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Picnic food suggestions


I'm hosting a picnic for friends this weekend, and would love suggestions for food. The picnic is a good distance from my house, so the items need to be things I can pack easily and transport without worrying about everything falling apart. Fun salads, sandwiches, other ideas all appreciated!

Thanks for your help!

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  1. You can make your own submarine/grinder sandwiches with Chow-style ingredients. If you weight the sandwich, you can easily call it "Cuban-style" to make it more exotic. Here are some suggestions -

    Breads - French bread, ciabatta bread, sourdough, whole grain, something artisanal with some texture and flavor
    Meats - any kind of salami (Italian, Hungarian, Spanish, kosher, genoa, soprassatta, etc), rare roast beef, turkey (smoked or regular), ham (lots of choices here), bologna
    Cheeses - choose something better than domestic American or Swiss, how about Gouda (plain or smoked), Brie, Jarlsberg, Provolone, blue cheese (Maytag, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Danish blue)
    Toppings - the usual lettuce, tomato, red onion but also include a few specialty items like roasted marinated red peppers, carmelized onions, marinated artichoke hearts, chopped olives salad,
    Sauces - there is always the usual mustard & mayo (no ketchup please!), but you can customize these by including things like horseradish, black pepper, chives, basil, or other herbs. You can use honey mustard, whole grain, or Dijon.

    You can pair the sandwich with a variety of salads, customize a potato, cole slaw, macaroni, pasta or other kind of salad with unusual ingredients. Hope the weather is cooperative!

    1. For a picnic, my preference is to bring a few hunks of good cheese, some olives, roasted peppers, a couple of loaves of fresh bread and a bottle of wine. Add other antipasti type stuff depending on whats available or you want to make (eg. cold roasted veggies in olive oil, dried sausages, etc.) It's simple and is one of the greatest lunches ever plus no "mayo worries"

      1. a fun idea might be an "avocado bar". just bring avocados, half and pit them once guests arrive, score the avocado flesh, then have stuffings/toppings in containers. plus, no plates needed - just eat out of the avocado shell!

        actually, i'm going to a picnic this weekend (weather permitting) and need to make a birthday cheesecake. for ease, i'm planning on making mini-cheesecakes in cupcake liners. i might also bring some freshly popped popcorn (bday boy loves popcorn).

        have fun!

        3 Replies
        1. re: lschow

          ooh, the avocado bar souds fun! I love avocado! What would you do for stuffings/ toppings?


          1. re: danielle

            mmm i love avocado, too! i would just eat them straight up... haha but some ideas are:

            -crabmeat or shirmp salad (thinking along the lines of sushi flavor pairings)
            -corn/black bean salad/relish
            -sauteed/grilled onions, mushrooms
            -tomato, blue/goat cheese, bacon

            ooh, or maybe a sweet/dessert version with something like condensed milk and fruit??

          2. re: lschow

            I had leftover marscapone cheese the other night and a request for cheesecake...I substituted the marscapone for equal amounts of cream cheese and made it in several small containers (without crust). Dressed the end product with different fresh berries and flavoured, sweetened sour cream.

            They turned out extremely well and this would work well in paper cups as the end product was strudy enough to eat "in the hand'.

          3. Baked beans
            fried chicken
            broccoli slaw
            dinner rolls w/honey butter
            honeydew melon slices and red grapes

            lemonade and iced tea

            1. I love a dilled vinaigrette potato salad. Not need to worry about mayo, cold or room temp.

              I love grilled chicken thin sliced. I love to make my onion and mushroom sauteed again, room temp and put together right there are even prepared ahead on ciabatta, no soggy sandwiches. I also make this in a large round loaf opened up and drizzled some extra vinaigrette and just sliced. Easy fun, pretty layered with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and spinach.

              I also like tortilla wraps. I make 2 or 3 salads all together and then they can just wrap them selves.

              Grilled pecan chicken fingers for kids.

              I like to serve papaya hollowed out and stuff with fresh fruit. wrap in foil and they stay chilled. Keep a little container of honey yogurt on the side cold and serve with the fruit with is a great simple dish.

              Stuffed artichokes with crab salad (ok, got to be kept cold) I had to throw one in there, they pack well.

              I love a platter a cheese and crackers and spreads, just to nibble with grapes or my fruit salad.

              A veggie ragu is great on toasted chibatta with some fresh cheese thick and rich. Make ahead.

              A coucous salad or barley salad is great with fresh herbs, lemon and some roasted veggies.

              Stay away from mayo, use vinaigrettes, stay away from anything that has to be kept too cold. Cool is ok, a few sauces on the side or ok but no big main dishes.

              I make a steak sandwich, easy with skirt steak thin sliced and put in a container, then made the bread, with a dijon spread, fresh tomato and onion and roasted veggies, then wrapped. Got to the picnic and added the steak a little dressing and put together and sliced. Presto. 1 minute and no clean up. Paper plates (nice ones).

              I do a lot of beach picnics catered.

              Cajun shrimp is also good with a nice spicy shrimp rice on the side, travels well. Lettuce wrape with a spicy cajun shrimp also are good and easy and travel well

              4 Replies
              1. re: kchurchill5

                What on earth is "cajun shrimp'? That's about as specific as Asian chicken.

                1. re: Hungry Celeste

                  Basically just steamed or boiled shrimp in a cajun seasoning. Sorry They can be chilled or close to room temp and travel way, a bit of spice, peel and eat but are excellent.

                  I love to serve it with a spicy rice on the side, the rice lightly cools the shrimp with fresh scallions, lime juice cucumber, onion, tomatoes, some roasted green peppers, some green chilies and cilantro.

                2. re: kchurchill5

                  The rice will spoil much much faster than mayo in the sun. It has so much bacteria, before and after cooking, that time in the danger zone can cause illness. I'd rather eat egg salad than a room temp rice salad.

                  1. re: alwayscooking

                    As you alluded to, mayo is safe, doesn't cause food poisoning. It's the foods that mayo is mixed with that can cause food poisoning. You can google this and find so many legitimate medical sources that will tell you this. Enjoy your mayo; just watch what you put it in or on.

                3. If you worry about mayo in salads for a picnic try a mayo-less potato salad, we make one that has diced mozzarella cheese, diced salami, diced tomatoes, artichokes, crispy panchetta, garlic, olive oil with fresh parsley and basil

                  An Asian slaw...includes waterchests, bamboo, nappa cabbage, purple cabbage, bean sprouts, with a seasme dressing or a peanut dressing (peanut butter, canola oil, vinegar and a bit of spenda...served with some Korean Beef Short Ribs and you have yourself a party !

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                    i love to make french potato salad. this is my go-to (super easy) recipe: http://tinyurl.com/cocop2

                    1. re: wowimadog

                      very similar, nice recipe. I usually add some capers, celery and sometimes some olives, but it really depends on whats in the fridge. But like mix. Simple and clean tasting.

                  2. My husband and I often picnicn when the weather's nice. I usually put things in a cooler, not a back pack, and you didn't mention which or both so I will make some suggestions for a cooler.

                    We love to make our own Subway like sandwiches. I pack in one large rectangular Rubbermaid containter, the thinly sliced veggies. Peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, red onion, tomatoes, and anything you love on a sandwich. Pickles, and pickled peppers.
                    another container of mustard, and a red wine vinagrette, salt and pepper.
                    French bread loaf. Either cut before, or on site.
                    Mortadella and provolone is our traditional sandwich, but bring your fave.
                    Red pears and grapes. Iced
                    Cheeses, any favorite cheese we love a hard cheese, soft and provolone for sandwiches
                    Pasta and tuna & egg salad
                    orzo and dried cherry/fresh herb salad - chinese take out boxes work great
                    iced tea, bubbly water
                    wine of course!
                    don't forget music, and binoculars! A book of poetry or a bird book. bring
                    We love to bring our mountain bikes,so we work up quite an appetite!

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Thanks chef chicklet! I'll be bringing a backpacking (and another big bag,and getting other ppl to bring stuff too), but I think much of this will work anyway!

                      1. re: danielle

                        i'm so jealous, I hurt my back in October, so been awaiting back surgery. I can't go anywhere until that's done. Hopefully soon now.

                        But reading my reply, we make the sandwiches there at the site, that way their fresh and not soggy. The red wine with dried herbs vinagrette is so nice on what I call "salad on bread"! So satifying outdoors too. Fresh and crunchy.
                        Not sure where you are, but the weather is gorgeous here for a picnic! (well not today 96 degrees!)
                        Have fun!

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          I'm in Boston, so it's JUST starting to get warm here. Supposed to be 75 and sunny this weekend, though it's 45 today. Looking forward to some warmer weather (which is what inspired the picnic idea)!

                          1. re: danielle

                            Well that's perfect weather, you're going to have a great time!

                      2. re: chef chicklet

                        Hey I am with you there, what is a picnic without WINE! - matter of fact, the perfect picnic in my eyes is ...bottle of wine, hard cheeses, and cured meats hot peppers and bread...really more tapas then picnic!

                        1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                          My favorite place, Artist's Point, Mt. Diablo. Picture perfect, can see the Bay Area and SF...

                          1. re: chef chicklet

                            We want to visit those areas! We are in Bermuda so we just loas the boat and have a great time while fishing for our dinner....

                            When we were in Capr Cod last year we stopped at a local Gorcer and got some goodies plates, knives and forks and had picnic on our car over loooking the water, have to say it was great lunch!

                      3. My go-to is a braided bread. You can stuff it anyway you like--with cold cuts and cheese; a nicoise idea w/ tuna and egg; oven dried tomatoes and mozzarella; smoked salmon and cream cheese. I don't think I've ever made it the same way twice. I use any sandwich bread recipe. Along this idea:


                        1. I think a Spanish tortilla is perfect picnic food. Also cold roast chicken. Incidentally, commercial mayo is not dangerous at room temps. In fact, it helps protect whatever it is on from growth of bacteria.
                          I love picnics!

                          21 Replies
                          1. re: MazDee

                            Seriously? I've always been under the impression that mayo-based salads and things spoil faster, even when the mayo isn't home-made... do you have a source for that not being true by any chance? Goes a bit against conventional wisdom (at least, what i've heard anyway)...

                            Actually, adjusting this reply, found this on Wikipedia: "Commercial mayonnaise, due to the addition of acids like vinegar or lemon juice, has a pH between 3.8 and 4.6, making it an acidic food. There is a misconception that foods like potato salad can make a person sick if left out in the sun, due to the mayonnaise spoiling. This is false; the pH of mayonnaise prevents harmful bacteria from growing in it. Left out of refrigeration, mayonnaise will develop an unappetizing taste and smell, due to other types of bacteria and molds that can spoil it; but will not make one sick. " - Good to know!

                            1. re: danielle

                              I live in FL, so I guess a picnic here mayo isn't setting at room temp, but at 80 degrees and sun. It depends what the weather is and how long it would not be chilled. Rule of thumb for me. Never take mayo to a picnic.

                              My friends invited me to a picnic last fall while up in WI. Mayo ... well hell we could of brought ice cubes it was so cold. Mayo was not an issue, lol. So yes, weather is a factor

                              1. re: danielle

                                The mayo thing ... the reason we created an a mayo-less potato salad is when we catered my father's wedding there were several people who could not eat eggs, so we (me and my husband) came up with a mayo-less version and have been making salad without mayo ever since...plus we live in Bemuda, same as kchurchill5, mayo sitting at 80 degrees in the "shade" is not nice, yes I know we could put it in our cooler, but we have gotten to really like the mayo-less versions we make.

                                1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                  The mayo less and egg less is really good, a nice vinagrette, some dill veggies and it really is tasty. I love it equally. It is hard to remember picnics for some like I mentioned ... I could of taken ice cubes and they would of been fine. For us ... 60 is a cold front :)

                                  I try to be cautious with most food unless one main course I can keep chilled but overall, heat friendly. Boy it is just so hard having to living in 80 degrees all the time huh? LOL. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

                                  But leaving mac salad or potato salad out during the afternoon doesn't work for us southern dwellers.

                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                    Re last sentence, why? Because of the pasta and the potato? No problem with the mayo.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Maybe an ol' saying or what have you. Regardless of what they say I just don't think that mayo sitting out in heat for an extended period is good. sometimes I may have pancetta or bacon in my salads, but it is just something I don't believe it. Mayo sitting out in hot sun and it was 82 today to me is just not good and I wouldn't do it and would certainly not eat it no matter what was in it.

                                      1. re: kchurchill5

                                        Mayybe do a little research on legitimate medical sites and see that mayo is safe. I think we all need to keep open minds and be willing to change.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          I know, and read the research, I just won't eat it after it sits out. Just a pet peeve I guess. I just don't like it at 80 degrees. Nothing more.

                                          I won't change on that and if others want to eat it that is fine, I just don't think it is the best idea is all. Sometimes I add bacon and bacon and mayo sitting in a HOT baking sun for 3-4 hours to me is just not the best idea no matter what some medical research says. I just try to avoid it and stick to salads that are vinaigrette based with no meat.

                                          Each is own

                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                            Usually when I am involved in a picnic, the food is out for an hour or so, everybody eats, and then it's gone, or the next course is brought out... No need to have stuff sitting out for that long... No need to be eating for that long... Plus, the ants and the flies. If the food is good, it should be long gone.

                                            Another tip: Bring some ice so that perishables can go back in a cold cooler before they spoil.

                                            1. re: Full tummy

                                              I would agree, but every picnic I have gone too doesn't work that way. I would do it that way but it never goes that way so with the warm weather I just try to avoid things I don't like sitting out in the heat that long.

                                              Ants, if on the beach not a problem (regional issues) flies too not a problem, but sun a problem. Coolers, not like it is a park, long walk in the sand for us so coolers are as few as we can carry.

                                              A lot depends on where, weather and conditions. That dictates the food for me. But I still stay away from mayo based items for picnics unless it is just 3 or 4 of us and it is a simple intimate dinner. That is different.

                                              But understand what you are saying.

                                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                                I don't understand why mayo is okay for 3 or 4 but not for a larger group.

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  Because 3 or 4 people would more than likely be a more intimate conversation and sit down and eat together. Larger groups tend to mingle and socialize, sometimes an activity may be involved, the beach or the park, kids, etc and most large groups picnics or parties tend to not all eat at once so the food sits out much longer as people graze.

                                                  No difference then a group of 3 or 4 at home and a group of 20. 3 or 4 people will mostly likely sit down and talk to one another and eat together. The larger group usually doesn't.

                                                  1. re: kchurchill5

                                                    But basically we've decided that mayo isn't an issue so no big deal either way.

                                            2. re: kchurchill5

                                              Ah, so you just don't like the flavor of warmer mayo. It's not the health issue. Good. And yes I wouldn't want bacon and other things at that temp. Once again, glad you agree with me.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Ya'll need to come to a Bermudian "picnic", yes, I said ya'll - born and raised in FL, lived in Bermuda for 15 years. So a southern at heart!

                                                Anyway we start with lunch, usually some codfish cakes and other goodies, like chili, Bermuda Fish Chowder, jerk wings, then that is cleared and on to "dinner" which is usually chicken, chorizo, mac and cheese, hoppin johns, and yes, potato salad, cole slaw and what ever any anyone else may bring. Then that is cleared and on to dessert, yeah, like I have room for that now.

                                                1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                  As I've said before here --- dang, where's that private jet when I need it?!? Sounds wonderful. And having been born and raised in Atlanta (now in NoCal), we never quite considered Floridians "Southerners." Too many Yankees there :) But since you're a goddess you can be anything you want :)

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Hey now, "True" Floridians are Southern, not to mention my family are originally from Minerals Bluff, GA...Took two years of speach thearpy to control my Southern twang, it gets out of control when drinking the martinis though!

                                                    1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                      Know what you mean. I've lived in the west for almost 40 years but put a couple of cocktails in me and I've got magnolia blossoms dripping off my tongue :)

                                                      Let's go fishing!

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        I can so relate, favorite saying is I am not responsible what comes out of my mouth after 3 cocktails :)

                                                        Love fishing! weather has been a bit off here to get out, so just siting tight until we can.

                                                    2. re: c oliver

                                                      Enjoy th pics...fishing at sunrise, fresh fish for dinner and just some nice views...

                                                      1. re: bermudagourmetgoddess

                                                        That is SA-WEEEEEEEEEEEEET! thanks for the pics bgg!!!
                                                        Just Beautiful! I'll show you Mt. Diablo, Bay Area etc. if you show me.....!

                                  1. I made mushroom pasties/pies for a picnic once. They went down a storm.

                                    1. My all-time favourite pasta salad!!!! It always gets lots of praise. Orzo, olives, basil, pine nuts, YUM!!!


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Full tummy

                                        All my faves too. Thanks ALOT for sharing that one. Mmmm.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          How about a great curry chicken salad sandwich something like this one; it's unexpected, but delicious. Definitely a winner!!!


                                          I'd also like to second Boccone Dolce's suggestion for the muffuletta sandwich. YUM!

                                          Some crudites with dip??? http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                          I don't worry about mayonnaise in the heat; presumably the OP will take everything in a cooler, and the food will be gobbled up within a couple of hours. No need to fret...

                                          A platter of grilled veggies, maybe...

                                          And for dessert? Assorted squares or brownies and a yummy lemon poppy seed loaf, plus some fresh fruit (watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe...)

                                        2. re: Full tummy

                                          This souds great to me! Thanks FullTummy!

                                          1. re: danielle

                                            Let us know what you do and how it turned out!!!

                                        3. Howza bouta muffaletta? Make it in the morn and it is just right by picnicky time! to go with? Make it easy on yourself - get some thickly cut potato chips or terra chips and some fruit for dessert. It also requires beer. Yes, requires. If you wanted to get all authentic and fancy you could shuck some oysters and eat them raw or set them up on a makeshift campfire. You then need some sort of dessert - maybe something like little lemon chess pies you could gobble up in your hands. Yum. Plus, with all that vinegar and lemon - your lips will be perfectly puckered. I nice side benefit - if so desired...

                                          1. Thanks everyone for the suggestions! Here's my picnic report.

                                            Last week I got stuck working late every night, so any elaborate picnic planning was unfortunately off. However, the sun was shining brightly and for the first time this year, it was hot in Boston. We had about 20 or so people come out, and more than enough food to go around. I live in Boston's North End, so most of the things were scrounged from neighborhood stores and our outdoor market (haymarket) on Saturday morning.

                                            I made tomato, mozerella, basil salad with very fresh mozerella
                                            bean salad with lots of onion, garlic, and balsamic
                                            lots of cheeses, italian meats, and bread
                                            strawberries, and grapes
                                            carrots, peppers, and hummus

                                            others brought contributions- cookies, chicken salad, more bread + cheese, guac + chips

                                            frisbees, bocce ball, volleyball, soccer

                                            overally, a fantastic afternoon, and I'm saving your suggestions for my next picnic, when hopefully I'll have more time to prepare! Thanks for all the help!


                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: danielle

                                              Danielle, any dessert from Mike's Pastries? Very envious you live in the North End, many wonderful Chow opportunities available to you. Our oldest DD is at school in Waltham and when we visit Boston, got to go to the North End. Too many yummy places to choose favorites.

                                              1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                Diane, no Mike's (or Modern) this time since I outsourced dessert (aside from the fruit). We ended up with lots of home-made chocolate chip cookies, which I have to admitI enjoy much more than Mike's. Definitely lots of yummy places in the NE!