Picnic pasta dishes

Pasta could be just what you are looking for to renovae your picnic menus.

Are your picnic dishes getting sort of routine, even boring? If you and your family like to enjoy picnics often, the menu may start repeating itself, over and over and over. Pasta may not be the first thing that comes to mind when trying to think of new foods to put in your picnic basket. Perhaps pasta seems too heavy, or it takes too much preparation, or it seems like it would be a difficult dish to pack. Of course, another concern is the safety issue. Can you really transport a pasta dish and keep it cool enough to keep it safe?

Picnic pasta dishes on the lighter side

Here are a few ideas that will get you thinking of pasta dishes in a whole new light so you can pack that picnic basket full of surprises.

Au natural

One of the most overlooked features of pasta is its purely delicious flavor all on its own. Cook it with a slight 'bite back' or al dente texture and be sure to salt the cooking water, and you'll have pasta that can easily stand alone with just a drizzle of oil and a little seasoning. Make classic cold pasta salads using just a few fresh vegetables and a drizzle of high quality olive oil. Try tossing some rotini or fusilli with olive oil, halved cherry tomatoes, a few sweet bell peppers, and spring onions. These salads are delicious and refreshing, and they contain no dairy products or mayonnaise to worry about on a hot day.


Pesto is another great way to create a pasta dish for a picnic. Pesto is a blend of olive oil, basil, pine nuts or walnuts, garlic and sometimes a little feta or Parmesan cheese. The combo makes a thick green paste-like sauce for your pasta. This is a healthy choice that tastes great cold and is very safe and easy to pack. You won't have any spoilage worries since your pesto doesn't need to stay refrigerated, just cool. And because the pesto is olive oil based, it coats the pasta nicely so you won't end up with a sticky gob of noodles. Instead, you'll be treated to a bright, flavorful, and nutritious meal as you enjoy the great outdoors.


The best pasta salads for picnics are made with a vinaigrette dressing. The reason vinaigrette dressed salads are the hands-down winner for a summertime soiree is, again, no dairy products to spoil. Well, that, and the fact that a good vinaigrette just brightens any salad. A super simple salad made with cooled pasta, diced sausage, fresh chopped herbs, and some crunchy vegetables will be a welcome sight at any picnic. Try experimenting with different types of vinaigrette to see which one your family likes the most. And if you find a vinaigrette you love, but it's a bit too strong on your pasta salad, just whisk in some olive oil into the vinaigrette to calm the flavor down a bit. You can't go wrong with a good vinaigrette.

Food safety reminders for outdoors

Again, when thinking of pasta salads for your picnic, it is important to stay clear of mayonnaise or other dairy based dressings as they can, and do, spoil. It doesn't take much warmth to start the spoilage process. Instead, stick to your olive oil based vinaigrette style dressings. Even a tiny bit of a tummy ache can ruin your day, and it could be so much worse. Take this simple precaution and your family will thank you for your consideration of their digestive tracts.

It should also be noted that although you aren't using any dairy products in your salads, you should still pack them in a cooler with ice and keep it in the shade. If you're using a picnic basket, choose a frozen gel pack and add it to the basket along with your food. Even so-called 'safe' food needs to be kept cool, if not cold.

One trick for packing ice with food is to freeze drinking water in plastic bottles, then use those for the ice in your cooler or picnic basket. That way, as the 'ice' melts, you have a supply of drinking water – dual purpose ice.

Are you starting to see pasta less as a hot, heavy, red meat sauce smothered dish and more as a bright, light, fresh, and healthy picnic salad? Good. Now go out there and whip up a cool, refreshing pasta salad, and head out for that favorite picnic spot and enjoy the day... and the salad!

Get creative with fresh pasta ideas for summer

There is something in the air when the first days of summer roll around. Everyone is excited to plan some fun, and some good eating! The same standard pasta dishes we make all winter just won't do when the days are hot and the nights are balmy. It's time to get the creative juices flowing. We need to think fresh, both in ideas and ingredients.

Let's take a look at how three simple ideas can help freshen up your time honored pasta traditions this summer.

Be creative

If any food can be thought of as 'fun,' pasta would fit the bill. There is so much versatility with pasta that there is no reason to be stuck in the “same old, same old” mode. For example, add some food coloring to the cooking water with the pasta. Experiment with this and have fun. Boil several pots with different colors and create your own rainbow palate of pasta. Try different shaped pasta, but remember that the larger heavier pastas won't color as well as the smaller lighter styles.

For kids you might like to try this fun meal idea. Make a batch of green 'wagon wheel' pasta and toss together with diced fresh carrots to create a two color cold pasta dish kids will love. You might want to do a batch of red 'wagon wheel' pasta and toss with green sweet peas, flip-flopping the other color combination. Serve both cold pasta dishes and create an 'opposite day' meal. You might even get your kids to eat their vegetables when they're in a salad surrounded by colorful pasta. Of course you can buy tri-color pasta, but making it at home is a great way to provide a little entertainment for the kids, as well as provide a healthy meal.

Colors are certainly fun, but what about flavors? We're not talking about buying pasta in different flavors. We're talking about imparting flavor into the pasta from the liquid they're cooked in. Use good rich stock or broth, either chicken, or vegetable, or even beef. This is a great way to give pasta an extra flavor punch, but why stop there? Thin out some tomato juice with a little water and try that. How about lemon juice?

And don't forget that just by adding vegetables or fruit to the cooking water you will impart those flavors into the pasta. Spinach is the first one that comes to many people's mind, but don't stop there. Consider the entire produce section and have fun! And why even stop there? What about wine or beer? Who knows, maybe Guinness Spaghetti will be the next big hit with your friends.

Be fresh

The rest of the year may be all about rushing around trying to keep our schedules straight, but during the summer, time just seems to slow down. We move a little slower, take time to enjoy the splendor of a beautiful day, consider our health and well being as top priority for a change.

Summertime is a great time to reconsider what we put into our pasta dishes. Sure, it may be super easy to buy a jar of pasta sauce, but why not take the extra time and create our own with fresh produce? After all, the ingredients are right there, hanging from the vine or fresh at the market.

Using fresh ingredients in our pasta dishes gives us a whole new outlook on our healthy eating habits. Not only does it brighten up the dish, but cooking with fresh ingredients makes us feel strong and in control. We know we are eating right, and feeding our family right.

Be safe

Food safety is a concern, always, but especially during the summer. The main culprit causing the concern is the food served at picnics and cookouts. Pasta salads are a favorite, but since many of these dishes are made with mayonnaise, sour cream, or yogurt, they are naturally suspect in warm weather conditions.

Spoilage happens when these types of salads get warm sitting out on the picnic table. The best and simplest solution is to skip the creamy salads entirely. During the summer, opt for vinaigrette style dressings. These are the oil and vinegar type of dressing which are normally whisked together with other seasonings and ingredients that do not need constant refrigeration. When creating your pasta salad to serve at a picnic, just keep this simple tip in mind: if you wouldn't leave a particular ingredient on your kitchen counter, don't put it in your salad.

Even salads made with all spoil-resistant foods still need to be kept as cold as possible. When transporting the salad, keep it in an insulated cooler with ice. When you put the salad on the table, set it in a larger bowl or tray filled with ice, and keep the entire set-up covered with aluminum foil to hold in the cold. With these few safety precautions, your salad will be safe to eat. And with all your creativity, your salad will also be fun to eat.

During the warm summer months, as you are trying to think of something to bring to the picnic, consider a delicious pasta salad. Have fun with creative ideas, use fresh ingredients, and keep safety in mind. With these three tips, you'll be able to enjoy a different fun pasta salad at every picnic!

Summer food safety

Picnic main dishes

Sandwiches for your picnic

Salads to delight your picnic guests

Picnic desserts

Picnic drinks

Summer side dishes