Planning the Perfect Summer Picnic with Your Toddler

There's nothing quite like a picnic for summertime fun with your little one. If you have an energetic toddler, the sun, fresh air, and open space will make the perfect setting for an unforgettable summer picnic. 

So head on out and have a great day full of appetites, activities, and making amazing memories. With some simple planning, you can ensure your picnic adventure is an enriching experience both you and your kiddo will cherish for years. 

Here is how to plan the perfect summer picnic with your toddler. And if you need ideas for summer activities for kids, be sure to check out our post on that too!

Location, Location, Location 

Pick a picnic spot suited for lots of toddler movement and exploration. A local park, botanical garden, or even your own backyard can work well. Look for areas with plenty of grass for running and rolling around. Trees provide shade for heating and cooling breaks.

Be sure to scout the surroundings for any safety hazards like steep hills, water features, or high-traffic areas toddlers could wander off towards. Having an enclosed space or bringing baby gates along can help contain wandering feet. Access to bathrooms or being close to your home is ideal for inevitable accidents and diaper changes.

Fun Food for Little Ones 

Finger foods are a toddler's best friend when it comes to picnic dining. Offer a variety of easy nibbles like discs of cucumber, cubed fruit, halved grape tomatoes, shredded chicken, mini muffins, and cheese sticks or cubes. Reusable pouches or containers allow you to bring favorites like unsweetened applesauce or peanut butter from home.

Crunchy items like whole-grain crackers, dry cereal, and veggie straws or chips are toddler favorites that double as floor entertainment if inevitably tossed about during play. Bring squeeze pouches of purees, yogurt drinks and small water bottles to stay hydrated. Use large washable blankets with plastic underneath to contain the mess. Pack eco-friendly bamboo plates and utensils to avoid littering.

Creative Play Ideas

Burning off energy is essential for toddlers to stay happy and engaged during picnics. Pack a bag full of toys that encourage active movement like balls, frisbees, bubbles, chalk, and age-appropriate outdoor gadgets. You can easily incorporate these into games of catch, relay races, dancing sessions and artistic sidewalk creations.

Bring smaller toys like plush characters, cars, and activity books to keep hands busy during snack breaks. Classic favorites like collecting leaves/rocks/pinecones or chasing butterflies provide easy sensory entertainment. Let your toddler explore their surroundings closely while keeping a watchful eye. You can encourage identifying colors, numbers, and nature items along the way.

For more ideas on creative and sensory play, check out our guide to sensory play for babies

Comfort and Convenience

Be sure to pack a well-stocked tote with all the baby and toddler essentials: diapers/wipes, rash cream, sunscreen, sunhat, snug blanket for napping, extra outfit change and sanitizing wipes. Bringing a lightweight washable playmat or small pop-up tent can provide a contained space just for your toddler. Don't forget waterproof/shaded gear for yourselves like a large umbrella, folding chairs or cushions.

Keeping Cool 

Toddlers can overheat quickly, so it's important to take steps to prevent this. Pack a small misting fan or spray bottle to keep them cooled off. Bring along freezer packs or a small insulated cooler with ice pops, frozen go-gurts, chilled fruit, and cold drinks. Let them snack on frozen treats or suck on ice cubes frequently. Use a clip-on stroller fan or sun umbrella attachment. Set up in a shady spot and take breaks in the shade as needed.

Interactive Learning

A picnic provides the perfect backdrop for engaging toddlers in educational activities. Pack supplies like paper, crayons/markers, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and nature identification books. Go on a scavenger hunt to find different colored leaves, animal footprints, birds, insects, etc. Make leaf rubbings with crayons and paper. Count how many ants you see or practice tossing snacks for birds. You can turn any part of your picnic into a learning experience!

Entertainment for Waiting

While packing up the picnic and getting to the location, bring along audio entertainment and small toys to keep your toddler occupied and burn off energy. Load up a tablet or phone with their favorite movies, TV shows, interactive apps and games. Let them bring a small bag of books, lacing toys, dolls/action figures and vehicles. These will help make any downtime waiting in the car or pushing a stroller more manageable.

Hygiene Essentials

Be sure to pack plenty of hygiene supplies for your toddler. Bring diaper cream, travel potty seat, potty training underwear, extra clothes, wet wipes, tissues, and antibacterial hand sanitizing gel. 

You may also want disposable dry shampoo, deodorant wipes, and sunburn relief spray for yourself. Hand towels, washcloths and clean-up bags are musts for inevitable spills and messes. Having these essentials on hand can prevent accidents from derailing your fun.

Games to Play 

In addition to classic outdoor games like tag, duck duck goose, hopscotch, and bubbles, look for games that incorporate items from your picnic too. See who can toss cracker “rings” onto a bottle or stuff from the furthest distance. Stack containers or plastic cups as high as possible. Play dress up with napkins as capes or crowns made from leaves. You can turn simple picnic items into imaginative props for games!

Safety Checks 

Before letting your toddler roam and play at your picnic spot, do a safety scan of the area. Look for any gaps in fencing, holes, sharp objects, poisonous plants, insect nests and areas that could pose fall risks. Securely stake down blankets so they don't blow away. Apply bugspray and sunscreen liberally. If near a grill or campfire, establish safe zones your toddler can't cross without you. Stay vigilant about any choking hazards. With preparation and precautions, you can ensure your picnic adventure is 100% safe for active toddler play!

Final Thoughts

With some simple preparation for meals, activities, and preventative care needs, you can ensure your summer picnic with your toddler is full of memories. Get outside and let that fresh air work its developmental magic. Good luck!