38 Healthier Picnic Recipes
Few things scream “summer” more than eating outside, especially when plenty of friends and plush green grass are involved. But sometimes, transporting that gourmet meal to the park and eating without a table can be tricky. Here are 38 healthy and (most importantly) portable recipes to try at your next summer picnic. Before you head out, try this DIY picnic blanket project for a blanket that can stand up to your crew — and all the spills — too!
1. Pressed Roasted Vegetable Sandwich
This recipe certainty doesn’t skimp on the veggies. Oven-roasted tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers get layered with homemade pesto and fresh mozzarella for a super flavorful, antioxidant-filled meal.
2. Hummus-Veggie Spirals
This might be the perfect healthier sandwich. Using lavash (a thin flatbread available near the deli section of most grocery stores) on the outside cuts down on carbs, hummus replaces other fatty spreads like mayo or cheese, and the inside’s all veggies, including protein-rich edamame and healthy-fat-filled avocado.
This New Orleans classic is not kidding around. A mixed olive salad makes this sandwich unique and adds tons of color and flavor to an otherwise meat-heavy meal. Be forewarned: It’s considered blasphemous to toast or otherwise heat a Muffuletta.
4. Ham and Cheese Picnic Pinwheels
Say it with me, people: Tortillas are a picnic lunch’s best friend. They’re easy to store, easy to share (just slice a roll-up sandwich into rounds), and you can fill them with just about anything. Here, a thin layer of cream cheese (or creamy mustard, if dairy’s not your thing) is combined with sliced ham and cheddar cheese for a classic flavor combination. Add a handful of peppery arugula or chewy kale to add a dose of green veggies to the mix.
5. Pressed Italian Sandwiches
Here’s a (somewhat) healthier take on the classic Italian sub. Arugula and roasted red peppers add some flavor and moisture (so you don’t have to douse the whole sammie in oil and vinegar dressing).
6. Picnic Breads
This dish is ideal for an outdoor meal — it’s right in the name. Think of these single-serve delights as mini, meat-free versions of the muffuletta or pressed veggie sandwich above. Crispy rolls are hollowed out and filled with sundried tomato spread, basil, zucchini, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella. Serve cold, or bake for an ooey-gooey filling.
7. Radish and Avocado Bruschetta
When a sandwich seems like a bit too much, opt for an interesting bruschetta recipe, like this one. Toasted slices of baguette (choose a whole-grain variety!) are topped with goat cheese, sliced avocado, and radish. Add dill (dried or fresh), salt, and pepper to taste for extra kick.
8. Southwest Grilled Chicken Spring Rolls
Rice wraps make for a great, lighter (gluten-free alternative to bread-based bites. Chicken covered in paprika, chipotle powder, cumin, and garlic powder makes for a spicy filling. Balance it out with plenty of veggies, like cool cucumbers, spinach, carrots, avocado, and cilantro.
9. Shaved Beet, Carrot, and Radish Salad
This simple salad’s as healthy as it is gorgeous. Thinly sliced raw carrots, beets, and radishes create a crunchy, fresh-tasting side dish packed with antioxidants. The dressing — flavored with apple cider vinegar, Dijon, and coriander — is perfectly acidic and slightly spicy.
10. Potato Salad with Green Olive Pesto
Walnuts and olives add an interesting twist to the pesto that dresses this mayo-free potato and egg salad. Celery adds some nice crunch to the mix.
11. Barley-Wax Been Salad with Golden Beets and Cucumbers
When summer hits and farmers markets are overflowing with fresh produce, there’s really no way to make a bad salad. This combo of cucumber, yellow beets, wax beans, and red onion gets some protein from a hearty barley base and some sweetness and crunch from walnuts.
12. Cilantro-Lime Coleslaw
During the summer, fresh, crunchy, bright coleslaw can’t be beat. (No, we’re not talking about that sloppy, soft, limp “coleslaw” straight from the school cafeteria). This version gets super colorful with purple cabbage, carrots, jalapeno, and cilantro.
13. Black Rice with Mangoes and Cashews
Black is so the new brown. That’s because black rice — also known as “forbidden rice” — may actually be healthier than brown rice! One study found that black rice contained more anthocyanin antioxidants than blueberries. The black-colored outer hull may also contain higher amounts of vitamin E than the hull of brown rice. Mangoes add some sweetness and cashews add a bit of crunch!
14. Moroccan Carrot Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing
Crunchy carrots get a spicy kick with harissa, a North African chili paste. Sweet, plump raisins add a hint of sweetness while feta adds a salty bite and fresh parsley brings all the flavors together.
15. Antipasto Salad
This recipe is a great homemade version of the classic salads served at almost any pizza joint. Romaine lettuce is topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, banana peppers, and chunks of salami, ham, and mozzarella. The dressing is super light — red wine vinegar, oregano, Dijon, garlic, and oil — but flavorful enough to complement all of the ingredients perfectly.
16. Black Lentil-Cauliflower Salad
Lentils are a fantastic meat-free source of protein, and they make this a filling, healthy salad perfect for toting along to a picnic in the park. Turmeric, cilantro, and coriander add interesting flavor elements.
Snacks and Sides
17. Buffalo Chicken Quinoa Bites
One the easiest ways to enjoy quinoa is in mini-bite form. Mix a bit of the cooked grain with fillings and flavorings (shredded chicken, goat cheese, sharp cheddar, buffalo sauce, and breadcrumbs), scoop the mixture into a mini muffin tin, and bake. When they come out, they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. A creamy dipping sauce — like this one with Greek yogurt, blue cheese, and spices — makes the dish complete.
18. Caprese Fruit Skewers
We’ve all tried the classic tomato-mozzarella-balsamic combo, but what about adding some fruit to the mix? Instead of tomatoes, these Caprese salad-esque skewers are filled with chunks of watermelon and strawberries alongside the traditional fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. Don’t forget the balsamic reduction sauce!
19. Mojito Fruit Salad
Use whatever fruit’s in season for this colorful salad. Stone fruit such as nectarines, plums, and peaches pair well with the slightly-sour lime (or lime and rum!) dressing. Mixing in some berries, kiwi, grapes, and melon will add a bit of sweetness. The recipe calls for ¾ cup of sugar, but we think cutting back to ¼ cup (or subbing honey) would taste delicous, too.
20. Melon, Prosciutto, and Mozzarella
Here’s another picnic-friendly Italian classic. The sweet melon and salty prosciutto compliment one another perfectly. Mozzarella adds a creamy, fresh flavor into the mix.
21. Vegetable Sushi
Letting raw fish-filled sushi hang out in the sun for the afternoon probably isn’t so smart, so stick to vegetable-based sushi when packing for a picnic. Roasted sweet potato, avocado, cucumber, and carrots make great fillings. If you’re feeling like something a bit sweeter, try filling the rolls with fresh mango or kiwi. Plus, it’s super fun to make!
22. Shortbread Cookie Sandwiches with Basil Cream Cheese
While these cookies aren’t entirely “healthy,” we like them because they’re much less sweet than traditional sandwich cookies (and they fit in one of our favorite healthy herbs — basil!).
23. Healthier Thumbprint Cookies
Using ground up nuts or nut flour as a cookie base is one of our favorite healthier baking tips. Rolled oats also make these cookies super wholesome. Sweeten with maple syrup and just a dollop of fruit jam in the center.
24. Roasted Cherry Hand Pies
We promise these homemade treats are healthier than the version sold at the Golden Arches. Opt for whole-wheat flour for a healthier take on this recipe, and feel free to cut back on the sugar if you’d like a more tart filling — the raspberry preserves, vanilla, and natural sweetness of the cherries sweeten the filling just plenty!
25. Banana Split Parfait
Unfortunately, ice cream isn’t exactly picnic-friendly. These banana splits use whipped cream, which doesn’t melt as quickly as ice cream. Layered with fresh strawberries, bananas, and walnuts and drizzled in homemade chocolate sauce, this sweet treat definitely hits the spot. No high-fructose corn syrup-filled sauces in these little jars!
26. Greek Yogurt Cheesecake in a Jar
While these healthier cheesecakes still do contain cream cheese, they don’t use nearly as much as traditional recipes, subbing in protein-packed Greek yogurt instead. Top with whatever fresh fruit strikes your fancy.
27. Strawberry-Rhubarb Hand Pies
Rye flour adds an interesting flavor to these summery hand pies. The filling stays healthy here with just two tablespoons of added sugar. The rest of the flavor comes from the fruit itself, cardamom, and nutmeg.
28. Peaches with Bourbon, Lemon, and Mint
Nothing says summer like bourbon-soaked fruit. Mint and lemon juice add a fresh twist to the sweetness of peaches and bourbon. Serve alone or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. (We think this would make a pretty killer ice cream flavor, too!) Not into the alcohol (or serving kids)? Simmer the bourbon and lemon juice in a small pan over medium heat until the alcohol’s evaporated, thinning with water if necessary (about 5-10 minutes).
29. Strawberry-Lime Agua Fresca
This one’s easy: Throw ingredients in blender, blend, and strain. The resulting beverage is super refreshing, just sweet enough, and such a perfect shade of pinky-red it will make you want to smile. (Bonus points for using home-grown strawberries.)
30. Meyer Lemon and Jasmine Iced Tea
Here’s a twist on the classic iced tea so common in picnic spreads. Jasmine tea gets an extra kick with Meyer lemon juice (which is much less acidic and deeper in flavor than regular lemon juice) and a bit of agave. Garnish with a round of Meyer lemon on top (they’re much prettier than normal lemons, too!).
31. Watermelon Agua Fresca
Blended watermelon, lime juice, and a bit of honey or agave make for a fresh tasting drink perfect for any outdoor feast. Don’t forget to garnish with mint for even more refreshing flavor.
32. Raspberry-Peach Iced Tea
Here’s an unexpected way to flavor fruit tea: real fruit purée! The base for this beverage is plain old black tea. But when combined with a fresh peach and raspberry purée (strained to remove any seeds and pulp) you get a naturally flavored and perfectly sweet and fruity tea treat.
33. Cucumber-Lemon Cooler
Cucumber is already super hydrating and very refreshing. Combine it with lemon, vodka, and sparkling water and you might have the perfect summertime cocktail.
34. Iced Green-Tini
Green tea and vodka sounds strange, but the two beverages actually make a perfect pair. Lime juice (and a little sugar or honey) cuts some of the sharpness of the alcohol. Just be sure your picnic locale allows alcohol before deciding to BYOB.
36. Watermelon-Mint Iced Tea
Steeping in a jar of watermelon cubes is enough to give this iced tea some serious watermelon flavor. The mint makes it super refreshing — we suggest using mint tea for an even mintier version.
37. Basil-Lemonade Cooler
If chia seeds are your thing, listen up: Sweet basil seeds can be used the same way! Basil seeds are commonly used in Asian drinks and desserts and are easily found at most Asian grocery stores. Soak the seeds in water for at least an hour, and they become gelatinous and translucent just like chia seeds! Lemon, mint, and water make up the rest of this herbaceous drink.
38. Strawberry-Mango Lemonade
Blended strawberries and mango nectar flavor this punched-up lemonade drink. If short on time, skip the homemade stuff and go for a bottled lemonade as the base (be sure to choose one with not too much added sugar, though).
What’s your favorite picnic recipe? Share with us in the comments below or tweet the author @ksmorin!