light, cheap, pretty, easy to carry.

    Totes We used a variety of wood boxes and wire baskets to corral plates, silverware and snacks.

    Plaid blankets Throw one over a park picnic table for instant style. Pack extras for snuggling or spreading on the grass.

    Cutting boards Even if you have nothing to cut, wood boards are attractive and sturdy for serving.

    Jars Large or small, they work well as drinking glasses or utensil receptacles.

    Baking pans Pie plates and muffin tins make indestructible plates or condiment holders.

    Twine We brought one roll, and it got a lot of use. We tied labels on thermoses, secured parchment on sandwiches and looped it around silverware.

  • Add nostalgic touches

    Weathered or antique supplies add a sense of nostalgia to picnics. Pumpkins, gourds or apples are natural centerpieces.

  • Bundle silverware

    Before you head out, bundle silverware in cloth napkins for grab-and-go place settings. We tucked ours in an antique wood toolbox. A basket or tin pail would work, too.

  • Put out cheese

    With fall’s mild temps, cheese will sit happily outside. Add crackers, fruit, or a jar of preserves or chutney, and don’t forget a knife and cutting board.

  • Make snack bags

    No one likes to reach deep into a greasy bag of chips, so transfer snacks to rolled-down brown lunch bags set on a tray for a tied-together look. 

  • Stock a tub

    Skip your usual six-pack and stock a galvanized tub with a mix of seasonal beverages, such as pumpkin ale, hard cider or apple wine.

  • Create a dessert bar

    We took a fall favorite—caramel apples—and made it picnic-easy with a caramel apple "sundae" bar. Bring a bag of apples (or pick some, if you’re at an orchard). Invite guests to slice their fruit into a bowl, drizzle it with caramel sauce and pile on toppings like nuts, dried fruit, gingersnaps, chocolate chips or candy.

  • Topping holder

    A muffin tin makes a great container for dessert bar toppings.

  • Use real dishes

    Disposable is convenient, but our picnic reminded us of the virtues of reusable plates and silverware. They instantly make an event feel more special, they don’t blow away, and they don’t snap in the face of cutting a crisp apple. Of course, they’re better for the environment, too.

    Plates Avoid ceramic. It’s heavy and breakable. We used vintage pie tins, but you could also use melamine (hard plastic) plates.

    Silverware Because pieces have a habit of going missing at picnics, the simplest and cheapest route is assembling a mismatched but full-of-charm set from thrift stores or garage sales.

    Cups We like the retro look of aluminum camp cups, mugs or glass jelly jars, but if you want drinks to hold their temperature, go for insulated plastic.

    Cleanup The last obstacle is dragging it all home. Our solution: Just bring a big plastic lidded tub where people can deposit their dirty gear. When you get home, throw it all in the dishwasher. Don’t forget you will still need trash bags for food wrappers and bottles.

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