How to build the perfect summer picnic basket on any budget

Note the blanket.
Note the blanket.

With last minute picnic plans in the works for the holiday weekend, and summer fast approaching, it’s high time to start honing your chops in the art of the all-important summer picnic.

Picnics are the ultimate way to get outdoors with food and drink in your hand in the summertime; they cost less than dining on a patio; you can take breaks from the food to play frisbee, stickball, soccer or just take a sunny nap; and best of all, you can bring your dog.

Of course, in order to go full picnic you’ll have to stock up on essentials, so you aren’t just that sunburnt dummy with a wilted salad in a plastic bag, lying on the grass over an unwashed fitted sheet. You need a basket, you need a blanket and you need food. And while it certainly doesn’t take a six-figure salary to picnic, those elements can add up if you don’t know where to look.

Brokelyn to the rescue! We’ve put together a roundup of picnic blankets, baskets and edible bundles for every budget so you can have your picnic and eat it, too. From DIY PB&Js to prix fixe picnic deals, this list is sure to make your Memorial Day weekend one to be remembered. We’ll bet your dog agrees. 


Michaels, aka basket Valhalla
Michaels, aka basket Valhalla. Steven Hajar/Brokelyn

The picnic basket is the quintessential status symbol for this excursion. It truly says, “Look at this fucking picnic.” 

Brokester hack: If you have an old Easter basket hanging around, you’re set! If not, a quick stop in a local 99 cent store may turn up with the cheap option you can work with.

Budget-friendly: There’s a new Michaels craft store (252 Atlantic Ave.) near Atlantic Terminal where you can find great baskets under $20, not to mention frisbees and bubbles for $1. The Food Bazaar on Manhattan Ave. is right on the way if you’re biking down to the park from North Brooklyn, and they sell wicker/wooden baskets for $8-12.

Some fancy bullshit: If you’re not under a time constraint, you can always pretend the online sale right now makes this gorgeous Pottery Barn picnic basket a sensible purchase at “only” $79.


Picnics: for the modern-day Brooklyn beatnik
Picnics: for the modern-day Brooklyn beatnik

No picnic is complete without this nap-friendly spacemaker, this stoic mediator separating you from a dirty butt. 

Brokester hack: Should you already be in possession of a beach towel or moderately large body towel, your work here is done. If not, though, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve sat my tuchus down on many a 99-cent store vinyl-blanket-imitation-tablecloth. When it does get sweaty, it looks like a shiny version of the real thing!

Budget-friendly: The Atlantic Terminal Targét has the hookup at only $12 for the red, white, and blue blankie pictured above! If you’re feeling thrifty (which, let’s be honest, you are) then stop by the travel section for easy-to-pack $1 oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate-free sunscreen, and $4 organic DEET-free insect repellent. One more upside to shopping here even if you’re not in the “Target” demographic: peeing in peace.

Some fancy bullshit: Amazon Prime user? Perhaps this darling Kate Spade picnic blanket ($34.62) will arrive in time for Instagram-ready festivities.


This is the cooler option. Steven Hajar / Brokelyn
This is the cooler option. Steven Hajar /Brokelyn

All’s fare in love and picnics.

Brokester hack: There is no shame in enjoying a homemade PB&J and some Utz chips from your bodega in the park. In fact, it’s sheer nostalgia for me. You probably have any number of delicious things in your fridge and enough takeout containers to make a real spread of it. Honestly, anything edible is key.

Budget-friendly:  Find your feast en route to the location so that your food is fresh and you don’t have to carry a bulky cooler. Prospect Park has plenty of great food options nearby, including a Four and Twenty Blackbirds outpost (hello, Salty Honey pie) at the Central Library and the vegan shop that I basically live at, Riverdel Fine Foods (820 Washington Ave.). With its addictive vegan sandwiches only $6-8 , creative snacks that fit all dietary and allergy needs, and refrigerated drinks that will still be frosty after your quick 10 minute walk to the park, Riverdel is my No. 1 recommendation. FYI, they also have a $32 prix fixe picnic deal that includes two sandwiches, two drinks, and one dessert, plus a $6 picnic cooler deposit. Must get: the M. Night Shalami sandwich.

Some fancy bullshit: Pull a Mrs. Doubtfire and pass off a catered affair from Pies N’ Thighs (prices vary) as your own doing. Repackage the fare in your Pottery Barn basket and enjoy the sun on your Kate Spade blanket while I sit enviously watching you from a small distance.

Friends, no matter what’s in your wallet, you shouldn’t have to search frantically all over town—or, heaven forbid, go to Manhattan—to capitalize on the awesome picnic weekend ahead. Stick to the options closest to the park to minimize commuting, split the cost with a few friends, and remember that you can always make nifty last-minute grabs from the Greenmarket on Saturday or Smorgasburg on Sunday.

Don’t worry if you can’t get it together for Memorial Day; picnic season officially upon us! Plus Fourth of July is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate our hard-fought freedoms than to relax over fake meats and frugal seats on a three-day weekend? ‘Murica.

For even subtler vegangelism follow Steven on Twitter @stevenhajar

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