Photos by Leigh Beisch

Nothing captures summer’s essence more delightfully than delicious food served in a glorious outdoor setting. Whether you’re headed for the seaside, the mountains, or an afternoon in your neighborhood park, these sassy menus will make your alfresco picnic simple, healthy, and fun. Every dish featured here can be prepared in advance, and each is easy to pack, transport, and assemble on-site.

The key to a good picnic basket is to pack healthy treats bursting with vitamins (especially A and C), colorful antioxidants, fiber, whole-food carbs, and even water to help you stay hydrated. Keep foods well chilled until serving time; use insulated coolers, or transfer refrigerated foods straight into backpacks with a couple of plastic ice packs. With blue skies, good company, and a well-rounded picnic, you’ll have all you need to enjoy the great outdoors.

(Menu 1): On a hike

Vegetarian Hero Sandwiches (recipe provided)
Nectarine–Snap Pea Salad (recipe provided)
Fresh raspberries and vanilla yogurt
White grape juice with lemon slices, mint leaves, and frozen grapes

Vegetarian Hero Sandwiches
Serves 6 / Tailor-made for a summertime hike, these sandwiches are easy to prepare, satisfying to eat, and easily portable. Keep well chilled until you’re ready to leave. For variation, add a few slices of deli turkey.

1 24-inch whole-wheat or plain baguette
4 ounces skim mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced 1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced 2 large radishes, thinly sliced
A handful of fresh baby spinach leaves
A handful of fresh alfalfa sprouts

Vinaigrette
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. To make vinaigrette, place all ingredients in a jar and shake well.

2. Cut bread in half lengthwise. Pull out half of the interior on one of the bread halves, forming a hollow. Place mozzarella in the hollow. Toss sliced avocado with lemon juice, then layer avocado, tomato, cucumber, red bell pepper, and radishes on top of cheese. Top with spinach and sprouts. Drizzle 3–4 tablespoons vinaigrette over vegetables and top with remaining bread half. Slice into six sections. Wrap each section in foil and keep chilled.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 490 calories
% fat calories: 24
Fat: 13g
Saturated Fat: 4g
Cholesterol: 10mg
Protein: 18g
Carbohydrate: 77g
Fiber: 8g
Sodium: 756mg

More summer sandwich ideas

  • Fill pita bread halves with cooked bulgur, fresh tomatoes, scallions, and shredded lettuce; drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Mound chicken salad, currants, and toasted slivered almonds in pita halves or atop whole-wheat bread.
  • Mix tuna with chopped celery, unpeeled green apple, and sliced almonds; moisten with a mixture of mayonnaise and curry powder. Serve on lettuce leaves.
  • Spread pesto on a baguette and top with sliced fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and red onion.

—K.L.

Nectarine–Snap Pea Salad
Serves 6 / You may be lucky enough to find some of these ingredients in your own garden; together, they offer plenty of vitamins B and C, plus a good dose of fiber and folic acid. You can also use the versatile vinaigrette as a marinade for fish or chicken, or drizzle it over a pear and blue-cheese salad. Pack this salad straight from the refrigerator into knapsacks and keep cool with individual frozen ice packs.

1/2 pound small red-skinned new potatoes
1 cup (about 4 ounces) sugar snap peas
2 nectarines, sliced
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels (cooked)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Sesame-Mango Vinaigrette
(makes about 1-1/3 cups)
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup mango chutney
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
7/8 cup canola oil

1. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients except canola oil in a food processor or blender and process until well blended. Slowly add canola oil and blend until incorporated.

2. Gently boil potatoes until tender. Cool and cut into wedges. Steam snap peas until just crisp-tender; cool.

3. Combine potatoes, snap peas, nectarines, and corn in a medium unbreakable bowl with a lid. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons dressing and toss well. Divide into either six small lidded bowls or three medium lidded bowls. Keep well chilled until ready to pack.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 98 calories
% fat calories: 22
Fat: 3g
Saturated Fat: 0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 2g
Carbohydrate: 18g
Fiber: 4g
Sodium: 45mg

(Menu 2): At the beach
Tropical Seafood Salad (recipe provided)
Carrot-Mint Salad (recipe provided)
Whole-wheat baguette
Gingersnaps with Fresh Ginger(recipe provided)
Fresh lemonade

Carrot-Mint Salad
Serves 6 / Fresh carrots mixed with cool mint are full of flavor, vitamins, and fiber, making this healthy salad a warm-day treat.

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

1. Blanch carrots in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Transfer to an unbreakable lidded container.

2. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Slowly beat in olive oil. Stir in mint and chives. Pour over carrots and toss. Chill. Pack into an insulated cooler just before leaving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 58 calories
% fat calories: 68
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 0g
Carbohydrate: 4g
Fiber: 1g
Sodium: 24mg

Tropical Seafood Salad
Serves 8–10 / This nourishing salad, rich with carotenes and vitamins B and C, is also refreshing and easy to digest—perfect for a hot day spent swimming at the beach. It can be prepared the night before your picnic; add the vinaigrette just before you go.

Vinaigrette
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh serrano or jalapeño pepper
Pinch of saffron threads
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/2 cup)

1/2 head romaine lettuce leaves
2 pints yellow pear or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup diced cantaloupe
1/3 cup fresh or bottled diced mango
1/3 cup diced papaya
1/3 cup diced jicama
1 medium cucumber, peeled, cut lengthwise, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound small shrimp, shelled and cooked
4 tablespoons minced fresh chives

1. Combine olive oil, vinegar, peppers, saffron, and lime juice in the bowl of a food processor and blend well.

2. In a large unbreakable bowl with a lid, shred romaine leaves.

3. In a second large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except for chives. Pour about half of the dressing over shrimp mixture and toss well. Mound mixture on lettuce leaves and garnish with minced chives. Pack into an insulated cooler just before leaving, and keep well chilled until serving time.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 172 calories
% fat calories: 40
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 112mg
Protein: 15g
Carbohydrate: 11g
Fiber: 3g
Sodium: 101mg

More outdoor dessert ideas

  • Bring along ice cream cones, your favorite yogurt, and a bowl of mixed berries and nuts. Fill cones with yogurt and top with berries and nuts.
  • Thread chunks of your favorite fruits onto skewers to create fruit kabobs.
  • Mix kiwi slices, blueberries, and chopped cantaloupe and honeydew with a handful of fresh mint leaves and a bit of fresh orange juice. Toss together and chill. Top with trail mix.
  • Layer raspberries, chopped almonds, crumbled gingersnaps, and plain yogurt in an unbreakable bowl; keep chilled until serving.
  • Combine sliced figs, blueberries, black grapes, and sliced purple plums; toss with a little lemon juice. Serve as is or with plain yogurt.

—K.L.

Gingersnaps with Fresh Ginger
Makes about 36 / Bake these tempting treats the night before your outing. They transport well, and ginger is good for digestion.

3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/3 cup molasses
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray, or use a nonstick sheet.

2. Place butter, molasses, fresh ginger, and crystallized ginger in a mixing bowl and beat until well-blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and add remaining ingredients, blending until a soft dough forms.

3. Roll dough into 1/2-inch balls and place 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Flatten balls with the floured bottom of a glass. Bake 8–9 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Pack into a paper bag or plastic dish with a lid.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (2 cookies):
Calories: 62 calories
% fat calories: 29
Fat: 8g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 5mg
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 10g
Fiber: 0g
Sodium: 53mg

(Menu 3): At the park
Chicken Salad Veronique (recipe provided)
Whole-wheat baguette
Corn-Zucchini Salad (recipe provided)
Sliced cantaloupe
Oatmeal cookies
Mint–lemon balm iced tea

Chicken Salad Veronique
Serves 6–8 / Here’s an easy way to use leftover chicken from last night’s barbecue. If you can find chives with flowers, use them for added elegance.

2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (skinless)
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-1/2 cups seedless red grapes
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 small head romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1. In a medium bowl, gently combine chicken, carrots, avocado, celery, and lemon juice. Toss with mayonnaise to moisten. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in grapes and almonds. (If making ahead, add almonds just before leaving.)

2. Tear romaine lettuce into a medium bowl with a lid. Mound chicken mixture on top and sprinkle with chives. Keep chilled until ready to pack into a cooler.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 270 calories
% fat calories: 49
Fat: 15g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 39mg
Protein: 19g
Carbohydrate: 17g
Fiber: 7g
Sodium: 109mg

Corn-Zucchini Salad
Serves 6–8 / Take advantage of incomparably sweet fresh corn and zucchini, widely available at this time of year. Cook more than you think you’ll need for one evening and serve this salad the next day.

6 ears cooked corn, kernels removed from cob (about 4 cups kernels)
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 bunches scallions, thinly sliced (white parts only)
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Dressing
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. To make dressing, mix lime juice and mustard together. Slowly beat in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a lidded container.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together corn, zucchini, scallions, and bell pepper. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. At the picnic site, add dressing and toss well to coat.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving:
Calories: 239 calories
% fat calories: 46
Fat: 13g
Saturated Fat: 2g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Protein: 4g
Carbohydrate: 31g
Fiber: 7g
Sodium: 32mg

Karin Lazarus is a recipe developer and personal chef who picnics in the Rocky Mountains every summer.