Your Home Outdoors

5 Picnic-Perfect Dishes That Taste Great at Room Temperature

Welcome to Your Home Outdoors, our summertime series on tips and tricks that'll help you live your best life outside―no matter the size of your space! So pull up a chair, grab a glass of something icy-cold, and join us.

After what seemed like a never-ending winter, nice weather is finally upon us and that means I'm making a beeline outside to enjoy it. It’s still not hot enough for a dip in the pool, so for my family 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 the quick pick-up game of soccer with the fast friends they always seem to make.

When packing for a picnic, there is no need for sad sandwiches and uninspired treats. Instead, I love to pack up 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 4-year-old 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!

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, these Tahini Noodles 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...).

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Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.