Skip to main content

Keep things easy with a mix of homemade and storebought foods – think charcuterie platters, easy wraps and sandwiches, grilled or marinated vegetables and quick-to-prepare sweet treats

iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Skip to a recipe:

Ham, goat cheese and arugula sandwich | Wasabi chicken wrap | Cheese and apple pita pocket | Chicken sandwich | Green bean salad | White bean salad | Blueberry yeast cake | Toffee crunch | Orange ginger spice cookies

Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.

Picnics are this summer’s perfect solution for a physically distanced meal with friends and family. This is particularly true for those living in condominiums who need to get outdoors.

Some food can be bought, some made from scratch. Buy grilled vegetables and toss with in-season cherry tomatoes (the yellow sun gold variety is wonderful). Buy hummus, pesto or eggplant dip and mix to taste with mayonnaise or yogurt for a sandwich spread or dip.

I love charcuterie platters because the ingredients are easy to buy, travel well and make a great sandwich on a baguette. Add cheese – perhaps sliced cheddar and goat cheese with a dedicated serving spoon. I avoid creamy cheeses on a picnic because they can become very soft.

Don’t take salad greens because they’ll wilt. Marinated vegetables and dips are always better. If you are taking a salad dressing or other condiments, package them separately and combine at the picnic site. Mason jars are excellent for picnics.

Freeze drinks the day before. The containers will act as ice packs, and by the time you sit down to eat, the drinks will be defrosted but chilly. If you’re bringing wine, wrap the bottle in newspaper to hold its temperature. Buy screwtop wine to make it easier.

Here are some tips to stay sensible and safe while you picnic:

  • Use sustainable disposable plates or real plates from home.
  • Fancy wicker picnic baskets look great but aren’t practical. Use a cooler. Place bulkier items on the bottom and more fragile items on top.
  • Pack the tablecloth last – it looks good and helps protect the food. And don’t forget to pack a cloth or wet napkins for spills and sticky hands, as well as hand sanitizer and wipes.
  • Bring a knife and cutting surface.
  • Limit what you carry by using containers that double as serving dishes.
  • Stay away from foods that spoil easily. Anything with whipping cream is a problem. Avoid dishes with raw eggs, but don’t worry about store-bought mayonnaise – it does not spoil easily. Precooked meats or fish should be well-chilled. Refrigerate all food for two to four hours before packing. At the picnic, keep food out of direct sunlight.
  • To avoid wasps keep food covered. Or, when the first one arrives, trap it under a glass so it cannot go back to its home to tell other wasps about the food. Simple but true. And don’t forget mosquito repellent.

The following recipes are my favourite picnic foods.

Ham, goat cheese and arugula sandwich

Serves 3 to 4

You can substitute smoked ham for prosciutto, a mixture of feta and cream cheese for goat cheese, and sandwich bread for the baguette.

  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 dried figs, finely chopped
  • 1 baguette, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 bunch arugula, cleaned and stemmed
  • 6 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced

Beat goat cheese until softened and season with pepper. Mix in dried figs. Spread on one side of baguette. Lay arugula on top. Place prosciutto in one layer over arugula. Top with second piece of baguette.

Press together. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

Cut into sandwiches when serving.

Wasabi chicken wrap

Serves 3

Use leftover chicken, buy a barbecued chicken or make this easy grilled chicken for the sandwich filling. Wrap in a tortilla or spread on multigrain rolls.

  • 1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce or curry paste
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 multigrain rolls or tortillas
  • A few thin slices red onion
  • ½ cup baby spinach

For the Wasabi Mayonnaise

  • 1 tablespoon wasabi paste
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pickled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Combine chili sauce, ginger and vegetable oil. Brush on chicken breasts. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat grill or broiler to high. Grill breasts about 4 to 5 minutes per side or until juices are clear. Cool and dice.

To prepare wasabi mayonnaise, whisk wasabi paste into mayonnaise, then stir in ginger and soy sauce. Combine with chicken.

Spread one-third of chicken salad on tortilla or multigrain roll. Top with red onion and spinach. For tortilla, roll up while tucking in ends and cut in half to serve.

Cheese and apple pita pocket

Serves 3 or 4

  • 2 pita breads
  • 2 tablespoons honey mustard
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 ounces old cheddar cheese (or more), sliced
  • 1 small tart apple, thinly sliced

Slice open pita bread. Combine honey mustard and mayonnaise. Spread pita with mayonnaise mixture. Fill with a layer of cheese and a layer of apple slices. Press down and wrap up. Cut in half or quarters when serving.

Chicken sandwich

Serves 4

This is more work than your usual chicken sandwich, but you won’t regret it. If you can process your own chicken for the mixture it will have more texture, but ground chicken is fine too. Chicken breasts can also be used, though they won’t be as juicy – bake 5 minutes less. Use an inexpensive white bread for rolling.

  • 1 pound boned and skinned chicken thighs, cut in chunks
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup watercress or arugula leaves, roughly chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 slices white sandwich bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Chop chicken into small chunks in food processor or by hand; you want to leave some texture. Add egg white, onion, garlic, rosemary, breadcrumbs and watercress. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll out all bread slices. Brush one side of each slice of bread with oil and the other side with remaining oil and stock. Place two slices, oil side down, on parchment lined cookie sheet. Divide chicken mixture between the two slices and shape to fit bread right to the edges. Top with second slice, oil side up. Press down to flatten with your hand.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, turning once or until clear juices start to appear. Bread should be crisp and golden on both sides. Cool on a rack. Slice into 2-inch-wide fingers and wrap up for serving at your picnic.

Green bean salad

Serves 4

Dress the green beans just before leaving for the picnic to help maintain their colour.

  • 1 pound green beans
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add beans and boil for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled.

Place green beans on a platter and scatter red onion over top. Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk together mustard, vinegar and olive oil and stir in basil. Toss with green beans. Garnish with Parmesan cheese.

White bean salad

Serves 4

A fresh-tasting, minty salad that keeps its texture and flavour on a picnic. Add other vegetables like chopped zucchini, red onions, green beans, snow peas or sugar snap peas.

For the vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad

  • One 19-ounce can white beans, rinsed
  • Small seedless cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped fennel or celery

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together lime juice, mustard and garlic. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Stir in lime zest and mint. Season with salt and pepper.

Place beans in bowl. Stir in cucumber, green onion and fennel. Toss gently with dressing. Season well with salt and pepper.

Blueberry yeast cake

Serves 8

This incredibly good berry cake is adapted from an old recipe from the Alsace region of France. There, yeast was often used as a leavener in cakes instead of baking powder. The texture of this cake must be firm to stand up to the blueberry juices that marble it. Serve with lots of crème fraîche.

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon rapid rising dry yeast
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup for layers
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a little
  • 5 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, yeast and salt. Stir in lemon rind. In large bowl, beat together eggs and 1/2 cup sugar until thick and glossy and triple in volume. Quickly fold in vanilla and flour/yeast mixture. Fold in butter.

Place 3 cups blueberries in bottom of springform pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over top. Spread half of batter over the blueberries. Cover with remaining blueberries and 2 tablespoons sugar, then top with remaining batter.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then reverse onto a plate. Sprinkle top with icing sugar and serve with optional crème fraîche.

For the crème fraîche

Makes 1 cup

  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 cup whipping cream

Combine buttermilk and whipping cream. Leave on counter in warm place for 24 hours, stirring occasionally until thickened. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Toffee crunch

This nostalgic recipe from the 1970s has been reproduced many times. Here is the original recipe, which uses pantry ingredients for a yummy sweet treat that’s the perfect picnic nibble.

Fill a parchment-lined 15x11 baking sheet with graham crackers, saltines or matza.

Bring 1 cup butter and 1 cup brown or white sugar to boil. Pour over the crackers.

Sprinkle over 2 cups nuts or chocolate chips, or a combination. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake at 350F for 8 minutes or until bubbling slightly. Cut into squares and cool on a wire rack.

You can use smaller cookie sheets or baking tins, but you’ll need to adjust the ingredients accordingly. If you are in the mood for decorating, melt some dark chocolate and swirl it over the topping using the tines of a fork or a piping bag.

Orange ginger spice cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

An amazingly easy cookie that tastes good and travels well. Divide the dough in half and flavour each half as you like.

  • 8 ounces butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy in food processor or with electric mixer. Beat in egg and egg yolk.

Sift together flour, salt, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend into butter mixture. Divide dough in half and flavour one half with orange peel and the other with ginger. Form into 2 balls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll dough out into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch circles and place on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until pale gold.