Photo: Claire Lower
A good picnic feels spontaneous, but sometimes it takes a little planning to make things feel unplanned. If you keep a picnic bag of durable goodies, you’ll be ready for a picnic no matter when it’s suggested (even in the dead of winter, if that’s what you’re into).
Trader Joe’s, as you probably know, is a great place for pre-packaged, durable, and picnic-friendly. The aisles are packed with fruits, nuts, crackers, olives, and surprisingly tempting canned foods, as well as some long-life meat and cheese products.
The contents of your perfect picnic basket are of course a very personal matter, but let’s go through the process together to make sure you don’t miss out.
Start with a cracker
Photo: Claire Lower
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Trader Joe’s has many crackers to choose from, but I usually go for one that comes in a single sleeve to save space. The Savory Thins and Red Chili Scalloped Crackers are both good options, as are the brioche toasts.
Grab a sausage
At any given time, TJ’s has at least two, if not three, prepackaged salami that can hang at room temperature without spoiling. My personal favorite is the Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami. There’s a lot of jerky going on too, but I think Jerky has more of a hiking feel to it.
Get some cheese
The only truly shelf stable cheese products available at Trader Joe’s are the Oven-Baked Cheese Bites (which are basically small pieces of Frico) and Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges, and I recommend buying both. Spread a small creamy cheese wedge on a crispy baked cheese bite and top with an olive. That is luxury.
Don’t forget the wine
A wine-free picnic is just an outdoor gathering, but the bottles are large, flashy, and made of glass. Grab one of the many canned offerings, but be careful with the portion sizes – you can feel like “a wine” but it’s actually worth half a bottle.
You can use cans
Photo: Claire Lower
Did you know Trader Joe’s canned dolmas? How about some luxuriously flavored canned chickpeas (with cumin and parsley)? Well they do and they are good. They also have a great variety of canned seafood, including sardines, smoked oysters, herring, and trout, all of which go great on crackers or the aforementioned brioche toasts.
Don’t skimp on equipment
Dried fruits, nuts, olives and honey or jam round off a meat and cheese situation, and this is where Trader Joe excels. I’ve been a fan of the Tempting Trail Mix for literally decades, which is now available in convenient single servings – perfect for tossing into an already fairly full picnic basket.
You can also find convenient-sized packs of apricots, manzanilla olives, and dried apricots, although there’s nothing wrong with getting yourself a large bag of your favorite fruits, nuts, or mixing them up yourself and dividing them into smaller portions. (In fact, it’s a good thing because all of that prepackaged stuff is pretty wasteful.)
If you are looking for a sweet spread or a drizzle, reach for the hot honey sauce or one of the many jams or jellies. (I couldn’t find their pepper jelly – which was actually perfect – the last times I’ve been there and I’m desperate. Has any of you all seen it?)
No more sweet notes
Trader Joe’s has a lot of candy that you should take advantage of. I usually grab a large bar of their darkest chocolates on offer, but I was very tempted by the dark chocolate caramel wedges (which come in a fun little jar), the cookie butter bar, and the smaller packs of dark chocolate peanut butter Cups. (They also have some starburst-like things that I wanted to try, but it’s hard to beat real starbursts.)
Keep it a secret. Keep it safe.
When you’ve got your stash of long-life goodies sorted, put everything in a basket or bag and tuck it away until the next time you need to go out and have a picnic. Don’t confuse it with your “normal” snack supply. This is your picnic bag, and you don’t want kids or spouses running down your supplies.
Hide it from them, I tell you. It might feel a little cheating, but think about how excited they’ll be when you are able to walk out the door for your next impromptu picnic without stopping to shop, pack, or pick up a single item . (Just make sure you pack a knife. You will need a knife for the salami.)