Summer Picnic Potluck Menu

Food, Menus

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I will be the first person to admit that when I lived in New York, I did not take advantage of the culture that the city had to offer.

Though I had friends and coworkers who went to concerts in the park on Wednesday evenings, art museums on the weekends and biking in Central Park during the summer, I was always in Camp Flee The City On Weekends.

Now that I live in Chicago, I find myself outdoors a great deal more often, be it on the rooftop pool at my gym, dining out on a patio with friends or more recently, packing a picnic with friends to a free concert in Millennium Park.

When you’re packing a picnic to transport, whether it’s a two-mile drive in the backseat of your car or um, a forty-minute haul on public transportation, you’re a little limited as to what you can and should bring with you. I’ve learned a few things during summer picnicking ventures so I feel like it’s my duty to share them with you.

Bring a wine opener if you’re planning to drink wine. There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck in the great outdoors with a bottle of vino, a stack of red solo cups…and no corkscrew. To guarantee that this doesn’t happen to you, choose screw-top wines, which are becoming more popular, or make sure to pop a wine key in your purse before you head outside.

Avoid packaging your food in glass containers. They clank, they break and they’re heavy. My favorite way to tote food to-go is to save up plastic containers from take-out orders and reuse them for portability. Not only are the containers designed to stack in such a way that you can tote them easily, you didn’t buy them, so you won’t feel bad if they accidentally get tossed. While I won’t caution against reusable containers (hello, environment!) you will want to bring something that you can wipe down, wash or rinse on-site to avoid a big mess when you get home.

Watch the mayo-based salads. It’s summer. It’s hot. Mayonnaise and dairy products spoil quickly in hot conditions. Either plan on eating them right away when you arrive at the picnic (our chicken salad is so good that it won’t last long enough to spoil) or skip bring salads with pesto or vinaigrette instead of creamy dressings.

Summer Picnic Potluck Menu

Whether you’re supplying the food and inviting friends to come and enjoy or designating dishes for guests to bring to share with the group, we have some perfect picnic potluck menu ideas to help you plan your next park or backyard gathering before the summer winds to an end.

chicken salad

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Creamy Chicken Salad with Cranberries & Almonds

pesto barley edamame salad

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Pesto, Barley and Edamame Salad

sundried tomato feta dip

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Sun-Dried Tomato and Feta Spread

caprese boats

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Boats

chocolate brownies

Photo: Leigh Loftus

Cake Nor Candy Brownies

What are your favorite foods to pack on a picnic? Leave your tips and ideas in the comment section below.

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  • Reply
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  • Reply
    August 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Maris! I LOVE picnics! I even love indoor picnics in the middle of winter! Great suggestions and a great picnic menu! : )

  • Reply
    August 5, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Great tips! I just love picnics in the summer.

  • Reply
    August 5, 2011 at 11:17 am

    This looks perfect for the last days of Ravinia!

  • Reply
    August 5, 2011 at 11:13 am

    You make picnic making sound so easy. I always run out of ideas and end up with the same things time and time again. I love the sound of the pesto/barley/endame salad, it sounds really light and healthy without all the dairy and mayonnaise that many salads have. Great idea about the spinach in the pesto, I’m going to give that a go.

  • Reply
    Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    August 5, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Great tips Maris! Those containers are so good and now you can get enviro friendly forks and knives etc 🙂

  • Reply
    Kitchen Belleicious
    August 5, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Great tips and recipe selections. I think my favorite is the peach crumb bars. I need to make those regardless if their is a picnic in site or not! YUM!

  • Reply
    Gina (The Candid RD)
    August 5, 2011 at 5:54 am

    I thnk the last time I went on a picnic was about three years ago. Nick and I stopped at Subway and then ate it down by the river near our house. I’ve never actually done a “from scratch” picnic, but I can imagine cheese (or hummus, which is more heat-stable), crackers, wine (or beer…) and fresh fruit being the perfect foods for a nice picnic!

  • Reply
    August 5, 2011 at 5:29 am

    I wish that I live somewhere where people eat in parks.. I loved that when I visited London.. Nobody does it here 🙁

  • Reply
    Little Inbox
    August 5, 2011 at 4:34 am

    It’s so much of fun for a summer picnic. Chit chat and eating…

  • Reply
    Nami | Just One Cookbook
    August 5, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Very nice suggestion. We’ve only on picnic once this year. Sometimes it sounds too hectic (with small kids especially) and ended up not going. Should enjoy nice weather outside more! Great reminder…. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    This picnic looks really french: cheese and wine, even the chicken salad. I am thinking it is more made for Ravinia then Millenium Park. Oh how I miss Chicago in the summer.

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I haven’t been on any picnics yet this summer. Hope I get to go on one before it ends. Thanks for all the tips!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    great tips adore picnics

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Hi Maris, I LOVE LOVE LOVE picnics, so love this post!!! Dennis and I were just saying today that now that the summer is FINALLY here in Vancouver, we need to have some picnic dinners very soon! Your post has inspired me even more. (and wish we lived in the same city so we could picnic together, I have NO doubt many laughs would be shared!!) Thanks as always for your wonderful ideas and posts. Have a great day!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    The kind of picnic I want: good bread, good cheese, fresh fruit, iced tea. 🙂

    I’ve had a lot of crappy picnics, and they all involve gunky mayo-heavy salads. Don’t really understand why anyone would crave that in the hot summer days, actually.

  • Reply
    alyssa - fashion fitness foodie
    August 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    My boyfriend and I need to make use of the city and do these things!

  • Reply
    Lisa from Lisas Yarns
    August 4, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t know that I have ever had a picnic – is that sad or what? I need to remedy that sometime! I think I would bring snacky items like veggies or strawberries, and maybe some hummus and crackers. And def wine!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I love, love, love picnics in the summertime. I always mean to have more than I get around to. This is a good reminder that I need to have more of them.

    I think though that as far as NYC goes though there is definitely a culture of getting out of the city. One of my best friends lives there and it’s always so weirdly quiet during weekends in the summer.

  • Reply
    Autumn @ Good Eats Girl
    August 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Great tips!! There is nothing worse than being without a corkscrew!!!

  • Reply
    Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga
    August 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Love picnics!

    Seasonal fresh fruit and veggies with great dips
    great desserts 🙂

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I love summer picnics. Your set up is perfect! There’s a free summer concert series every Thursday at the Santa Monica pier, and people picnic on the beach during the show. A wine opener is definitely essential. Oh, and red cups if you’re drinking on the beach. We forgot that part and had to borrow a few from some Australian guys, ha!

  • Reply
    My Inner Chick
    August 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    —You inspired me to do this with hubby. Great for a Date, right? 🙂 Wine for sure.

  • Reply
    A Plum By Any Other Name
    August 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Ha! Is it wrong that I carry a wine-opener in my purse?! You never know when an impromptu picnic might bust out! Living in Boston we have plenty of open space too. Cheers!

  • Reply
    sheila @ Elements
    August 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Great tips, Maris! All your salads and the peach crumble bars sound so good!

    My favorite picnic food? BLT on my grandmother’s famous buttermilk biscuits! 🙂

  • Reply
    Alison @ Ingredients, Inc.
    August 4, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    great tips! Very fun post!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Such great suggestions. My wife always do this in wine country. OK, some days are PB&J!

  • Reply
    Nelly Rodriguez
    August 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Great tips and I just love everything picnic! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Sarah @ The Smart Kitchen
    August 4, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Great tips! Thank you. 🙂

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Picnic weather here is coming up. I am putting those peach crumb bars on my list! I can’t wait to get outside again.

  • Reply
    emily (a nutritionist eats)
    August 4, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I have been wanting to go on a picnic this summer! I was thinking the basics: cheese, bread, wine and cured meat! 🙂

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Sometimes picnic potlucks (even just at home) are great fun – we tend to do these sometimes with my boys in the backyard (or in the living room if it’s raining).

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Opening wine bottles without an opener is not fun. Its possible but can get messy! Some of the boxed wines are fairly decent

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Great post – love the suggestions!

  • Reply
    Junia @ Mis Pensamientos
    August 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

    yes i’ve had that problem too with glass containers – so heavy! love that its cleaner and more environment friendly. i just had to buy some better quality plastic tupperware to carry in my tote without weighing me shoulder down so much!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 9:35 am

    All of this sounds so dreamy! I always carry a wine opener in my purse. I’ts my “just in case” item 😉

  • Reply
    amy @ fearless homemaker
    August 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

    excellent tips, especially the one about the corkscrew – that’s one thing that people always forget. summer picnics are just lovely — in fact, my husband is taking a half-day from work today so we can have one together. i’m going to show him your post as soon as he gets home!

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