How To Keep Food Warm At A Picnic

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You really can’t beat a proper picnic on a beautiful day—delicious food enjoyed whilst surrounded by nature.

We think that a picnic is one of the best ways to enjoy food, whether you do it surrounded by friends and family, or simply want to enjoy some peace and quiet by yourself.

We normally associate picnics with cold food, but why not break the mold and take something warm?

But how do you keep food warm at a picnic? The best way to keep food warm at a picnic is by using a combination of heat packs and an insulated picnic basket. You can also keep your food warm in a casserole, crockpot, or insulated food container.

Feeling inspired to take some warm dishes to your next picnic? Let’s take a look at how to do this safely and find the best ways to keep your food warm and tasty in the great outdoors.

Why Serve Warm Food At A Picnic?

Now there is nothing wrong with the traditional cold picnic food – we all love a delicious sandwich or pasta salad. But sometimes it is nice to do things differently, and warm food can bring a whole new dimension to your picnic menu.

Taking warm food for your outdoor adventure means you can picnic in all weathers, enjoying a lovely hot feast on a crisp fall evening or chilly winter’s day.

Taking warm food can open up a lot of menu options as well, perfect if your kids are getting bored of sandwiches!

And we’re not just talking soups here – dishes like lasagna, curries, casseroles, and frittatas can all be enjoyed warm in the great outdoors.

And while cold picnic food can be tasty, food served warm opens up a whole new load of flavors and aromas. If offered a cold cheese sandwich or a warm bowl of lasagna, we know what most people would choose!

Safety Tips For Serving Warm Food

For many different types of food, there are risks involved with keeping them warm for extended periods.

Bacteria will multiply rapidly in food kept at the wrong temperature, vastly increasing the risk of a stomach upset or food poisoning.

Food safety advisors recommend that food should be kept at the following temperatures:

  • Chilled: 40°F or below
  • Hot: 140°F or above

So, anything between 40-140°F is the danger zone and must be avoided! Bear in mind that these temperatures are what food should be stored at, as well as served at.

This means that your casserole must be kept above 140°F from the point at which you cook or reheat it until you want to eat it – this could be several hours if you are taking a long hike!

If you are planning on serving hot food in any place where the temperature might be a concern, consider investing in a food thermometer. This will help to give you peace of mind that your food is hot and safe to eat.

Remember that if you are serving hot food at a picnic, you will also need appropriate cutlery, plates, and utensils.

Take heat-proof bowls, and napkins so that people can protect their hands. You may also need a heat-resistant blanket to lay out hot dishes.

How To Keep Food Warm Outside Without Electricity

When you take your food out to serve at a picnic, you should aim to keep it as warm as possible. The food should have been heated to at least 140°F before departing for your picnic.

It is not a problem if it drops below 140°F, but if this happens it must be eaten within 2 hours.

And of course, no one enjoys a lukewarm curry or bowl of soup. If you’ve put the effort into making a delicious dish it deserves to be enjoyed hot!

Heat your food to as hot as possible before you depart for your outdoor adventure, without burning or spoiling it. This will help to keep it above 140°F for longer.

When serving warm food outside, keep it in its insulated container until you are ready to eat. This is no place for fancy serving dishes; your food needs to be kept snuggly and warm! 

Don’t unpack or uncover the food until the last possible minute, and keep the dish covered as much as you can.

Any food which has been left out at 140°F or less for over two hours must be discarded, so the trick here is to keep as much heat in your food as possible.

Let’s take a look at some great ways to keep food warm at a picnic!

Heat Packs 

Did you know that many cool packs can also be used as heat packs? If you’ve got a cool pack lurking in your cupboard or freezer then check it out, it might be the answer you’ve been looking for!

However, if you don’t already have one then hot and cold packs are a versatile and affordable option for keeping your food warm.

They can be heated in just a couple of minutes in the microwave and will stay warm for several hours if kept well insulated.

The best way to use heat packs is to pop them underneath and on top of your food container, and wrap the whole lot in an insulating layer such as a towel.

Or you can even use heat packs inside some of our other warm food solutions, such as insulated bags and cool boxes.

Insulated Picnic Baskets & Bags

Insulated carry bags are a great way to keep your food warm and delicious.

There are many stylish and practical picnic baskets and bags available, or you may even be able to get your hands on an insulated food delivery bag – great for taking larger dishes to your outdoor lunch!

When choosing an insulated carry bag, go for one which is easy and comfortable to carry. You need to make sure that your food container can be laid flat on the base of the bag to avoid spillages.

Add in a couple of heat packs and you’ve got the ultimate hot food transportation device!

Cool Box

A cool box isn’t actually a cool box – it is a well-insulated container that will retain heat just as well as it keeps food cool! Simply pop your heated food in its container into the cool box and close the lid.

When you reach your destination, your food should be at the perfect temperature to serve straight away!

The only problem with cool boxes is that some are not easy to carry. If you are buying a new one look for one which is well insulated, and the perfect size for your hot dishes.

A long carry handle can make it more comfortable when walking longer distances.

And of course, you can’t use your cool box for warm and cold food at the same time! So if you are taking both, or want some cold drinks, you will need two separate containers.

Slow Cooker Or Casserole Dish

Slow cookers, crock pots, and thick-sided casserole dishes will retain heat for very long periods.

Before departing for your picnic, heat the food in the dish as hot as possible, then pop the container into a heat-resistant bag. Wrapping the dish in an insulating layer such as a blanket can also help it to retain heat.

Alternatively, you can buy insulated bags specifically designed to transport hot slow cookers and casserole dishes. These will keep your food warm for as long as possible, allowing you to serve up a piping hot dish wherever you are!

Insulated Food Containers & Serving Bowls

If you’re just taking a small portion of hot food to your picnic, then an insulated food container or serving bowl is an easy-to-transport option.

Wide-mouthed flasks are perfect for soups and casseroles or try an all-in-one insulated serving bowl which normally comes with cutlery inside the lid. Ideal for a solitary countryside stroll!

Related Questions

Now that we’ve gone over how to keep your food warm at a picnic, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!

How can I keep food chilled at a picnic?

As with keeping food warm for a picnic, keeping food chilled can also be tricky! Chilled food must be kept at 40°F or colder to prevent bacteria from multiplying.

If food is allowed to reach temperatures above this it should be consumed within two hours.

These are the best ways to keep food chilled at a picnic:

  • Cool Box
  • Insulated Picnic Bags
  • Ice Packs
  • Frozen Water Bottles

To keep food cold for as long as possible, don’t take it out of the packaging until you are ready to eat. Keep food containers out of direct sunlight. If you are near a stream, cold water in a bucket is a great way to keep drinks icy cold!

How can I serve hot drinks at a picnic?

Although cold drinks are lovely and refreshing at a picnic, sometimes you just feel the need for a lovely hot drink – especially on a chilly winter’s day!

You can make hot drinks in advance and keep them warm in a flask or thermos, or alternatively take hot water in these containers and make the drinks at the picnic.

Alternatively, heating water for hot drinks at a picnic is not as hard as it sounds! Portable camping stoves are lightweight to transport and can be powered with small gas canisters or firewood.

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