Everyone’s been to a picnic or cookout where there’s one standout side dish people can’t stop raving about. Burgers are great and all, but the competition is really on when it comes to sides. But coming up with something that’s healthy, delicious, and portable (because no one wants their dish spilling all over the subway or backseat) isn’t easy. Well, you can stop the frantic Googling and consider this your cheat sheet.
Not only do all the dishes here taste amazing, they also pack well, don’t need to be eaten immediately, and can handle a little time outside of a refrigerator. With everything from mayo-less potato salad to refined sugar-free cornbread, you’ll be racking up invites faster than you can slice into another watermelon.
Originally published July 25, 2016. Updated May 19, 2017.
Keep reading for seven healthy sides to bring to any cookout, picnic or al fresco lunch session.
A bag of store-bought tortilla chips and salsa will look downright pitiful next to this easy side. Baked plantains make for a grain-free alternative to traditional dip scoopers, while this tropical-inspired salsa is full of vitamin-C rich kiwis and oranges. (Pairing with an avocado margarita is optional, but highly recommended.)
Vegan and coleslaw in the same sentence? It’s happening. Sans mayo, this chopped veggie slaw gets a flavor kick from wellness world darling apple cider vinegar. The golden raisins add a touch of sweetness, too.
Corn is about as essential to summer as watermelon, especially when it comes to barbecues, and this dish is healthier and easier to make than a creamed version. “I toss sweet corn, tender zucchini, and a spicy chile with zingy red wine vinegar and buttery walnuts. Simple, beautiful, and really delicious,” writes Nourishing Matters‘ Emily Watson. You’ll likely agree on all three fronts.
Potato salad is a summer staple, but, alas, it can also leave you feeling bloated. Not so with this mayo-free version, which is a riff off of classic French potato salads. The sneaky secret to making it taste so amazing? Blending the water you used to cook the potatoes in with the dressing. “You end up with a super creamy, herby emulsification that infuses the potatoes with fresh flavor,” promises Cookie and Kate blogger Kate Taylor.
You don’t have to rely on refined sugars and flours to whip up delicious cornbread. The version here uses flax meal, almond milk, apple cider vinegar, apple sauce, and oat flour. Which means it’s also vegan—score!
The best thing about this recipe might just be how flexible it is; you can use whichever summer squash you have on hand—patty pan, yellow squash, and zucchini are all delicious options. Pack the balsamic reduction separately, and drizzle it on top once you arrive at your outdoor destination, so that the salad stays extra fresh.
There’s a reason why pasta salad shows up at just about every backyard barbecue, beach picnic, and park party: it’s easy to make and super portable. But other grain salads are just as hardy—while often also being a whole lot healthier. Take this quinoa pilaf, for example: It’s piled with seasonal produce, ranging from rhubarb to swiss chard, and gets an extra protein kick from white beans.
Looking to bring something sweet instead? How about Danielle Walker’s gluten-free, dairy-free strawberry shortcake? Or if you’re heading to a cookout straight from the farmers’ market, these greens would taste great grilled.