A good picnic feels spontaneous, but sometimes it takes a little planning to help things feel unplanned. Keeping a picnic go-bag of shelf-stable treats means you’re ready for a picnic no matter when it’s suggested (even in the dead of winter, if you’re into that kind of thing).
Trader Joe’s, as you probably know, is a great place to go for the pre-packaged, the shelf-stable, and the picnic-friendly. Its aisles are packed with fruits, nuts, crackers, olives, and surprisingly enticing canned products, as well as few shelf-stable meats and cheese products.
The contents of your perfect picnic basket are obviously a highly personal thing, but let’s walk through the process of building one together, just to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Start with a cracker
Trader Joe’s has a lot of crackers to choose from, but I usually grab one that comes in a single sleeve, for space-saving purposes. The Savory Thins and the 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, pre-packaged salami that can hang out at room temperature without spoiling. My personal favorite is the Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami. There’s also a lot of jerky, but I think jerky has more of a hiking vibe.
Get some cheese
The only truly shelf-stable cheese products available at Trader Joe’s are the Oven-Baked Cheese Bites (which are basically little hunks of frico) and the Laughing Cow cheese wedges, and I recommend getting both. Spread a creamy little processed cheese wedge on a crunchy little baked cheese bite and top it with an olive. That’s luxury.
Don’t forget the wine
A picnic without wine is just an outdoor meeting, but bottles are big, conspicuous, and made of glass. Grab one of the many canned offerings, but take note of serving sizes—one can may feel like “one wine,” but it is, in fact, half a bottle’s worth.
You can use cans
Did you know Trader Joe’s has canned dolmas? How about luxuriously seasoned canned chickpeas (with cumin and parsley)? Well, they do, and they’re good. They also have a wide array of canned seafood, including sardines, smoked oysters, herring, and trout, all of which are great on crackers or the aforementioned Brioche Toasts.
Don’t skimp on accoutrement
Dried fruit, nuts, olives, and honey or jam really round out a meat and cheese situation, and in this, Trader Joe’s excels. I’ve been a fan of the Tempting Trail Mix for literal decades, which now comes in convenient single-servings—perfect for tossing into an already pretty full picnic basket.
You can also find conveniently sized packs of apricots, manzanilla olives, and dried apricots, although there is nothing wrong with getting a big bag of your favorite fruit, nut, or mix and dividing it into smaller portions yourself. (In fact, it’s a good thing, because all that pre-packaged stuff is quite wasteful.)
If you’re looking for a sweet spread or drizzle, grab the Hot Honey Sauce, or one of their many jams or jellies. (I haven’t been able to find their pepper jelly—which was actually perfect—the last few times I’ve been in, and I am distressed. Have any of y’all seen it?)
End on a sweet note
Trader Joe’s has a lot of candy, which is something you should take advantage of. I usually grab a big bar of their darkest chocolate offering, but I have been very tempted by the Dark Chocolate Caramel wedges (which come in a fun little tin), the Cookie Butter Bar, and the smallish packs of Dark Chocolate Peanut butter cups. (They also have some Starburst-lookin’ things I’ve been meaning to try, but it’s hard to beat real Starbursts.)
Keep it secret. Keep it safe.
Once you’ve assembled your bevy of shelf-stable treats, put it all in a basket or bag, and stash it away until the next time you need to go out and have a picnic stat. Do not confuse it with your “regular” snack stash. This is your picnic go-bag, and you don’t want your supplies diminished by children or spouses.
Hide it from them, is what I’m telling you. It may feel slightly deceitful, but think of how thrilled will they’ll be when you’re able to breeze out the door to your next impromptu picnic, without stopping to shop, pack, or pick up a single item. (Just make sure you pack a knife. You’ll need a knife for the salami.)