A fantastic way to slow down and enjoy the warm season is to take a delectable picnic to a scenic location. Here are some fun vegan picnic lunch ideas, with links to recipes and practical tips for making the most of your outdoor meal.
When my kids were growing up and we wanted to have an outdoorsy kind of day, they wouldn’t be too excited if we said “Let’s go on a hike.” But if we said “Let’s go on a picnic,” that was a different story — everyone was eager to get going!
Of course, a hike (or at least a long walk) was often part of the outing, but calling it a picnic generated a lot more enthusiasm.
Whether your picnic is with your family, friends, or a partner, here some tried and true picnic tips to make the most of this enjoyable experience and your plant-based al fresco meal:
Tips for a great picnic lunch
Keep it simple: When planning a meal to be taken on a hike, think of the food as parallel to the experience itself: simple, fun, and unpretentious. The food should be easy to serve and should taste good at room temperature.
An easy repertoire: An easy formula you can follow for portable meals might look like this:
- Fresh bread or whole-grain crackers with a tasty spread that’s packed separately
- Two or three sturdy salads or cold dishes
- Non-gooey dessert
- Something crunchy and salty like chips or nuts (optional)
- Fresh fruit or fruit salad
Marinated salads and cold dishes: These have great staying power, as do dishes that are well-seasoned and contain fresh herbs. You’ll find links to picnic-friendly salads and cold dishes ahead (and make sure to explore our collection of vegan potato salads).
Portable fruits: Wash fresh fruit and pack it into containers so it won’t be squashed by the other food. Include small, juicy fruits that need not be cut ahead of time, and thus stay fresh longer. These might include plums, nectarines, cherries, strawberries. As summer fruits wane, your choices can segue into grapes, small apples, and pears. Choose organic fruit as often as possible.
Non-gooey desserts: If you plan to include dessert, avoid gooey treats and rich pastries. Go for sturdy cookies such as oatmeal-raisin; energy balls or bars are always welcome, too. Make them yourself, or select good-quality prepared vegan treats.
Beverages: Though lugging a lot of liquid is weighty, bring plenty of beverages. Everyone seems thirstier than usual when eating outdoors. Bring juices or juice spritzers in lightweight recyclable or reusable bottles. Put your beverages in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes before you leave for your picnic (or freeze not-quite-full bottles overnight and fill to the top with water just before leaving), to ensure that they will stay nice and cold for a while.
How to carry it all: While wicker baskets are romantic, and perhaps appropriate for cozy picnics for two, knapsacks are more practical for hiking picnics, and coolers are more appropriate for beach or lake picnics.
Biodegradable containers are an alternative to plastics
Containers: Pack almost everything into shallow plastic storage containers (preferably BPA-free). That way, after the meal is eaten, the containers can nest into one another for compact storage. Or, you can opt for recyclable paper (and/or biodegradable) containers that you can dispose of properly after your picnic.
Plates, and utensils: Don’t forget paper plates (or lightweight plastic that can be washed and used again), plastic utensils (including a spreading knife or two), and napkins.
Carry away and recycle: Common sense dictates that everything you bring in to natural areas has to be carried out with you. Many ecologically sensitive areas do not have designated picnic areas, so bring a bag for carrying your plates and other refuse to dispose of appropriately after you leave.
A bento box alternative: If it’s just going to be a couple of people or a small family, consider pre-packing your picnic into a bento box style container. Everyone can customize theirs, or portion food out as they wish, while still at home. Today’s convenient bento boxes can fit neatly into an average size backpack.
Tips for finding great picnic spots
Use your imagination and local natural resources to find spots for pleasurable outdoor eating; you need only decide what activity you’d like to do in tandem with picnicking.
For families, an ideal spot for a casual picnic with little ones is a community park, combined with a visit to a great playground. Kids like nature preserves, too.
For a romantic picnic for two, have your outdoor meal with an outdoor concert. When heat is at its peak, nothing appeals more than a picnic at a beach.
To get off the beaten path, try public historic homes, botanical gardens, or arboretums. Buddhist monasteries offer a serene, meditative picnic experience. Call ahead to find out the picnic policies of a particular place if you have any doubts.
A scenic locale adds much to a picnic experience. It’s transformed from merely eating lunch outdoors into a refreshing lift for the spirit and senses.
Picnic-Friendly Vegan Recipes
Here’s an easy template you can follow for an enjoyable and hearty vegan picnic lunch menu.
- 1 or 2 choices from the Sturdy Salads and Cold Dishes section following
- 1 choice from the Spreads for Breads or Crackers section following
- A fresh bread, pita, and/or crackers
- Tortilla or other crunchy chips (optional)
- Trail mix (nuts and raisins — a good before or after picnic snack)
- Fresh fruit (grapes are a great choice for picnics; other choices may be berries, stone fruits, cut up melons)
- 1 choice from the Baked and Unbaked Sweets section, following (or good-quality purchased vegan treats — energy bars, cookies, etc.) — either homemade or purchased treats are entirely optional
Sturdy Salads & Cold Dishes
Choose 1 or 2 from this section to pack into sturdy containers. These are just a few vegan picnic lunch ideas — you may have other salads and cold dishes in your repertoire — feel free to improvise!
Spreads for Bread or Crackers
Baked and unbaked sweets
This is entirely optional; after planning, preparing, and packing your picnic you may prefer to include vegan sweets that you purchase, or to just stick with fresh fruit.
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