There are a few months out of the year when that mountain vista, grassy knoll, local park bench and rooftop make suitable dining rooms. The next time you have the romantic (and relaxing!) urge to “eat out,” don’t reach for a bucket of greasy fried chicken or limp grocery store sandwiches. With these healthy, easy-to-make, quick-pack formulas, you’ll be out the door and dining healthfully al fresco in no time!
Before you go, here are seven tips to optimize your picnic basket:
1. WHAT TO LEAVE AT HOME …
- Stuffy serving pieces. Pick disposable wrappings, lightweight, bio-friendly wrappings or plastic tupperware. You can even use a small serving bowl, tie a kitchen towel over it and carry it with you.
- Fancy recipes that require hours of prep. Sometimes the best way to picnic is to raid the fridge for pickles, cheese, leftover cold cuts and the rest of that loaf of bread.
2. DON’T FORGET …
- You’re leaving the fridge (and the A/C) at home. Even if you bring a cooler, you won’t be able to keep your spread chilled while you dine, so choose foods that won’t wilt, spoil or mind being out a little while.
- To keep it simple. One-bowl meals, dips and finger foods are picnic blanket friendly and mean you can crash in the grass or set up on a table without much forethought.
- To bring utensils, bowls and a board. There’s nothing worse than packing a beautiful one-bowl meal and realizing you forgot forks, bowls or spoons. A small, portable cutting board that fits in your basket, a pocket knife for cutting. Plastic dinnerware comes in handy, too.
- To keep it fresh. Packing fruits, veggies and foods in their original state makes for an easier picnic.
3. PICK VEGGIES AND FRUITS
Fresh produce is always ready, and there’s very little you need to do other than load it in your basket. When you’re eating “out,” fresh produce is a great menu move because your dishes won’t spoil, veggies are easy to eat and they capitalize on the bounty of summer and great weather that lured you outside in the first place. Our best ideas for fresh veggies and fruits in your picnic basket:
- Slice fresh tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and peppers and serve with a healthy bean dip, hummus or guacamole.
- Chop up watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew, combine with a few torn mint leaves and sprinkle with salt.
- Bust out a big salad. Choose kale or chard for salads. These greens can stand up to warmer dinner tables. Spring greens and other delicate leaves wilt under even light dressings in warmer weather making your perky salad soggy.
- Serve avocados on the “half shell.” Scoop out the buttery meat and serve on crackers with salt.
- Roughly chop peaches, tomatoes and plums. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon, sprinkle with basil and add chunks of bread for a picnic-ready panzanella.
READ MORE > HOW TO STORE SUMMER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
4. BRING PICNIC-READY PROTEINS
Salami, prosciutto and other cured-meats are a nice way to start your meal without worrying about spoilage (or messy cleanup and transport). A rotisserie chicken is an easy, finger-friendly way to add protein, too, though it can’t live outside of temperature control for very long. Beans, nuts and eggs are also great choices since their spoiling points are a bit less sensitive. A few protein-packed picnic ideas:
- Mix up a bean salad with freshly cooked or canned white beans, black beans or lentils. Drain the beans, drizzle with olive oil and lemon and add a sprinkle of salt and fresh herbs. Serve with crackers or toss into your salad!
- Make a dip with those same beans by pureeing in a blender or food processor, seasoning with whatever favorite spices, salt and pepper you have on hand. Serve with chopped veggies.
- Put an egg on it. (Or in it.) Mix up an egg salad for sandwiches, mash up hard-boiled eggs and toss into salads, or carry the little hard-boiled eggs on their own and eat with salt and pepper. (Stay away from poached or fried eggs. No one wants yolks in their picnic basket.)
- Stack a sando. Is there anything more summery than a fresh BLT? Make up sandwiches with your favorite meats and cheeses before you leave to picnic for the easiest and ultimate in picnic packing (and cleanup!) ease.
5. MIX IN HEALTHY CARBOHYDRATES
Almost any carbohydrate is easy to pack and can be combined with veggies and proteins to make a picnic-friendly meal. Potatoes, polenta, cooled cooked rice, pasta, quinoa or even crusty loaves of bread fit the bill — no worrying about spoilage in this macronutrient department! Here are some of our tastiest meal-making ideas:
- Cook and cool your favorite pasta, rice or grain. Toss into a big salad with hearty greens, fresh veggies and beans to complete the meal. (Add seeds or nuts for texture, top with your favorite easy dressing!)
- Whip up a bowl of potato salad. Using olive oil instead of mayo helps your salad last longer al fresco.
- Toss a box of whole-grain crackers or crusty bread into your picnic basket. Serve with bean dips, use to scoop up bean salads or eat with fresh veggies and eggs.
6. A NOTE ABOUT FATS
When it comes to eating outside, not all fats are created equal. Choose healthy fats that won’t melt or change composition when the temperature rises. Leave the butter at home and opt instead for healthy drizzles of olive oil, avocado oil or your favorite nut oil for flavor. Avocados and fresh cheese are a great way to add texture to your meals without the melty-ness.
7. ADD A SWEET FINISH!
Packable desserts are awesome but typically require extra forethought to prepare. Pass up the pre-packaged sweets and stuff a couple of 70% dark chocolate bars into your basket, or bring a pint of fresh berries or stone fruits to slice and share. These sweets are simple and easy to enjoy as you’re gathering around your picnic blanket, celebrating a meal well served.