Cheap and Easy Picnic Fare

This post was written by Denise.

We just celebrated Memorial Day here in the United States. For those of you not familiar with this holiday, Memorial Day honors the men and women who gave their lives to serve our country. It is a day for remembrance and celebration. It is also the unofficial start to summer.

With the start of summer comes the beginning of picnic season. We Americans love our cookouts with a passion, and I am pretty sure it isn’t just Americans who enjoy a good cookout! It seems as if nearly every weekend is filled with some kind of outdoor social gathering in the summer – cookouts on the holidays, family reunions, block parties, birthday celebrations, tailgating at sporting events, or evening bonfires with neighbors. You name it, we can find an excuse to get out the grill and party!

Cookouts, while enjoyable, are a little rough on our waistlines. And they are even rougher on our wallets! It is standard etiquette when you are invited to a cookout that you bring a “covered dish” to share with the group. Too often, these dishes tend to be complicated and use a slew of expensive ingredients.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

My own personal rule of thumb when I cook is that the dish needs to be easy to prepare, inexpensive to make, and taste delicious. Below are some suggestions of traditional picnic fare that won’t break the bank.

Deviled Eggs
I’ll start with my favorite item to bring to a cookout – deviled eggs. These are easy to make, very cheap, and can made in countless different ways to keep them fun and unique! You can get a dozen eggs for under $1.50 a dozen where I live. The other ingredients used are minimal so your total cost is quite low. And as a bonus, eggs are low in fat and a good source of protein!

Jello Salad
Don’t laugh! There is a reason that Jello salad is a staple at picnics… they are very inexpensive to make. The basic ingredients include Jello, whipped cream, marshmallows, and a can of fruit. Buy generic forms of these ingredients and you can have a tasty dessert for pennies per serving!

Fruit Salad or Fresh-Cut Fruit
Ever go to a cook-out and glance at dish after dish of unhealthy, mayonnaise-laden options? Be the hero at your next gathering and bring a mixed fruit salad or sliced fruit as your contribution! Nothing tastes more refreshing on a hot day than some fruit. The trick to keeping this option frugal is to use whatever fruit is in season (in season = cheap). If an item is not currently in season than do not use it. Of course, if you grow any fruit in your own garden then it is the obvious choice to use.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad
This is another favorite of mine and it is always a crowd pleaser. Simply mix fresh spinach and sliced strawberries together. Top with a dressing made by mixing equal parts mayonnaise and orange juice. These ingredients are cheap and easy to find in the summers. And if they grow in your own garden, then all the better!

Strawberry Pie
Speaking of strawberries, if you have an abundance of them in your garden or find a killer sale on them at the grocery store, then use some to make a strawberry pie. Strawberry pies are always irresistible to picnickers! (By the way, the same goes for rhubarb is you come across a good, cheap source of it.)

Sliced Tomatoes and Onions
If you have a garden and grow tomatoes and onions in it, volunteer to bring these for the entire group as your contribution. Nothing makes a grilled hamburger taste better than fresh tomato slices!

In late summer and early fall when apples are cheap and plentiful, make applesauce. It goes wonderfully with many of the more traditional picnic fare you might find, and is refreshingly healthy, too. And did I mention that it is extremely cheap and easy to make?

Garlic herb Bread
Have a knack for making bread? Then why not make a loaf of garlic bread for your next cookout? Better yet, add some fresh herbs to it (preferably from your own garden for the ultimate cost savings) and make garlic herb bread. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It is easy to transport and, best of all, is extremely inexpensive to make.

As you can see, attending cookouts need not break the bank. There are lots of frugal food options to make and share. You can Google recipes for any of these dishes (well, except for sliced tomatoes and onions… if you need a recipe there you probably shouldn’t be cooking!) or contact me and I will be happy to share some of my favorite recipes. What is your favorite item to take to cookouts? Happy eating!


Cheap and Easy Picnic Fare — 4 Comments

  1. We usually bring a bunch of marinated veggies to grill like onions, eggplant, mushrooms etc. They’re healthy and we can usually score a pretty good deal on produce if we’re looking.

  2. No Debt MBA, that is an excellent and very unique idea for a dish to share. I may have to try that out at our July 4th cook out! Have you found any veggies that just don’t grill well?

    • I’m learning as I go. So far we’ve found that onions are the easiest. Sweet potatoes we a surprise hit at one party, though it’s hard to slice them into a grillable shape. We’ve also had luck with baby potatoes, broccoli, peppers and zucchini. That’s about all we’ve tried.

      Grilling vegetables is something my family did a lot growing up so it seemed pretty natural to me. Olive oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and grilling is a pretty forgiving combo.

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