Let’s be honest—putting a picnic together takes quite a bit of advance planning. Preparing provisions ahead of time can be enough to make you throw in the towel and say, “Let’s just go to Whole Foods.” But this summer, we’re challenging you to break out your basket and head to the park with a few home-cooked eats in tow (you can do it, promise!). Bring a blanket, some music or a good book, and turn your picnic lunch into a relaxing afternoon al fresco. To help keep your picnic stress-free, we’ve rounded up a few easy-to-pack portable picnic recipes that will keep you eating outdoors all summer long.
With the publishing of our Top 40 Best Austin Restaurants, those of you who call Austin home might be racing around as quickly as possible to fit each elegant establishment into your schedule, which is totally encouraged (and I may or may not be doing the same). But for others, or for you Austinites who are looking for a fun and unique way to spend the afternoon, get ready to make your picnic dreams come true with these portable picnic recipes.
Portable picnic recipes are the ideal picnic contribution because, obviously, they pack well. These recipes fit easily into a Tupperware container, bag, or basket, which means you won’t be fumbling with any extra gear for your outdoor meal. These recipes also match the vibe of a picnic because they don’t require a lot of prep. Like a picnic, they’re easy to prepare, simple in nature, and celebrate the flavors of the season. With a basket full of these portable picnic recipes and good company to share them with, all that’s left to do is to find some time in your afternoon to sit back, relax, and enjoy.
And we want to know: What are your favorite portable picnic recipes? Drop a link in the comments below!
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
Why We Love It: This pasta salad is chock full of complex carbs, protein, vitamins, and—best of all—seasonal produce. It’s also perfect for a picnic because it’s best enjoyed at room temp, so you don’t have to worry about saving space in the cooler. Bringing together edamame, kalamata olives, and a slew of grilled vegetables (think broccolini, summer squash, eggplant, and zucchini), this bowl of goodness has it all. Toss it together with olive oil and lemon juice, pack it up in a to-go container, and get ready to savor the flavors of summer.
Hero Ingredient: Be sure to get a healthy char on those veggies. It’s that bitter flavor from the grill marks that makes this salad memorable.
Why We Love It: The simplest salad for easy and breezy summer gatherings. Olivia Muniak’s white bean and radicchio salad is one of those recipes that yields a whole that’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s ideal for a picnic starter or side that everyone will love. The cannellini beans make it hearty and satisfying, while the bitter radicchio makes an interesting base you’ll be craving for the rest of summer.
Hero Ingredient: Salty Parmigiano Reggiano ties all the flavors together. Bitter radicchio and creamy beans become truly harmonious under those mouthwatering shaves of parm.
Why We Love It: One thing I love about spring rolls is that they’re a different and exciting way to incorporate veggies into your diet. They’re also a little fun, no? Either way, these tempeh spring rolls are as easy to assemble as they are to enjoy, which makes them more than ideal for a picnic. And don’t even get me started on that honey sriracha sauce—it’s sweet, spicy, and oh so satisfying. Pack up lots of these spring rolls and prepare to be amazed.
Hero Ingredient: Mango! I’m always looking for ways to bring in a salty/sweet flavor combination that’s totally craveable. These spring rolls definitely have it.
Why We Love It: Macaroni noodles supply all the picnic vibes. Especially when combined with crunchy veggies and fresh herbs. Peas, radishes, cucumber, and tons of herbs seal the deal here to create a pasta salad you’ll want to add to your weekly rotation. The dressing is composed of white miso paste, tahini, lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, and olive oil, keeping everything light and flavorful.
Hero Ingredient: Salty feta cubes bring a dose of tang to each tasty bite. Don’t skimp on the cheese here!
Why We Love It: An appetizer with only four ingredients? Sign me up. This might just be the easiest picnic recipe to ever exist, and here’s why. All you need is toasted bread, store-bought (or homemade if you have the bandwidth) pesto, fresh figs, and burrata. Pack the components separately and wait to build on-site. The ingredients do the work, so all you have to do is assemble, sit back, and relax with peace of mind and a piece of burrata-laden bread. Yum.
Hero Ingredient: Figs. Enough said.
Why We Love It: Something I love about this pasta salad is that the pasta mimics the veggies. Everything is the same size, from the crisp asparagus pieces to the sugar snap peas. Pesto lovingly coats each noodle and veggie for a big bowl of nutty deliciousness. All that stands between you and this masterpiece is about 30 minutes and a drawerful of veggies. Need I say more?
Hero Ingredient: Creamy goat cheese crumbles bring a taste of tang to each forkful.
Why We Love It: There are two things you need to know about this crudité: it’s delightfully easy and the green goddess dressing is to die for. Is there a more perfect way to kick off a meal outside than a refreshing crudité? I rest my case. All you need are a few fresh veggies and those simple green goddess ingredients, and you’re set to commence a polished meal outside.
Hero Ingredient: Pulse up a little extra dressing to keep in the fridge for future salads, veggie dipping, or whatever else you deem in need of a little healthy and flavorful boost.
Why We Love It: Tomato, avocado, cucumber, feta, jalapeño, pickled red onion, and fresh herbs are the main components of this main dish sidekick that might just steal the show. It’s cool, refreshing, and all-around delicious and will definitely keep you coming back for more. The tomato and cucumber lay the foundation for flavorful feta, spicy jalapeño, and creamy avocado to polish off this salad.
Hero Ingredient: Honey lime vinaigrette brings the fresh flavors together in the most elevated way.
Why We Love It: Another refreshing side, this Watermelon Tomato Caprese Salad will be a hit at any barbecue, soirée, and—of course—picnic. It’s simple in nature but brings the flavors of summer we all love to center stage. If you have watermelon leftover (I know you do), I highly recommend using it in this salad—you won’t regret it.
Hero Ingredient: Fresh mozzarella introduces a creamy element that’s harmonized by fresh basil, lime juice, flaky salt, and red pepper flakes. Drool-worthy? Absolutely.
Why We Love It: As our food editor Suruchi Avasthi shares, “green goddess dressing paired with tender pasta is a match made in heaven,” and I couldn’t agree more. This pasta salad, like the others on this list, is packed with veggies, fresh herbs, and *gasp* avocado. Bonus: This entire batch of creamy deliciousness is totally vegan. Whip up a large bowl of this healthy and hearty pasta salad to take with you on your picnic, sit back, and enjoy.
Hero Ingredient: Artichoke hearts are briny, nutty, and lemony and perfect for enjoying among the other veggies in this recipe. With cucumber, peas, and celery in the mix, it’s nice to have a soft veggie to switch things up and mimic the pasta’s texture.
Why We Love It: Gluten-free friends, get ready to be amazed. These shortcakes are nothing short of a miracle, and they’re ready to be enjoyed by gluten-free and non-gluten-free eaters alike. For more dietary context, these strawberry shortcakes are also dairy-free and vegan, and they’re completely delicious. With the base of a fluffy shortcake, whipped cream introduces a creamy layer that’s topped with swoon-worthy macerated strawberries. One taste and you might just be hooked. You heard it here first.
Hero Ingredient: If you chill your coconut milk overnight, you’ll have thick, concentrated coconut cream to scoop out and thicken up that whipped cream. Hero method, anyone?
Why We Love It: These lemon cardamom slices have got it going on. They’re no frills, no-bake, and made for a picnic. For maximum picnic enjoyment, consider freezing the slices for a few hours before cutting into them. As they thaw to room temperature, you’ll have the perfect cool-but-not-melted texture to satisfy your post-picnic sweet tooth.
Hero Ingredient: Once again, our food editor Suruchi delivers the key to this recipe that is grinding your own spices. In a simple recipe such as this, it’s the little things that make all the difference.
Why We Love It: Let’s get real. What’s better than a chocolatey, gooey, sun-warmed brownie at the end of a picnic? Finish off your delicious meal with one of these gluten-free, dairy-free brownies that taste just as amazing as the OG version. These are fudgy, rich, and still have the crispy edges and gooey centers of a traditional brownie (team edge piece or team center?). Either way, everyone will love this brownie and probably ask you to make them more often. You’ve been warned.
Hero Ingredient: Instead of eggs, we’re using a mixture of ground flaxseeds and water that helps everything bake properly while bringing a boost of healthy fiber to the brownies. Unexpected? Maybe. Appreciated? Absolutely.
This post was originally published on July 14, 2016, and has since been updated.