Summer picnic recipes

Enjoy the great outdoors

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Whether you're heading out for a day at the beach, an afternoon at the park, or a morning hike, make your meal just as perfect with a packed picnic. These healthy, delicious recipes travel well and scream summer.

Forget mayo-laden salads and soggy veggies. Update your picnic basket with a wide variety of dishes that travel well and won't spoil in the heat. Plus pack refreshing drinks and fresh fruit for dessert.

Get tons more picnic recipe inspiration >>

Lightened up potato salad

An American classic, potato salads show up all summer long at barbecues and picnics. But the typical mayonnaise-heavy versions can weigh you down in the hot weather and present food safety issues, if left out in the sun and heat. Instead, take a cue from the French and try a lighter potato salad with a tangy mustard vinaigrette (recipe below).

New twists on pasta salad

To freshen up your pasta salads in the same way, get inspiration from your favorite hot pasta dishes and creative salads. This ziti with pesto and string beans, for example, is full of fresh flavor and great at any temperature. Or check out this Caprese pasta salad, which is packed with mozzarella, prosciutto, and even Brussels sprouts! Use recipes like these as a starting point and swap in your favorite ingredients in place of any you don't like or have.

Not your momma's slaw

Another mayo-heavy favorite -- it's time that coleslaw got a makeover as well! Instead of the deli counter variety, try mixing it up by adding fun and interesting ingredients. Dried fruit adds a touch of sweetness in this tangy cherry slaw, which is paired with shredded cabbage that is dressed with olive oil, lime juice and honey. Or try adding a medley of sliced peppers of different colors, as in this pepper slaw, for a visual pop and added flavor.

Fresh summer salads

Nothing adds zing to a savory salad like a touch of fruit, which also makes it perfect for summer. Try adding strawberries to your salad, as in this gorgeous strawberry and spinach salad. Or throw in some citrus to brighten up any salad, like in this nutrient-packed, raw kale and grapefruit salad. For more delicate salads like ones with spinach, keep the dressing on the side until the picnic starts. Others, like the kale salad, benefit from marinating.

Ancient grains

Grains and grain salads are the perfect picnic fare because they travel well and don't tend to get soggy. Try a creative take on pilaf with this Southwestern quinoa pilaf. Or experiment with a grain that may be new to you, like freekeh, or green wheat, which makes a great grain salad.

Baked, not fried

While fried chicken remains one of the ultimate picnic foods, it's far from a healthy choice. Trade calories without giving up flavor by preparing chicken as you would to fry it, but baking it instead. Try this oven fried chicken with cornflake crust for your next picnic. Like any good fried chicken, it's even better cold the next day. Or make healthy baked chicken fingers, which kids will love.

Sweets and drinks

To round out your meal, serve some thirst-quenching beverages, like lemon melonade or vanilla mango iced tea. And there's no need to go nuts on dessert -- who wants to deal with melted chocolate and extra utensils? Instead stick with fresh berries, watermelon slices or your favorite fruit.

Why a picnic is the perfect way to entertain >>

Mayo-free potato salad recipe

Serves 6


  • 1-1/2 pounds fingerling or red bliss potatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4-5 scallions, sliced


  1. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with cold water. Raise heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the olive oil, mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette and chives. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

More picnic inspiration

Pack the perfect picnic
How to make travel picnic packs for suitcase or backpack
Picnic and cookout packing checklist

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer. In addition to writing for Fabulous Foods, Katherine also contributes to various sections of SheKnows She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Savory Recipes to Start Your Morning (Hang Time Press, 2012). Katherine writes about her adventures in food at