The Best Picnic Foods That Won’t Spoil in Warm Weather

Picnic foods that won’t spoil in heat

When it comes to deciding what to place in your summer picnic basket, you want to fill up on an array of healthy and tasty dishes that include protein, fruits, vegetables and salads.

You also don’t want your food to spoil in the heat. “You want to make sure the food you’re serving your friends and family is stored at the right temperature so you don’t pass along any foodborne illnesses,” says Laura Ali, a registered dietitian based in Pittsburgh. She’s also a certified culinary nutritionist and author of the book, “MIND Diet for Two.”

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing for a picnic.

Prioritize safety.

Food that contains mayonnaise, such as potato or tuna salad, shouldn’t be outside a refrigerator or cooler for more than two hours, or one hour when the temperature is 90 degrees or above, Ali says. “If it should be cold, keep it cold,” she says. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Foods that aren’t properly cooled are at risk of developing bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning include:

Gastrointestinal pain.

— Fever.

— Chills.

— Fatigue.

— Weakness.


Keep everything clean.

To have a safe picnic, wash your hands and all cutting boards, knives and grilling equipment well before using them. If the picnic area doesn’t have water, pack up sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to take along.

Wash all your fruits and vegetables well before eating or cutting them. This prevents bacteria from moving from the knife into the produce as you cut through it. Washing and slicing produce such as peaches, melons, plums, mangoes and nectarines at the picnic site, rather than in advance, also reduces the need for cool storage and the risk of foodborne illness.

Focus on proper temperatures.

To assure your picnic foods won’t spoil, keep cold food cold and hot food hot, Ali advises. Here are a few tips:

— Pack your cooler with ice and ice packs.

— Wrap all meat and poultry items tightly in resealable bags surrounded by ice.

— Allow perishable items like mayonnaise-based or dairy-based salads, or meat, poultry and cheese to sit out no more than two hours, then put it back in the cooler.

— If the temperature is over 90 degrees, pack perishables up after an hour. You can pull it out later if someone wants leftovers.

Keeping these food safety and prep tips in mind, here are 11 picnic foods that won’t spoil in heat.

1. Dried fruits, nuts and seeds

“Dried fruits, nuts and seeds will hold beautifully at your picnic table or even in the car in case you forget to take them out,” says Amanda Sauceda, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California. “Mix all three together for an easy trail mix that people can munch on. Dried fruit will add a touch of natural sweetness and fiber. Nuts and seeds are the whole package because they have protein, healthy fats and fiber.”

Enjoy these nuts and seeds at your next picnic or barbecue:

— Almonds.

— Cashews.

— Macadamia nuts.

— Pecans.

Pumpkin seeds.

— Sunflower seeds.

— Walnuts.

2. Fish and chicken in pouches

Being active can build up some hearty appetites, Ali says. “Taking along some snacks full of lean protein will help fill you up and keep you going. Individual sealed pouches of salmon or chicken are great take-along options for active outings. There are a variety of flavor options to choose from and they are small and light, so they are easy to carry with you.”

Bring bread and wraps to make sandwiches and wraps. Make sure to eat quickly or store the bread and wraps properly after opening to avoid the risk of spoilage.

3. Fresh fruits

Fresh fruits are great options for picnics and barbecues, says Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles who writes a blog that focuses on plant-based eating. “You can just pack them whole; you don’t need to chop them up. They don’t require refrigeration if the picnic’s just for a few hours. They’re colorful and blend in with the outdoor environment.”

Fruits that are great for picnics include:


— Apricots.

— Blackberries.


— Cantaloupe.

— Cherries.

— Pears.

— Peaches.

— Plums.

— Nectarines.

— Strawberries.


4. Fresh vegetable salads

Nothing beats a fresh, light summer salad full of colorful vegetables, Ali says.

Fresh vegetable salads can include such ingredients as:


— Cucumbers.


— Red onions.

— Peppers.

Wash everything ahead of time and pack the vegetables up in serving bowl. Lay a damp, clean paper towel on top of the veggies and seal it to store in the cooler. Pack the dressing separately — a balsamic vinaigrette would be perfect — and toss it with the salad just before serving. Everything will stay fresh and crisp. “Vegetable salads are an easy way to get in your recommended five servings (of veggies) per day,” says Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition.

5. Fruit bars

For a tasty and healthy dessert that doesn’t require refrigeration, try fruit bars. They’re simple to make — one of Palmer’s recipes, for example, calls for pressing a mixture of fresh, dried or frozen fruits with whole-grain cereal, nuts, oats, honey and nut butter into a baking dish. Bake the concoction for 25 minutes, then cut into bars. Frozen red raspberries are a great choice for this recipe, because they don’t require chopping and are frozen at peak ripeness, which preserves all the fruit’s nutrients.

6. Fruit salsas

Fruit salsas are light and refreshing and make for perfect toppings for grilled meat, chicken or fish. You can also snack on them with chips, Ali says. Many prepared foods sections of grocery stores stock a selection of salsas. You can also make your own by mixing cut fruit with cilantro, peppers and a little lime juice and honey.

These fruits are great options to make salsa:

— Cantaloupe.

— Mangos.

— Peaches.

— Tomatoes.

7. Mediterranean foods

Mediterranean dishes such as grape leaves, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted bell pepper slices are hardy and hold up well outdoors, Palmer says. “You could put them out on a board and mix and match them. They’re beautiful, they’re healthy and they lend themselves to a picnic.”

8. Miniature popcorn

Popcorn is a great outdoor dessert or snack that will hold up in warm weather, Ali says. Pop it at home and put it in an airtight container to stay fresh.

Bring some fun seasonings like paprika or chili powder with you, and season it just before eating.

9. Quinoa

Chilled quinoa with a little corn mixed in provides color and a grain, and it’s a great picnic side dish that will hold up well in the summer heat, says Denice Taylor, a registered dietitian at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital in Arlington.

Quinoa is packed with protein and fiber, is gluten-free and a perfect substitute for pasta or rice. You can add other vegetables to this dish or even turn it into a salad by mixing in fresh kale, which is less likely to wilt in warm weather, and topping it with a vinaigrette dressing or olive oil and lemon.

10. Slaws dressed in oil and vinegar

Cabbage slaw is a classic for a picnic, Sauceda says. “Swap your slaw dressing for oil and vinegar instead of mayo so it’ll last longer in the heat. Put your slaw in a bowl of ice water to keep it cooler longer. Add fresh herbs and different colored veggies to add even more nutrition to your slaw.”

Consider adding dried fruits, nuts and seeds for texture.

11. Veggie-based chips

Sub in vegetable-based chips for greasy, high-calorie potato chips. Organic food stores and many general supermarkets sell these tasty alternatives.

These snacks are based on an array of veggies, including:


— Black beans.


— Kale.

— Peas.

— Spinach.

— Zucchini.

To recap, here are 11 foods that are healthy options for a picnic, but it’s a good idea to keep a cooler on hand to ensure optimal freshness of some of these.

— Dried fruits and nuts.

— Fish and chicken in pouches.

— Fresh fruit.

— Fresh vegetable salads.

— Fruit bars.

— Fruit salsa.

— Mediterranean foods.

— Miniature popcorn.

— Quinoa.

— Slaws dressed in oil and vinegar.

— Veggie-based chips.

More from U.S. News

The Best Keto-Friendly Vegetables

12 Fruits You Can Eat on a Low-Carb Diet Plan

Winter Fruits and Vegetables for Weight Loss

The Best Picnic Foods That Won’t Spoil in Warm Weather originally appeared on

Update 11/08/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up