Pack-Ahead Picnic Salads

Both main-course and side salads make great picnic fare. Here are some to make ahead of time!

By FamilyTime


Picnics in the park, open countryside or at the beach are one of the pleasures of summer. Instead of the same old sandwiches, plan to bring along some tasty salads, packed up and ready to go when you are.

Many home cooks fear mayonnaise, so we have chosen only salads that don't require it. We include three salads with only vegetables (and a little fruit), which could be main courses or side salads, depending on the rest of the menu.

We have a salad with chicken, one with shrimp, and one with steak. All can be tossed and packed ahead of time -- and will taste delicious when you arrive at your picnic.

If you are especially fond of mayonnaise-based salads, don't despair. They won't spoil in minutes! Pack mayo-dressed salads in tightly covered containers and keep them refrigerated until you transfer them to the cooler.

Making the Salads
Our salads can be prepared the evening or morning before the picnic. Use common sense; pack last-minute garnishes in separate containers and remember to add them to the salad before serving.

If the salad has cooked food, such as pasta, rice, shrimp, or steak, be sure it is sufficiently cooled before adding it to the salad. Cool, crisp ingredients tend to stay that way, while warm ones turn the salad soggy.

Pack the salad in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Don't squash them into the dishes but pack them so that they fit comfortably. You might want to pack a salad in two containers.

Store the containers in the refrigerator until it's time to pack the cooler. For this, you might have to clear some space on the shelves.

Packing the Cooler
Make sure you have put blue ice or cold packs in the freezer at least 24 hours before the picnic. These packs need to be thoroughly frozen.

Stack the containers in the bottom of the cooler. Make sure the lids are tightly in place to prevent leaking. Pack other foods in the cooler, too. All should be cool, cold if appropriate, or at room temperature. Make sure items such as cookies and chips are well wrapped so that they don't absorb moisture.

Put the frozen cooling packs or blue ice in the coolers. Use your judgment as to how many to use -- for a good-sized cooler you will need three or four.

Close the cooler as soon as it's packed. The interior will chill faster this way and keep the food safely cool. Load the cooler in the car and if it's a very hot day, try to keep it out of direct sunlight.

Unpacking the Cooler
Take the salads from the cooler just before serving. Don't unpack the picnic and then go off to play softball. Think of the cooler as a refrigerator.

Serve the salads on paper plates with plastic forks or cutlery you have brought from home. Leave the container out while folks are eating and while they might want seconds but as soon as the meal is over, repack it in the cooler.

Unless a lot of the salad is leftover and you are quite certain it was kept cool for most of the day, discard it. Picnic salads, exposed to the sun and the outdoors, don't keep well.

Think of salads when you plan your next picnic. They make a big difference and are a nice change from chips, sliced veggies, or sandwiches.