51 Portable Picnic Dishes Made for Outdoor Summer Dining
When it comes to packing for picnics, we say keep it simple, keep it safe, and keep it tasty.
Summer is all about eating al fresco. At the park on a blanket or on a rollup table at a symphony under the stars, eating outdoors is a summer experience to look forward to. But because the summer heat that brings us outdoors can ruin a meal, we have to put a bit more thought and planning into picnic food than your regular ol' lunch. With that in mind, we picked out some picnic recipes that will stand up to the heat, are easy to prepare, and, most importantly, are tasty.
Ingredients We 86'd
When you're serving food outdoors you'll likely tussle with temperature. While bringing a cooler filled with ice is great, we want to err on the side of caution so we eliminated a few ingredients that spoil easily so they won't spoil your picnic. We used Yummly's ingredient filter function to help us narrow down our list.
Mayonnaise You can find pasta salad and potato salad slathered in mayo at every potluck and picnic, but it should never sit out for more than 20 minutes. It contains raw eggs and is susceptible to spoiling quickly and, frankly, no one wants to eat pasta salad that's started to congeal.
Chicken and Most Meat Like mayonnaise, bacteria in meat can start to grow quickly if it's not held at the right temperature. The "temperature danger zone" for food is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hard to avoid when you're on the move. For meat, we opted for cured meats that don't require any sort of cooling because the salt in the curing process acts as a preservative.
Some Dairy There are a lot of summer recipes that call for some sort of dairy — like salad dressing or tzatziki sauce. But we skipped recipes that call for milk or yogurt to avoid a spoilage situtaion. We did include cheese — cheesemaking was originally used as a way to preserve milk, so it's a product that holds up.
Lettuce For the most part, we left off iceberg and romaine because they tend to get limp very quickly when they're hot or dressed. We went with salads made with sturdier leafy greens and vegetables that hold their shape and flavor under the heat of a summer day.
Our Picnic Picks
The sandwich is the OG grab-and-go main dish, but we went beyond the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (while still avoiding things that don't keep, like chicken salad sandwiches).
Greek Salad Sandwich
Greek Salad Sandwich by Whole Food Real Families
This vegetarian Greek Salad Sandwich is picnic compatible thanks to the layer of hummus that keeps the tomatoes, cheese, olives, and lettuce from sliding out of the baguette. This recipe lets you choose the lettuce, but we'd recommend rugged roughage like arugula, kale, or radicchio to keep your sandwich crunchy even after a short road trip.
Caprese Sandwich by Life Tastes Good
This Caprese Sandwich has all the charm of a Caprese salad with the added enchantment of carbs. Tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella are layered on ciabatta rolls for the perfect picnic hero.
Tapenade Salami Sandwich
Tapenade Salami Sandwich by Evil Twin Kitchen
This sandwich is a pared-down version of the muffuletta sandwich made famous by a New Orleans cafe. Focaccia bread is bisected by olive tapenade, salami, and brie cheese for a sandwich that's satisfying in addition to being picnic-friendly.
California Avocado BLT Sandwich
California Avocado BLT Sandwich by The Lemon Bowl
While I would normally turn away a BLT without mayonnaise, the California Avocado BLT Sandwich makes up for the missing mayo with hummus and avocado, which means it's the ideal sandwich for a summer picnic.
Mediterranean Veggie Pita Sandwich
Mediterranean Veggie Pita Sandwich by The Kitchn
Premade pita sandwiches make portability easy and tidy. Here, pita pockets are stuffed with the makings of a Mediterranean salad — garbanzo beans, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and hummus or baba ghanoush to keep the contents of the pockets intact until picnic time.
Prosciutto, Arugula and Balsamic Sandwich
Prosciutto, Arugula and Balsamic Sandwich by Skinnytaste
"Minimal" is the theme for this sandwich. Next to salami, prosciutto is one of the best meats to pack for a picnic because it requires minimal refrigeration. With just arugula and prosciutto drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, it's easy enough for kids to put together and delicious enough for the adults to enjoy.
Salad is our favorite way to serve veggies in the summer, but we've gone beyond the ordinary iceberg and tomatoes to make your outdoor meal a little more interesting and a lot less...soggy.
Asian Broccoli Salad with Peanut Sauce
Asian Broccoli Salad with Peanut Sauce by Gimme Some Oven
This summer salad is Asian-inspired — it's broccoli cut to bits tossed with edamame and peanuts for protein and texture but the magic is in the peanut sauce. It's made up of peanut butter (obvi), sesame oil which gives it a toasty taste, rice vinegar to cut through the richness of the peanut butter and to add sweetness, and just a little bit of soy sauce. Together, it's a portable salad with the added value of being tasty and nutritious. It's also dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
Mexican Slaw Salad with Black Beans
Mexican Slaw Salad with Black Beans by Aggie's Kitchen
The base for this Mexican slaw is cabbage which stays crunchy when it's steamy outside. The only other ingredients are scallions, black beans, and salt and pepper. It does include a separate recipe for a dairy-based creamy avocado dressing, but this dairy-free Creamy Avocado Cilantro Lime Dressing dressing works better for picnics.
Chickpea Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Chickpea Salad with Cucumbers and Tomatoes by Skinnytaste
The only leaves in this salad are from parsley — instead of lettuce, it counts on cucumbers for the cool crunch. A little bit of diced red onion and lemon juice give it pucker power that the olive oil tames. Not only is it a salad that satisfies, but it only takes 10 minutes to throw together so you can get outside that much faster.
Crunchy Cashew Cabbage Salad
Crunchy Cashew Cabbage Salad by Marisa Moore Nutrition
Cabbage and carrots make up the framework for this salad, but the production value relies on cashews and edamame, and the vinaigrette is the flourish that makes this more than just a side dish. Toasted sesame oil enhances the nutty flavor of the salad, a unique dichotomy of sweet and sour comes from the pairing of maple syrup and apple cider vinegar.
Lemon and Avocado Kale Salad by The Toasted Pine Nut
This is a super simple salad that's made up of just kale, an avocado, a lemon, pine nuts, and olive oil. Kale sure does do right by outdoor dining: Unless it's been soaking in an acid like lemon juice or vinegar for a few days, it's not going to wilt at your picnic. In fact, if you don't feel like massaging your kale, you can make this salad a day in advance and it should be tender when you're ready to ea — outdoors or in.
A picnic isn't complete without pasta salad. They're easy to make, assemble, and pack so you can have a friction-free lunch under the sun.
Pesto Tortellini Salad
Pesto Tortellini Salad by Life in the Lofthouse
Pesto and picnics go hand-in-hand — pesto is used to elevate all sorts of dishes, and for this Pesto Tortellini Salad, it acts as a dressing to coat the pasta with garlicky appeal. What makes this pasta salad even more appealing is that it only requires five ingredients and the only real prep work is cooking the bacon and boiling water for the pasta. But you don't have to stick with regular basil pesto; if you want to mix it up, you can stir in this Sun Dried Tomato and Arugula Pesto instead.
Light and Easy Pasta Salad
Light and Easy Pasta Salad by Coordinately Yours by Julie Blanner
Chances are you already have most of the ingredients for this pasta salad in your pantry. Toss your pasta with cherry tomatoes and lemon vinaigrette, and then top it with a few basil leaves and feta cheese. It's a dish as simple as the season it's made for.
Lemony Orzo Pasta Salad with Cucumber and Feta
Lemony Orzo Pasta Salad with Cucumber and Feta by Fork Knife Swoon
It's hard not to love any noodle in any given meal, but the ordinary orzo is extraordinary as a summer pasta salad. Dressed up in lemon juice and olive oil, partnered with cucumbers, and crowned with feta cheese, it's easy to cook, carry, serve, and clean up.
Dips and Spreads
Dips and spreads are fundamental components for any outdoor meal, but dairy and mayonnaise are typically the bases for good dips, so we picked out a few picnic-safe dips for your chips and veggies.
Creamy Beet Tahini Dip
Creamy Beet Tahini Dip by Ahu Eats
This beet and tahini dip will certainly brighten up your picnic blanket! This vegan spread is basically hummus but instead of chickpeas, it whips together beets, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. No cooler required.
Baba Ganoush Eggplant Dip
Baba Ganoush Eggplant Dip by Ahead of Thyme
This recipe is similar to hummus, only the focus is grilled eggplant instead of chickpeas. While you're only swapping out one of the ingredients, this makes a completely different spread. This one happens to take on the smokiness from the grill and the olive oil helps the eggplant achieve delightful creaminess.
Zucchini Hummus by Feasting at Home
Since we've mentioned hummus countless times so far (it's a very picnic-friendly dish), we're throwing in another hummus-like dip made with one of summer's favorite veggies: zucchini. Grilled or roasted, zucchini bends and blends well with the usual suspects for a creamy dip to make your veggies something to crave.
Now let's talk about dessert. While cookies are the ultimate portable dessert, we picked out a few recipes that are picnic-friendly and worthy of the last course designation. That means you can eat them with your hands (read: not sticky!) as easily as you can eat them with a fork.
Nutty Blondies by Bakerita
The caramel you see flowing down a mountain of blondies is just for show (so don't worry about making a mess of your picnic basket), it's what's underneath that we're after. This is one the easiest scratch recipes for dessert that I've come across — it's made up of one egg, one cup of flour, one cup of brown sugar, and a half-cup of butter. The rest is nuts!
Simple Strawberry Slab Pie
Simple Strawberry Slab Pie by Just a Taste
We picked out pie of the rectangular variety instead of the typical round kind to keep things orderly. Slab pies are made in a sheet pan with a narrow rim which means they're shallow enough that you can eat a piece with your hands without gooey summer fruit oozing out. Similarly, we'd recommend a galette. Both forms of pie are made such that the crust and fruit filling meld together for a portable treat.
Orange Juice Cake
Orange Juice Cake by Southern Bite
For those of you who insist on having cake, we picked out this one because it's so good that it doesn't require frosting. To make this a no-mess cake that's good enough to serve without frosting, it calls for a warm orange-juice glaze that's poured over the cake while it's still warm and in the pan. The cake soaks up the sweetness, and no one misses the frosting.
Hungry For More?
We have recipes for every ingredient that celebrates summer. So if there's something in the fridge you need to put to use, we've got a picnic recipe for you.