There are so many things to think about when planning your next picnic. What should you bring? How do you transport it all? Do you have enough space in your car? You need a plan, and we’re here to help.
Afternoon picnics are always a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re spending your time in nature or just hanging out with friends, there’s something about eating outside that just feels right.
There are tons of delicious dishes that you can make ahead of time, pack in your picnic basket, and enjoy on your own turf.
Our favorite side dishes for picnics are ones that travel well, don’t require refrigeration or heating up, and can be eaten with your hands. Here are some of our favorite picnic food ideas.
20 Best Side Dishes For Picnics
1. Potato salad
Potato salad is a classic picnic side dish and can be made with many different ingredients, so there’s no shortage of options. Try adding some chopped celery or pickles, or even some hard-boiled eggs!
2. Fruit salad
Fruit salad is another crowd-pleaser when it comes to picnics—and it’s easy enough that anyone can make it! Just chop up some fruit (we recommend berries!) and toss it with some sugar and lemon juice before serving. You can also add yogurt or whipped cream if you’re looking for something extra sweet!
3. Macaroni salad
Macaroni salad is another popular option that pairs well with any meat or fish dish on your menu! It’s also easy to make ahead of time since all you need are cooked pasta noodles and mayonnaise with other ingredients mixed in depending on what kind of flavor profile you want yours to have.
4. Tomato-based salad
If you’d rather not serve something with a cooked component, try this fresh tomato salad. Chop tomatoes and onions and mix them together in a bowl with some mayo, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil for a bright flavor profile!
This classic salad is also a favorite for picnics! Although it does have a cooked component, coleslaw goes really well with any barbecue or fried chicken recipe. If you’re looking for something sweet to go along with it, try topping your coleslaw with some homemade granola!
6. Avocado toast
The key to this one is using good bread and lots of avocados! We like to add some lime juice, salt, pepper, and cumin for an extra kick.
7. Vegetarian quinoa salad
This salad is easy to make ahead of time—just cook the quinoa and toss it with whatever veggies you have on hand (we like bell peppers and spinach). Toppings include feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, olives (optional), and lemon juice! It’s a great option if you’re worried about meat not being allowed at your event (or if there’s no meat available).
8. Chicken Waldorf Salad
This classic side dish is made with cubed chicken, celery, grapes, and mayonnaise. It’s a great choice for picnics because it can be made ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
The best part about chicken Waldorf salad is that it tastes just as good at room temperature as it does when it’s fresh. The secret to this dish is to make sure you use real mayonnaise and not some low-quality imitation. That way, you’ll get the full flavor of this classic dish.
9. Green Bean Salad
Like the Chicken Waldorf Salad, this classic side dish is also ideal for picnics because it can be made ahead of time and chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This salad works well with many different recipes, so feel free to experiment!
A simple green bean salad is an excellent side dish for your next picnic. It’s easy to make and doesn’t take very long at all, so you can spend more time socializing with friends instead of being stuck in the kitchen trying to figure out what to bring!
10. Strawberry Butter
This strawberry butter is a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, which is perfect for a picnic. The strawberries are chopped and pureed with butter, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. After the mixture has been chilled, it can be spread on toast or used as an ice cream topping.
11. BBQ Baked Beans
This recipe is a favorite of mine because it calls for canned beans. You can whip up these BBQ baked beans in no time at all! All you need are some pork spare ribs (or ham hocks), ketchup, brown sugar, and molasses. These beans are perfect for picnics because they travel well and taste great hot or cold!
12. Tomato Cheese Bread
This is a great side dish for picnics. It’s very easy to make and even easier to eat. You can use any kind of bread you want, but I prefer a nice crusty baguette. Slice it in half lengthwise, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 425 degrees until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and top with sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil leaves. Return to oven until cheese melts (about 5 minutes).
13. Strawberry Pretzel Salad
This Dish is great because it uses store-bought pretzels instead of making them yourself—saving time and effort! It’s also really easy to customize with different fruits or other toppings if you want something more unique than plain ol’ strawberry pretzels.
14. Chicken Tenders
Chicken tenders are the perfect side dish for your next picnic. They’re easy to prepare, they can be cooked in advance and chilled until you’re ready to serve them, and they go great with our sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Just bake the tenders in a 375° oven until they’re golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve them with our barbecue sauce and watch them disappear!
15. Rocky Road Fudge
We made this fudge for our own picnic last week, and it was a hit! The combination of chocolate and marshmallows is always a crowd-pleaser, and this version is no exception. It’s simple to make: just combine sugar, cocoa powder, butter or margarine (or shortening), vanilla extract, evaporated milk (or heavy cream), marshmallows (miniature works well), peanuts or other nuts (we like almonds), chocolate chips (we love dark chocolate ones) in a large saucepan over medium heat until it comes together into a smooth mixture that coats the back of a spoon when stirred—about 10 minutes total time depending on how hot your stove gets). Pour into an 8″x8″ pan lined with parchment paper or foil then chill overnight before cutting into squares or bars.
The best sides for picnics are the ones that can stand alone but are also easy to pair with any main dish. That’s why we’ve rounded up our top three picks for side dishes that will be sure to impress your friends and family.
16. Ramen Salad
This one is a crowd-pleaser. You’ll need ramen noodles (we prefer the flavor of chicken flavor), red onion, pineapple chunks, romaine lettuce, and cilantro. Make sure you’re only using half of a bag of ramen noodles, so you have enough room for everything else!
17. Pineapple Coleslaw
This recipe is super easy to make ahead of time: just mix 1/4 cup mayo with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon salt, then add in 1 tablespoon white vinegar and 2 tablespoons milk until it’s creamy; next, add 3 cups shredded green cabbage and 2 cups shredded carrots; finally stir in 1 cup chopped pineapple chunks and refrigerate overnight before serving. If you want to make it even more flavorful, throw in a few slices of jalapeño or some crushed red pepper flakes!
18. Cold Asian Noodle Salad
The great thing about cold Asian noodle salads is that they’re usually served chilled and go great with cold meats like chicken or turkey. For this one, all you need are 8 oz. coleslaw mix, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems, 1/2 cup sliced green onion, 1 red bell pepper seeded, and thinly sliced, and 12 oz. mandarin oranges or pineapple tidbits in juice.
19. Mac and Cheese
Macaroni and cheese are one of those delicious comfort foods that never go out of style. You can make it ahead of time and take it on the go in a jar. It also travels well in an insulated container or cooler bag if you want to keep it hot on the way over.
20. No-Bake Cookies
If you’re going to bring cookies along with your mac and cheese, why not skip baking them altogether? No-bake cookies are super fast to make—just mix all the ingredients together in one bowl (or two), drop spoonfuls onto wax paper, let them sit overnight…and voila! You have delicious cookies that will last through at least half a picnic before they start getting soft!
We hope that you have enjoyed learning about side dishes for picnics. We’ve found that the most important factor in making sure that your picnic is a success is to have fun! If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and go home.
If you want more information about side dishes for picnics, please feel free to contact us at any time.