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Big birthday picnic in the park - what did I get myself into?

My daughter's 1st birthday party will be at the end of June, in a local park, and it looks like 50-60 family members and friends will be showing up. Hooray! Now, what do I feed them? And how?

My thoughts are: no mayo, no meat. Otherwise, pretty much everything is game. There will be watermelon, cake, iced tea, strawberry lemonade, and water for sure. The rest is pretty much up in the air.

Do you have any great salads for feeding a crowd on a (potentially) hot summer day?

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  1. Why no Mayo or meat? They have these things now called coolers, or you could double bowl salads with ice in between.

    Are you looking for a meal or just snacks? Grill available? Sounds like a great setting for traditional burgers and dogs...

    13 Replies
    1. re: THoey1963

      No meat due to guests. No mayo due to, well, squeamishness on my part. I figure we can do without it.

      Looking for lunch. Sadly no grill. So sad!

      1. re: LoDega

        Concerning mayonnaise, the whole "it's not safe for a picnic" is hogwash. It's an unsubstantiated myth. Store-bought mayonnaise not only contains pasteurized eggs, but has enough acid in it to help stave off bacteria even more so than if it didn't have it.

        In short, mayonnaise at a picnic is no more unsafe to have than essentially any other food. No need to be squeamish about it. Simply treat it like any other food when it comes to food safety practices.

        1. re: 1POINT21GW

          I've read for some time now that with potato salad for instance, it's bacteria on the onions or potatoes that are the culprits, not the mayo. The mayo problem went out the window when commercial stuff came along but old wives tales die hard.

          1. re: c oliver

            I guess my point was that it's the bacteria in *anything* that we should be mindful of and that we should treat *all* foods with good food safety practices. The food doesn't know if it's indoors or outdoors.

        2. re: LoDega

          I tried using Sour Cream one time for potato salad instead of mayo... I couldn't tell the difference - I haven't used mayo since.

            1. re: sparky403

              I'm curious. If you can't tell the difference, then why use sour cream which is generally more expensive than mayo?

              1. re: c oliver

                I think maybe sour cream has less calories than mayo? I could be wrong, I just remember last month I replaced greek yogurt for sour cream in something, thinking I was being very calorie conscious, and after reading the nutritional thing on the back, I realized sour cream had about the same amount of calories as greek yogurt. I was surprised that sour cream was so low cal.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Not sure where you live but, In SF a jar of Mayo is far more expensive that a pint of sour cream

                  some people freak about mayo being outside of a cooler etc...and I just find it better frankly.... that's why.

                  1. re: sparky403

                    I use 2 parts mayo to 2 parts sour cream and lots and lots of dill. I add hot vinegar to hot potatoes then coll then add creamy mixture. It is really delicious.

                    1. re: sparky403

                      I've never bought a pint of mayo so have no idea.

                      Commercial mayo is safe as safe can be.

                      And, sorry, I misunderstood somehow. I thought you meant you couldn't tell the difference between the mayo and the sour cream.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        In potato salad I can't and doubt anyone else could either... give it a try I don't buy pints of mayo... I buy the big jar... but sour cream is cheaper and at least as good.

                        >>I thought you meant you couldn't tell the difference between the mayo and the sour cream

            2. I'd skip the cake and make cupcakes or cookies. As far as a big crowd salad - I've made a big lettuce salad and kept it in a cooler w/ all of the add ins in plastic baggies in a cooler. If you have bug covers, then you can put them on the table before hand. Otherwise, go with a coleslaw recipe that's on Chowhound under recipes and it is AWESOME!

              Are you going to feed ALL of the people with no help? I could not handle all of that, but there are delightful cold sandwiches to be made - think tea party types. Cold cucumber, tuna, pb&j for the kids. There would be some cream cheese involved w/ the cucumber but you can cut them small and they would be easy to keep cold. I know that you're concerned about the heat.

              1 Reply
              1. re: JerryMe

                Thanks! I'm planning on taking on probably too much of it on my own, but I certainly will have help.

              2. Cold pasta dishes work well-you could do a big, cold pesto tortellini with sundried tomatoes, that should keep well, even when it inevitably gets to be room temp (or warmer). You could also make wrap sandwiches out of lavash bread and slice them, so one wrap makes about 6 slices, and you could fill with whatever-hummus, fresh spinach, cream cheese, cucumbers, olive tapenade, sun dried tomatoes. A make your own PB+J station for the kids might be fun-you could set out PB, Nutella, different flavors or jams/jellies, honey, bananas, marshmallow fluff, M&M's. Maybe some big bowls of seasoned popcorn, as a different twist on potato chips.

                1. A CH-friend gave me this Orzo with Everything salad recipe and we love it. The second batch of ingredients can be prepped and added when you're ready to serve.


                  1. We did a picnic in the park for our daughter's first, as well.(Oh, it was SO hot that day).We're meat eaters, and had a grill, so we took hundreds of shish-kebab, already strung on the sticks, and tossed them on the grill...the only problem was keeping the sharp sticks out of the hands of our littler guests. It was a tidy delivery system though, and you could do it with fruit or veg or cubes of bread and cheese. The nice bit is that everything is easily transported on sticks, and you needn't use a fork or a plate to eat it. I think that if I were doing a big, vegetarian picnic, I would probably make up about 10 big sandwiches of various veg combinations, with and without cheese...again, wrapped tightly they could be made the day before, and transported and even sliced, still wrapped. Think mozzerella/tomato, roasted veg with hummus, cucumber with lots of dill, cheese sandwiches, or bahn mi. You can buy nice loaves of bread to save time baking it, and just assembly-line the sandwiches.

                    1. I love the pasta salads and big sub sandwich ideas here. I can't come up with anything better to build your menu around. I also wouldn't over do it with too many different items. Just one or two big salads and as many sandwiches as you thing you'll need.


                      1. I attended a 1st birthday party held at a park last Saturday. They did grill but otherwise fare was salads, pinwheel sandwiches, fruit, cake and cupcakes. The hostess had purchased the coolest thing - an inflatable pool that held ice and the salads that needed to be kept chilled. Here is an example:


                        Ah, what kind of salads... I like potato salad (no mayo, use olive oil, lemon juice and herbs to dress); asian slaw, and fruit salad on a hot summer day.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: tcamp

                          What a great idea that tabletop cooler is! Thanks for the link, tcamp.

                          1. re: tcamp

                            Wow. That table top kiddie pool thing is an amazing idea. I can imagine an extended family going in on one and just passing it around whenever someone needs it. I wish I'd known about it for the graduation party I just had for my boyfriend. Seriously, genius.

                              1. re: tcamp

                                My cousin has one of those tabletop coolers (though smaller than the one linked) and it is brilliant!

                              2. I think I would make pasta salad, wraps and sandwiches, fresh fruit trays, and several varieties of chips.

                                Get three different cheeses and three different proteins ( ham, turkey, chicken) and slices of veg ( lettuce, tomato, peppers) to mix it up. Label vegetarian wraps with a big "v".

                                Fruit tray: grapes, strawberry slices and apples. Don't be complicated.

                                I like a Mediterranean style pasta salad with artichokes, sun dried tomato, olives, parm, etc. always seems to be a crowd pleaser.

                                1. How about platters of roasted or grilled vegetables and saffron couscous?

                                  Tea sandwiches.

                                  Classic spinach dip.

                                  1. Try an Italian style cole slaw, using oil and vinegar instead of mayo, tastes great.

                                    1. I'd go in such a different direction ~~ 5 or 6 pans of cheese lasagne; huge pans of green salad; an nice bean or corn (think cold vegetable) salad; good bakery crusty rolls; and your watermelon, etc.

                                      1. I'm not a fan of regular mayo (blah & boring + too much fat). I've found this stuff call The Ojai Light Lemonaise (they have several varieties) that I use in place of mayo along with 0% FAGE.

                                        During the lake festival/firework season (Milwaukee), we have a tradition of going out on the lake to watch fireworks from the boat and therefore, don't have a grill available, but we do dinner in style!

                                        Depending on budget, some great recipes that come to mind are: Tenderloin sammies with horseradish sauce. Use Ina's roasted tenderloin recipe for MR (25 min.) Chill overnight and slice thin. Whip up a quick horseradish sauce with above. A chicken salad (for sammies or on lettuce leaves) like Whole Foods Sonoma Chicken Salad, again using the lemonaise & Greek yogurt. Giada's couscous salad with cranberries and almonds. Fresh seasonal fruit which must include pineapple with sauce (on the side). The best fruit sauce I ever made consisted of McDonalds yogurt (what they use for their parfaits), fresh pineapple juice, & Greek yogurt and a little sweetener like Splenda. Assorted fresh, seasonal veggies with homemade hummus. Shrimp & cocktail sauce with lemon wedges. Homemade guac, although the chips might get soggy depending on humidity :( ....

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Scoutmaster

                                          Lemonaise is amazing-try it with a steamed artichoke!

                                        2. Outdoor picnic equates some kind of sandwich for me. As someone else mentioned a cooler is in order. As well ice packs now come in larger square placement like shapes so you could put a dish on it and it would remain cool for a period of time. Lot's of salad of sorts, sandwiches and perhaps a vegetable and fruit platter. Or you could prepare 50-60 boxed lunches and put them in cooler that way the madness and frenzy of putting all the food out and maintaining cold would be eliminated but that option is more work for you.

                                          1. How about buckets of fried chicken. No need to keep it hot, it tastes great room temp.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. You could make a bunch of vegetable tarts using storebought puff pastry and whatever's in season. They're make-ahead and delicious at room temp.

                                              1. Gazpacho in cups (take in chilled thermos flasks to keep cold). Vegetarian Cornish pasties. Spinach and feta triangles.
                                                Bacon and egg pie (Baked in a large roasting dish and cut into squares and served cold),rice and sausage pie (baked as a long, folded-over pastry rectangle, cut into slices and served cold).
                                                Grilled vegetable and haloumi skewers served cold. Asian noodle-type salads with or without thinly sliced cold rare beef. Fresh rice-paper rolls with a dipping sauce.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Hey LoDega, the end of June having come and gone, I'm wondering how it went? What did you decide on in the end?