The prospect of eating outdoors is one of those daydreams that keeps us going through a long, cold winter. But not having the right picnic recipe ideas up your sleeve can quickly derail the fantasy when you finally do gather al fresco for food and drink.
That’s because picnic food is not simply about bringing your indoor meal outdoors: A sandwich meant to be eaten hot could end up being cold, unappetizing, and congealed before you even find a spot to set up camp. The wrong utensils (or none at all) may leave you struggling to find a way to eat that delicious pasta salad. And even seemingly safe dishes, like finger food, can actually leave you with sticky, uncomfortable hands to deal with for the rest of the meal.
Chefs and home cooks with experience hosting above-average picnics know that planning your picnic food accordingly is one of the most important things to take in mind when considering your outdoor meal, whether you’re in a park, on a beach, or just set up in a grassy backyard. That may mean skipping anything that can’t be eaten cold or at room temperature, avoiding high-moisture combinations that can go soggy, or subbing out messy options that are difficult to eat without a whole slew of utensils in front of you.
Also important? Considering how you’ll eat your food, and what you’ll need to take with you—like utensils, thermoses, hand wipes, or even a picnic basket, for instance—to make the outdoor eating experience as comfortable as possible.
If you’re not sure where to begin, we’ve rounded up 15 picnic recipe ideas that are easy to transport and will taste great when you arrive at your destination. But before we get into those picnic food ideas, keep reading for a few tips to guarantee a smooth outing—and to elevate your planned picnic into something truly phenomenal.
What are good foods for a picnic?
Foods that you don’t need to heat, feed a bunch of people, are sturdy to transport, and easy to serve are generally good choices.
“My picnic go-tos are shareable, versatile dishes that can handle a bumpy bike ride, a hot summer walk, or a steamy subway commute,” Roya Shariat, Brooklyn-based writer, home cook, and co-author of the forthcoming cookbook, Maman and Me: Recipes from Our Iranian American Family, tells SELF. For her, that’s usually an assortment of dips and spreads paired with chips, pre-cut veggies, bread, and crackers for dipping, since she says those foods taste great at cool and room temperatures.
But, she adds, anything that can be served in a cup, like cold soups, is also fair game—as long as divvying out the portions isn’t too messy. “Things like gazpacho, or Iranian Ab Doogh Khiar (cold cucumber yogurt soup) are drinkable soups that are perfect for a hot picnic, and very unexpected,” she says
Maiko Kyogoku, chef and owner of Bessou in New York City, tells SELF that she’s also a fan of a finger food spreads for outdoor dining, but with a twist: She loves posh picnic ideas like serving cheese and charcuterie as well as onigiri, a grab-and-go favorite from Japan. “I think it’s ideal to have a range of snacks and a couple heartier items so you’re covered with a range of appetites throughout the day,” she says.