Food & Drink

This is the fanciest spring picnic that under $20 can buy

If you’re like me, and I think some of you are, your seasonal allergies have finally abated enough to consider having a picnic. Like, you + a group of your friends, in the grass. And you know the old saying: If you feed them, they will come. So how can you pull together a Pinterest-worthy picnic without blowing out your grocery budget? I sure as hell wanted to know. I hit up my local Key Foods to see what $20 worth of packable snacks would look like, and it was not easy.

I don’t know about you, but as a hostess, I’m a total over-spender. I grab everything that looks cute, worry about having “enough,” and keep adding on expensive cheeses that will only get greasy and unappetizing in the midday sun. Putting together a party spread on the cheap was a real challenge, but I learned a lot about cutting costs and cutting corners in the process. You think $20 can’t buy you a party spread in this expensive city of ours? Let’s find out.


Photo by Meghan Sara
Photo by Meghan Sara

Newman’s Own salsa ($2.99) and Saritas chips ($2 “only”)

We start with a party classic: chips and salsa. Now, before you scoff, chips and salsa are the perfect party snack. They’re vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and they will go a LONG way. How often have you ended the night with potato chips left in the bowl? I rest my case.


Photo by Meghan Sara
Photo by Meghan Sara

Rainbow Chips Deluxe ($2, on sale)

This was pure serendipity. All the Keeblers were on sale just for my assignment, at 2/$4, and just when I was getting depressed by the sticker prices in the cookie aisle. How did I get so lucky to find Keebler so cheap? Is the brand trying to ingratiate itself to consumers because they’re aware that their beloved mascot bears an uncanny resemblance to the *gag* Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Eugh! Now you’re picturing Jeff Sessions as a giant, evil, fudge-filled sandwich cookie! Gross! You need something to cleanse the image from your brain. A mind-numbing, monotonous task. Something like…

Marzetti’s Dill Dip ($2.99) 1 lb bag of carrots ($1.50, on sale) 3 cucumbers ($2, on sale)

…chopping vegetables. True Story: the pre-chopped raw vegetable platter at my local Key Foods was marked $30. THIRTY DOLLARS. That’s literally 150% of my total budget. And sure, you could get a paltry few pre-sliced carrots and celery sticks for $4, but the quantity was a little skimpy AND you should know that celery is a terrible vegetable. Ants-on-a-log lovers, don’t at me, you know it’s true. Pricing out the options and wanting at least two kings of veggies, I settled on a sale-priced bag of carrots and three sale-priced cucumbers to accompany this dill dip. It’s hard to go wrong with the fresh taste of dill for spring. And I can use that chopping time to think about other food mascots that Jeff Sessions resembles. Count Chocula, kinda? I can’t be the only one who sees this.

Fresh, Store-baked Sesame Roll ($0.69)

All this “budgeting” must’ve gone to my head, because when I strolled through the bakery, I had a truly inspired idea: how much fancier would my picnic be if I served my dip out of a hollowed-out sesame roll?! Much fancier, right? One of these large rolls is big enough to heap my dill dip into, and I can use the “top” of the roll as a lid in case of wind. And it’s all edible, which is like, upcycling? Multi-purposing? The price was right: I can’t resist sixty-nine cents. But don’t worry — I’ve saved the best for last.


Photo by Meghan Sara
Photo by Meghan Sara

Fresh Cherries ($3)

I was crossing my fingers for cherries, and I got them on sale. Sure, I could’ve gone for the strawberries at 2/$5, picking up a single carton and saving fifty cents, but when you look at the actual quantity, only 10 strawberries? That doesn’t go very far. A 1lb bag of cherries give you way more bang for your buck, thanks to my theory about snack foods: anything you have to work for i.e. spit out the seeds of (watermelon, olives) you have to eat more slowly, and therefore, they last longer. Pretty clever, eh? So now my picnic has a literal cherry on the top. But please, for the sake of doggos, don’t spit your pits out into the grass. That empty dill dip container makes a fine cherry spittoon.

If you’re keeping track, you’ll see that I’ve come in total at $17.17, leaving me with $2.83 cents in change and a question my heart already knows the answer to: should I swing by the bodega and drop this excess change on a bottle of Angry Orchard? Now, I don’t think I should legally advise you to pour an alcoholic beverage into a tinted plastic Nalgene bottle for your picnic, but this brings me to my final point: general picnic etiquette.

  • Picnics are implied BYOB (that’s Bring Your Own Beverage, for, y’know, legal reasons). Sure, it’s nice for the host to bring a bottle of soda or something, but it should always be expected that guests bring or buy their own drinking material.
  • Clean up after yourselves! Just because it’s compost doesn’t mean you should leave it on the ground. You’re not Johnny Appleseed, and that carrot you tried to catch in your mouth and missed isn’t going to germinate into a Carrot Tree. Compost it.
  • If there are any leftovers, the host gets first dibs on taking them home. Rules make fun more fun.
  • Remember to keep the parks smoke-free, in accordance with local law

Now pop the appropriate amount of Claritin, drag out the old bed sheet/picnic blanket, don’t forget your picnic pants and enjoy!

This article was originally published in 2016.

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