With the long days and sunshine-y bliss this season brings, summer is the perfect time to change your routine and pack up a picnic outside. There’s endless joy to be found in enjoying simple dishes in the great outdoors, and prepping al fresco meals is one of our favorite summer pastimes. But what to pack in your picnic basket, you might ask? These vegan picnic ideas bridge the gap between a meal that’s fun and one that’s nutritious, making them more than fit for the challenge.
Some of my favorite childhood memories stem from a special gift I inherited at a young age: a picnic set. The small wicker basket was fully stocked with (what I presumed to be) fine china, silver utensils, and a hand-painted teapot accompanied by matching cups and saucers. When I had friends over, we would fan out a quilt over the grass, arrange place settings for each guest, and imagine we were dining at the queen’s table. We gobbled up whatever yummy treats my mom set out for us and had the best time doing it.
Featured image by Ashleigh Amoroso.
There was nothing more exciting than doing something that seemed so foreign: eating outside. Now, I find myself taking any opportunity I can to enjoy a meal on the patio, on the grass, or anywhere the weather and company is good.
But I know what you might be thinking. As magical as they may be, there are a few challenges that come with picnics. There’s the heat factor—which can be draining at times, the bugs, and the potential for everything to turn upside down with a single gust of wind. But with the right attitude and equipment, picnics are as fun to put together as they are to enjoy.
They’re perfect for solving the dreaded “what to do when you’re bored” dilemma, engaging and exciting for kids, and just a plain ol’, no-frills, any-way-you-slice-it fun way to spend a summer day. So pack up a few of these vegan picnic ideas and enjoy the taste of fresh summer flavors—picnic style.
Why We Love It: A big serving of greens that doesn’t involve a plain green salad? Sign me up. This green goddess pasta salad uses all kinds of healthy ingredients to create something that’s nutritious, delicious, and absolutely addicting. It uses cucumber, artichoke hearts, avocado, peas, and more to fashion a pasta salad you’ll want on repeat all summer long. Everyone on your blanket will be thankful you brought it.
Hero Ingredient: Apple cider vinegar offers just the right amount of tang and acidity to balance all the creamy goodness that lovingly coats each bowtie noodle.
Why We Love It: What’s more picnic than a sandwich? Chances are, you probably have a can of chickpeas in your pantry that’s ready and eager to transform into this chickpea salad. It’s full of protein, heartiness, and deliciousness, and is totally ready to top your favorite vegan bread. Replace the honey with agave in this recipe and you’re set to enjoy the easiest and most delicious sandwich ever.
Hero Ingredient: Dried cranberries bring a hint of sweetness to the mix that enhances everything around it.
Why We Love It: Everyone loves a salad that doesn’t feel like a salad, which is exactly what you’re working with here. Charred corn, roasted poblano peppers, fresh tomato, and chickpeas come together to create a whole that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. Load it up with tons of fresh herbs and avocado and you’re ready to savor.
Hero Ingredient: A roasted poblano dressing pulls each of the salad’s flavors together and ties them up with a bow. Just be sure to use agave in place of the honey and you’re good to go! (You might want to make a little extra, just saying.)
Why We Love It: While it’s technically a breakfast taco, this vegan taco brings enough goodness to pass for any meal of the day. Let’s break it down. Vegan lentil chorizo made with legumes (chickpeas and lentils), apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and lots of herbs meet a homemade cassava tortilla and decadent chorizo oil that introduces all kinds of umami flavor. Plus, you can load these up with as many toppings as you can fit in one tortilla. I’m about it.
Hero Ingredient: Homemade cassava tortillas take a new approach to a classic that’s unexpected, but appreciated. With cassava flour, you’re getting a product that’s rich in complex carbs and antioxidants while providing a nutty and earthy flavor profile. It may seem intimidating to make your own tortillas, but it’s totally worth it for these tacos. Try your hand here and you may never go back to store-bought!
Why We Love It: Full of Thai flavor and tons of herbs, this soba noodle salad is both flavorful and filling. It’s on the substantial side thanks to those noodles, so it makes a great main for lunch or dinner. Swap the honey for agave in the Thai dressing to keep things vegan-friendly. And let’s not forget about the mango and coconut—total summer vibes. Yum.
Hero Ingredient: Roasted salted peanuts bring a crunch that’s definitely appreciated in this salad. Starring alongside carrots and cabbage, you’ve got the right amount of texture in each tasty bite.
Why We Love It: One of the best things about this pasta salad is that it’s best enjoyed at room temp—perfect for a picnic! It’s chock full of veggies and nutrients with edamame, eggplant, summer squash, kalamata olives, broccolini, and more. To keep things vegan, sub in your favorite vegan mozzarella or nix it altogether (you don’t lose much by leaving it out). When you’re ready, toss everything together, pack up a big serving, and dig right in. You’ll be glad you did.
Hero Ingredient: Make sure you get a healthy char on those veggies. The caramelized edges and hint of bitterness add key flavors to this pasta salad.
Why We Love It: This tabbouleh is such an easy and tasty main or side for picnic feasting. It uses a bag of cauliflower rice, cucumber, dried cranberries, sliced almonds, and more to create a delightfully eat-able salad that you’ll want to add to your weekly rotation. Like the others on this list, it’s just as good at room temp as it is fresh. Pack this up in some containers, toss it in a cooler or basket, and you’re on your way to a perfect picnic.
Hero Ingredient: Lemon and mustard seed vinaigrette is the tangy topping that makes this salad. Just be sure to sub in agave for the honey if you’re keeping things vegan.
Why We Love It: If you’re feeling fun, give this vegan mac and cheese a spot in your picnic spread. It’s equally delicious at room temperature as it is straight out of the pot and checks the boxes on nostalgia and flavor. Plus, it takes about 20 minutes to whip up and you’ll probably have leftovers (hallelujah!). Next-day mac and cheese anyone? I’ll take two.
Hero Ingredient: Cauliflower is the perfect vegan substitute for your average full-cheese mac and cheese. It keeps things thick and creamy and even introduces nutrition into one of life’s most indulgent foods. Who would’ve thought there could be such an all-star alternative?
Why We Love It: More cauliflower! And rightfully so… in these tacos, you get caramelized cauliflower, creamy avocado, a cilantro pesto that’s good enough to drink, and all the edible accessories your heart desires. We’re talking pickled red onion, cilantro, roasted poblanos, and/or a hefty squeeze of lime—the options are endless.
Since everything can hang out at room temp until you’re ready to serve, these roasted cauliflower tacos are practically made for outdoor eating. Pack ’em up in to-go containers and build at your picnic.
Hero Ingredient: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the dressing is so versatile that you won’t regret doubling the recipe. Use it to top a Mexican-inspired bowl, add a little olive oil for an herby salad dressing, or give fresh veggies a dip in the ocean of flavor that is this cilantro pesto.
Why We Love It: It wouldn’t be a proper picnic without a bite of something sweet to enjoy at the end. And let me tell you, these cookies are up for the job. Since they’ve sat out in the warm weather, the chocolate chips are perfectly melty and just toasty enough to feel like they’re fresh out of the oven. Grab one as you lay back on the blanket, drift into a post-lunch coma, and maybe sneak in a snooze or two. I mean, this is what dreams are made of.
Hero Ingredient: Walnuts, almond butter, cinnamon, oh my! There are too many superstars to choose from here, but I’d probably go with the Himalayan sea salt if I had to pick just one. You can’t beat the way it enhances every hidden gem of an ingredient while bringing just the right amount of anti-sweetness to the party.
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