What is it about a picnic that makes it so appealing? Perhaps it’s the romantic image of people basking in the sun on a blanket sipping a beverage between bites of delicate morsels of food. Or maybe it’s the lure of eating free from the confines of a chair, a table and a physical structure which traditionally set our dining boundaries.

For some it might be the connection to nature; the texture of grass, the sound of birds or a breeze rustling through leaves and the fresh air.

Whatever the reason, food is at the center of the picnic and food takes on a whole different flavor when it’s eaten outdoors independent of the script we follow while eating indoors.

Picnics tend to be characterized as having an abundance of food available, which can be savored over several hours with no one keeping track of how much anyone has sampled. Whether you’re packing an elaborate feast or throwing together leftovers, head outside, kick off your shoes, ease into the moment and see what adventure awaits.

Try packing something that you can eat with your hands or uses an edible utensil, like crudités and hummus. As a bonus, this is a sneaky way to get in an extra serving or two of vegetables.

Roasted Balsamic Carrot Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 cup baby carrots or regular carrots sliced into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, for roasting
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, for roasting
  • 1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 heaping Tbsp tahini
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • ⅓ cup ice cold water

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss carrots in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast for 30-35 minutes, or until tender. Once carrots are done roasting, place all the hummus ingredients into a high-speed blender or food processor, except for the water. Blend until ingredients are combined. Slowly add in the cold water as you continue to blend until smooth. Serve with homemade pita chips or vegetables.

Adapted from Onegreenplanet.com

Eggless Egg Salad

This “egg” salad uses tofu rather than hard-boiled eggs. Packed into a pita with lettuce and/or sprouts, it’s a kinder and healthier version of a tradition favorite. If you have any black lava salt on hand, toss a bit into the mix; the sulfur flavor makes the dish taste more eggy.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise such as Vegenaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Pinch of turmeric, optional (for authentic color)
  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry and diced
  • ¼ cup dill pickle relish, or finely dice 1 to 2 dill pickles
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely diced
  • ¼ purple onion, finely diced

Preparation

Break the drained tofu into crumbles in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Some people need a hot dish to satisfy their hunger. The following recipe can be served both warm and cold, even in the same picnic. Pack it while it’s hot and enjoy it throughout the day. Since the recipe doesn’t call for any mayonnaise, there’s no risk keeping this potato salad off ice.

Lemony Olive Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 20-24 tiny golden potatoes, halved
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 to 5 cups baby greens
  • 1 cup sliced olives
  • Juice from 1 lemon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place potatoes into a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil, then add rosemary, salt and pepper. Toss to fully coat each potato. Spread the potato halves out onto the sheet and roast for 20 minutes, flipping them once halfway through.

While the potatoes are in the oven, prepare the rest of your salad. Combine the greens and the olives in a large bowl. As soon as the potatoes are done cooking, transfer them to the bowl with the rest of the salad. The potatoes will make the greens wilt. Add the lemon juice and toss to fully combine.

Pesto Pasta with Roasted Vegetables

This sophisticated pasta salad is easy to make and wonderful to enjoy all year long by just changing the type of vegetables roasted based on what’s seasonably available. Using walnuts for the pesto rather than pine nuts and reducing the amount of olive oil provides a healthier-for-you twist on a much beloved sauce.

For the pesto

  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • ⅓ cup walnuts
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • A pinch of black pepper

For the pasta

  • 12 oz. pasta
  • ⅔ cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2-4 zucchinis
  • ½-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon oregano

Preparation

To make the pesto, add all of the ingredients to a food processor and process until combined. Set aside. Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking pan with parchment paper. Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse with cold water. Drain and set aside. Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in water for 15 minutes. Drain, chop, and set aside.

Chop the zucchini into semi-circles and place into large bowl and toss with olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Pour zucchini onto parchment lined pan, spread evenly and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes flipping them half way through to brown both sides. When zucchini is finished, toss with pasta, sun-dried tomatoes and pesto.

The combination of cabbage, apples and raisins in a creamy avocado dressing really makes this dish a crowd pleaser. Serve it alongside another dish or heap it onto bread or a wrap for a tasty sandwich. If you want to cut down on preparation time, buy pre-packaged shredded cabbage.

Coleslaw with Avocado Mayonnaise and Cashew Sour Cream

For the Cashew Sour Cream

  • ⅓ cup cashew butter
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup, plus 1 tablespoon water

For the Avocado Mayo

  • ½ avocado
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

For the coleslaw

  • 1 medium head of cabbage or use ½ green and ½ purple cabbage
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 2 organic apples, cored and quartered
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 cup cashew sour cream
  • ½ cup avocado mayo
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation

Add cashew butter, vinegar, lemon, water, and salt to a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Set aside in refrigerator.

To make the avocado mayo, add avocado, lemon, salt and oil to a blender or food processor and mix until smooth. Set aside in the refrigerator.

To make the coleslaw, shred the cabbage in a food processor and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Chop the carrots until finely chopped and add into the mixing bowl with the cabbage. Next, chop the apples until finely chopped and add to the mixing bowl. Add the raisins and stir to mix ingredients.

Mix avocado mayo, mustard and pepper with cashew sour cream and add to mixing bowl. Stir until all of the ingredients are well combined.

No-Bake Chocolate Raspberry Coconut Bars

Fruit is the ideal picnic dessert, but for those with a bigger sweet tooth, these no-bake bars are a pleaser.

For the coconut layer

  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the raspberry layer

  • 1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the chocolate lLayer:

  • 1 cup dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Preparation

Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper.Combine the coconut flour and oats in a food processor and blend until a fine flour forms. Add in the rest of the ingredients for the coconut layer and pulse until fully combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press firmly into the pan. Set aside.

Combine the raspberries and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until softened and then begin mashing the mixture. Make sure the raspberries are completely mashed and then remove from heat. Layer the raspberries over the coconut in the pan and then place in the freezer to set.

While the raspberry layer is freezing, make the chocolate. Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and coconut oil together. Remove the baking dish from the freezer and pour the chocolate over the raspberry layer, using a spatula to make it even, and place in the freezer. Freezer to set again for 20-30 minutes before cutting.

Leslie Harrison of Tyler, Texas, is a certified Food For Life nutrition and cooking instructor.

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