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Picnic-Perfect Dishes That Taste Great at Room Temperature

Warm weather is finally upon us and that means I'm making a beeline outside to enjoy it. It's the perfect time for lazy afternoons at the park where the sprinklers are on and the playground is in full swing. With a beautiful park only a mile from my home, we love to make a day of it. We pack a massive picnic so that the kids can run free and make frequent visits to the blanket to refuel before heading back to the slide or a quick pick-up game of soccer.

When packing for a picnic, there is no need for sad sandwiches and uninspired treats. Instead, I love to bring leftovers that taste just as good cold as they do hot (sometimes, even better!). We have some family favorites that always make it into the basket, and others I experiment with to see if they will earn a permanent spot.

One go-to picnic dish is my mom’s chicken Milanese. Sounds fancy, but it’s really just thinly pounded chicken cutlets, dipped in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, lightly fried in olive oil, and given a generous squirt of lemon juice right out of the pan. I have been eating these my entire life and often, straight out of the Tupperware the next day.

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Whether I wrap them in some good bread with a slather of mayo or even serve them up over a salad, these babies never disappoint. If I know we are heading out, I’ll cut the breaded cutlets into strips so that they are finger-ready. So versatile, just as delicious at room temp, and popular with kids and adults alike, they are a great addition to the basket.

I also love packing up a few different components that can be eaten on their own or assembled together on site. This is precisely why Cobb salads are the perfect picnic salad. Boil some eggs, crisp some bacon (my kids can eat it by the pound), and chop up an avocado. Pack each ingredient separately, and once at the picnic, lay them all over some dressed greens and you have an instant meal. The abovementioned breaded chicken cutlets have made an appearance in this salad as well. Don't forget to throw some Roquefort or Gorgonzola into the mix to make the salad truly memorable.

Another crowd-pleaser at a picnic is bean salads, though—if we're being honest—I'm not a huge fan. Instead, I love making these olive oil-braised chickpeas. This recipe is bright, briny, and one of my absolute favorite side dishes, hot or cold. It also travels well because the more the ingredients mingle together, the better it tastes! Also see a few more slow-cooked bean ideas. They're just as satisfying, super-tender, and pack just as well.

I also find that many noodle dishes really shine the next day, without any reheat necessary. Full of crisp veggies and a lovely spicy dressing, the below noodle recipes never disappoint and they only get better with some resting time (though I can promise you they'll be one of the first dishes to go!).

Finally, no picnic is complete without a handheld dessert you can share with your buddies. I always turn to an easily portable bar cookie that can withstand the travel, but more importantly, can be made the day before and cut up ahead of time. You can’t go wrong with the classic Magic Cookie Bar because, well, they live up to their name.

Now that you have a handful of picnic-friendly dishes that taste just as good, if not better, at room temperature, go forth with your spring plans in the great outdoors—or just the neighborhood park. I'd say there's nothing like a little fresh air to make already delicious food taste even better (well maybe a glass of chilled rosé...).

You Know What Else Is Good at Room Temp?

What are your favorite foods to enjoy at room temperature? Share your best picnic dishes with us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ivy
  • janet voris
    janet voris
  • mdelgatty
  • jbesau
  • Maria
Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.


Ivy April 15, 2021
Onigiri are great! Handheld sushi rice balls, stuffed with anything from sweet egg omelette or sour plum or tuna salad or crisp slices of teriyaki spam, wrapped with toasted seasoned seaweed!
janet V. June 30, 2020
A dish I enjoy making and tastes great at room temp is QUICHE. It may not be good for a crowd, but think of an intimate picnic for 2, or perhaps a picnic brunch with a few friends. Serve with fresh cut fruit or a greens and fruit salad and a light Moscato d'Asti. Perfection.
mdelgatty June 29, 2020
You have to be kidding about that fried egg, not to mention none of the food in the photo looks picnicky. Interesting recipes (although my kids would never have eaten most of them...), but someone needs to pay more attention to using photos that make sense with the article.
Brinda A. June 29, 2020
Hi there, this was my mistake and I've fixed it. Thanks for catching it and hope this helps!
mdelgatty June 30, 2020
jbesau June 28, 2020
favorite foodS at room temperature...dark chocolate (second only to a room temperature baguette and Gruyere on a bench in front of the Eiffel Tower).
Maria June 28, 2020
Why the picture of breakfast heading the article on picnics? I was curious about the pictured food and found the are not even referred to in the article. The picnic recipes given are wonderful as your site always provides but please follow up on the breakfast picture.
Brinda A. June 29, 2020
Hi there, this was my mistake and I've fixed it. Thanks for catching it and hope this helps!