What Are Cheap Picnic Foods?

A day spent in nature enjoying good food, need not be expensive.
A day spent in nature enjoying good food, need not be expensive. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Spend a day in the outdoors, enjoy nature and take advantage of beautiful weather. During a picnic, a variety of activities can fit into your budget. Take horseshoe and badminton equipment to your chosen site. Send your guests on a scavenger hunt. Enjoy a picnic meal while the gang's together, and if your budget doesn't allow for steaks or other pricey foods, fill your picnic basket with delicious but inexpensive alternatives. Keep cold foods well-chilled, and ice down any perishable leftovers.


A simple and inexpensive choice for picnics, sandwiches add variety to a casual meal, not only from myriad fillings, but also from types of breads. Give your picnic guests a choice of white, whole wheat, rye or pumpernickel bread. Or offer pitas or flour tortillas. Provide fillings for these breads such as homemade chicken, ham or egg salad prepared the day before and chilled thoroughly, pimiento cheese, sliced meats from home or the deli, and for the children, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Include plenty of sandwich vegetables such as lettuce, tomato and onion, and an array of condiments.

Sandwich meats can be offered along with a variety of breads.
Sandwich meats can be offered along with a variety of breads. (Image: PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Finger Foods

Choose a few finger foods for the picnic attendees for ease of service as well as frugality. Chicken wings may be dressed up with a number of sauces. Offer buffalo wings along with blue cheese dressing and celery. For those who don't eat spicy foods, have a few milder wings on hand, including plates of sweet and sour, honey mustard or barbecue wings. Traditional fried chicken shows up at many picnics along with corn on the cob served on a skewer. Make up a plate of cold appetizers. Tortillas can be spread with a softened cream cheese mixed with other savory ingredients such as finely-chopped ham and green onion, rolled up, chilled, then sliced into pinwheels. Deviled eggs are always a good choice.

Buffalo wings disappear quickly at a picnic.
Buffalo wings disappear quickly at a picnic. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)


Well-loved picnic staples, potato salad and cole slaw can be an inexpensive but welcome addition to your budget outing. Potato salad comes in several varieties. Offer at least two that can be chosen from a list that includes potato salad with mustard, potato salad made from red bliss potatoes, potato salad with egg or a salad made from yellow potatoes for visual appeal. Hearty cold salads include seafood pasta salad made with imitation crabmeat, celery, shell pasta and mayonnaise or a broccoli salad made of chopped broccoli, bacon, raisins, shredded cheddar cheese and finely diced red onion. Dress your broccoli salad with mayonnaise.

Include potato salad and corn on the cob in your picnic fare.
Include potato salad and corn on the cob in your picnic fare. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Grilled Foods

If you have a grill at your disposal, include grilled foods in your picnic fare. Chicken legs and hot dogs are good budget choices, but you may find other meats on sale for grilling. Marinate meats ahead of time by placing all ingredients in gallon-sized plastic zip containers or plastic containers with tight-fitting tops and refrigerate for a few hours before the picnic. They will be ready to grill at the picnic site. Always cook meats to a safe temperature of 160 degrees. Brush olive oil on zucchini, squash, eggplant or any other grill-worthy vegetable and cook until done. For a fun presentation, thread chicken, beef, pork or lamb strips onto skewers for grilling, then serve with a tangy or mellow sauce of choice that complements the meat.

Chicken legs are a good choice for a budget picnic.
Chicken legs are a good choice for a budget picnic. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)


Round off the picnic with a sweet. Sheet cakes and cupcakes do not put a big dent in a picnic budget, especially when homemade. Consider offering both vanilla and chocolate, or provide a lemon or spice cake. Red velvet or carrot cake are good choices as well. Gingerbread cake and gingerbread cookies travel well and are not expensive. Apple, cherry, peach, blueberry or pecan pies are served alone or with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or whipped topping. Lemon icebox pie is a traditional picnic dessert that your guests will enjoy.

Blueberry pie tops off a picnic meal.
Blueberry pie tops off a picnic meal. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

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