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24 essentials for summer picnics: Blankets, baskets and more

A professional picnic planner shares how to throw the perfect summer gathering.
Woman on picnic in the park
Evgeniia Siiankovskaia / Getty Images

Haven't seen your friends, family or coworkers in a while? Get the gang back together again with a picnic. Picnics are a great and safe way to gather this summer, plus, who doesn't want to spend a little extra time outdoors in the warmer weather?

But how do you plan the perfect picnic? Shop TODAY spoke with Lauren Kimmons, founder of Pop Up Picnic Co., to find out everything you need to be the hostess with the mostest. No matter how big or how small of an event, here are a few rules of thumb to follow when you're planning your outdoor gathering.

Create ambiance

The best part of a picnic is the scene. Whether you're at the beach, a nearby park or in your backyard, try to section off a dedicated area to host your picnic. Throw down a cute beach blanket or outdoor rug, along with some durable throw pillows to cozy things up. "[Choose] a colorful blanket, or [something with] a nice texture, something that's going to bring joy to your space, that'll help create ambiance," says Kimmons.

Be wise with menu planning

Make sure you pack pre-made food that can be eaten al fresco and aren't messy. Kimmons advises sticking to cold dishes since it's easier to keep things cool than hot. "Food that doesn't have to be temperature controlled is perfect, too," she says, "I typically go for a Mediterranean vibe. A vinegar-based veggie slaw is going to keep much better than ranch dressing on iceberg lettuce." Charcuterie boards are also an easy, delicious and pretty dish to bring to any picnic.

As far as beverages go, individually canned or bottled drinks are typically easiest to carry. If you're hosting your picnic in the park or at the beach, though, make sure you check their rules of what you can and cannot bring beforehand.

Choose decor with form & function

"Everything on your [picnic] table should have form and function," says Kimmons. "If you're going to bring it, it needs to do all of the work: hold your food and make your table look good."

Seek out decor and table settings that are both useful and tasteful. Kimmons advises using a variation of textures and heights on your table. Greenery and flowers, for example, make just about anything look earthy and beautiful.

When it comes to place settings, think of usability and how easy it'll be to clean up. Bringing glass plates to a beach might not be the best idea, but you can pick up some aesthetically pleasing bamboo plates instead. Kimmons also recommends adding a thoughtful personalized element when possible like handwritten name settings or a printed menu.

Keep your guests in mind

Be considerate when you're planning a picnic. Does one of your guests have food allergies? Will it be difficult for one of your guests to access the picnic location? Does someone need a chair because they can't or prefer not to sit on the floor? Keep these things in mind while you're planning to make sure everyone is accounted for.

Make it easy

Finally, throwing a picnic shouldn't be hard! Get creative, use what you have or purchase items you know you'll use again.

Whether you're into boho, floral, shabby chic or tropical, we've picked out picnic must-haves for every taste. Here are some of our favorite outdoor decor items to get you started.

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Picnic blankets

Zaze Extra Large Picnic Outdoor Blanket

This 80" x 80" three-layer blanket can comfortably seat six to eight adults. It's durable, waterproof and machine-washable, making it extremely easy to clean.

Sun Squad Picnic Blanket

For just $20, you can get a fun, brightly colored 72" x 60" blanket. This blanket comes in six different patterns and we think they all make a perfect foundation for your picnic. It's also machine-washable for easy clean-up.

Persian Printed Cotton Throw Blanket

If you're going the boho route with your picnic, look no further for the ideal blanket. This handmade, Persian-inspired tassel throw is sure to match the theme.

Botanical Art Print Picnic Blanket

Feeling a bit more earthy? This botanical-inspired art print blanket is water-resistant and has a UV coating to prevent fading. It's also big enough (50" x 60") to look great beneath a picnic table adorned in more greenery.

Portable picnic tables

Tirrinia Outdoor Wine Picnic Table

Throwing a picnic for two? This lightweight — seriously, it's less than three pounds — bamboo table makes setting up a picnic and making it look pretty easier than ever. This would also make a great gift for a wine lover.

Sedona Acacia Wood Coffee Table

Setting up a table for your picnic adds height and allows you to decorate the space. Maybe you've seen people use old pallets to create a table, but if you can't get your hands on anything, try investing in an outdoor wooden coffee table like this one! It's weather-resistant, making it perfect for any beach or park.

Portable Hardwood Picnic Table

This sleek, durable and portable picnic table is another great option for your picnic. It's made from tropical hardwood and its round design offers a different design element for your table setting.

Picnic baskets

Vintiquewise Stackable Basket

If you're searching for a classic picnic basket, look no further than this gingham-lined stackable basket. It's sure to look cute on any table setting and provides ample space for all of your snacks.

Natural Park Picnic Basket

This picnic basket has it all. Equipped with several straps and pockets, you can put everything for your picnic all in one place. It also comes with two porcelain plates, two sets of cutlery, two drink goblets and a corkscrew for wine.

Olli Ella Round Lidded Picnic Baskets

Another item that provides both form and function, these adorable, handwoven picnic baskets can hold bread and other dry snacks but also add height and texture to your table.

Urnanal Food Tent

If you don't want to lug a basket across the park, opt for this handwoven food tent. It'll display your food while also protecting it from pesky bugs.

Picnic table necessities

The Pioneer Woman Amelia Goblets

Packing real cups for your picnic can add texture and beauty to your table — and these goblets from The Pioneer Woman collection does not disappoint. They come in a four-pack and are available in three colors that are all great for summer: light pink, blue and teal.

Threshold Aluminum Beverage Tub

Remember: form and function. Adding this shiny beverage tub to your table helps bring in new textures while also providing a place to keep your drinks cold. You'll want to use this ice bucket every summer.

Ecodesign-US Dinnerware Eco Set

Bringing a ton of plates and silverware to your picnic can be difficult, so Kimmons suggested opting for an eco-friendly disposable option. "Investing a little more in a palm leaf or bamboo plate rather than a plastic plate can really enhance your table," says Kimmons.

Wheat Straw Portable Cutlery

Looking for something you don't have to toss away? Try these pastel-colored portable cutlery packs. They're made from wheat straw material that is eco-friendly and durable. There are four sets in an order and each set contains a fork, spoon and knife.

Opalhouse Paper Cocktail Napkins

Fruit-inspired patterns are all the rage this year. For just $3, these napkins will add color and fun to your picnic setting.

April Cornell Essential Napkin

If your picnic table seems too busy, opt for a solid, eco-friendly napkin option. This lavender option comes in a four-pack and can be washed and reused time and time again.

Crate & Barrel Wood Napkin Ring

Yet another item that will take your table setting to the next level, these napkin rings are affordable and add a sophisticated modern touch to the table.

Personalized Place Cards

Kimmons said adding a personalized component to your table adds a sweet, surprising element to your picnic. We love these personalized name templates that start at just 99 cents. Going the extra mile doesn't need to be pricey!

Picnic decor

Design Imports Lemon Bliss Print Table Runner

Let color flow through your table with this bright and cheery table runner. It's 14" x 108" long and machine-washable.

Dried Flowers Bouquet with Vase

Displaying dried flowers in a cute vase adds a visually pleasing touch to any table setting.

Tropical Stripes Citronella Candle

Keep the mosquitos away and add beauty to your table. This three-pack of citronella candles are as cute as they are useful.

Hester & Cook Recycled Paper Placemat

This 24-pack of disposable paper placements brings a pop of color to your place setting and makes your clean-up easy. Use them guilt-free at your next picnic knowing they were made from recycled paper.

Plant Parent Set

Need a touch of greenery? These plants from The Sill will dress up your table perfectly. You can pick any five plants from their collection, allowing you to choose different heights and sizes for your table.

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