The warm and sunny weather we’ve been getting lately in Southern California has been a nice taste of the summer to come. And one of my favorite summer activities (besides hanging out at the beach) is to have a casual picnic in the park. But during this pandemic, I’ve been avoiding going out except for groceries.
Luckily, the house I live in right now has a beautiful backyard that me and some of my roommates have been taking advantage of. It’s spacious, green, and perfect for backyard picnics! Money is a little tight right now, so I wanted to show how you can have delicious, cheap, and easy vegan side dishes at your backyard (living room, bedroom, patio, etc.) picnic, too!
1. Make a dish more filling by adding a protein (but avoid those fake meat subs)
For your picnic to be casual and filled with yummy foods, while still being affordable, avoid those meat substitutions at your grocery store. Unless you can find them super cheap or on sale, one package of vegan meat can cost about $5-$7. Plus, they don’t tend to last that long (at least in my house), so they aren’t very cost effective.
I love to cook my meals with beans — they’re cheap cheap, have really good flavor, and are super versatile! I wanted to have a protein-packed dish that filled me up but didn’t leave a heavy feeling in my stomach. An 80¢ can of Great Northern beans, plus $1.50 worth of broccoli from our farmer’s market made for this bomb Roasted Broccoli and White Bean Salad.
Two of my roomies agreed to model for this picnic spread, and they said that this broccoli dish was their ultimate fave (and one of them doesn’t even like broccoli!). It’s savory, flavorful, and nicely charred from roasting.
2. Use cheap veggies and “splurge” on a fancy dip
Okay. Some vegetables can be expensive, whether it’s because they’re organic or a “specialty,” and you might only be able to afford one serving of it. BUT for the same price, you can buy a huge bag of a cheap (maybe overrated) vegetable and a nice little treat to go with it.
One 2 pound bag of carrots has lasted me a solid amount of time and it was like $3. Since I didn’t want just a plain plate of carrots, I decided to splurge on a cool plant-based dip I found at Sprouts! It’s a cilantro dip made with a cauliflower base, and it was on sale for $3! Score. Savory Roasted Carrots with Cilantro Dip was made easier by buying a dip, but even then, it’s not completely necessary. You can make a sauce or dip by scratch, ditch it completely, or come up with your own complement to the dish.
These were a perfect combo of sweet and savory, and the coolness of the dip was just the right touch. Mine weren’t super crispy, but that’s an easy adjustment — just leave it in the oven longer than 30 minutes and take them out when they’re crunchy enough for you.
3. No picnic is complete without crackers and a dip
I don’t know if you can see a “dip” theme yet, but for a picnic, they’re the easiest way to level-up the flavors in your spread. We had these turmeric and flax crackers from Sprouts that just needed a little bit of something extra. We already had them, and I don’t remember the price, but there are so many yummy vegan cracker options that won’t make you sweat!
My easy cracker upgrade was to make my own Chunky Avocado Cilantro Sauce — it’s tangy, creamy, and goes so well with crackers, tortilla chips, and even the breakfast burrito I ate the other day! Just having a sauce like that at your picnic will make it seem like you spent big bucks to have your classy vegan experience, but it’s just the opposite! Avocado, cilantro, and lemon are your main ingredients — and while avocados can be hit or miss with their prices, everything else is affordable and avocados can easily be swapped for something else. Think jalapeño, tahini, or edamame.
This sauce could be used as an alternative to the dip in #3, and it can be used on so many things! Top a tofu scramble with it, put it in your tacos, or even dress a salad with it.
4. Always bring a sweet treat — you’re bound to have some fruits in your fridge waiting to be eaten.
In my Air Fryer Cauliflower recipe post, I talked about the farmer’s market that Lui and I go to on Thursdays. We’ve been buying some fruits there, and they’re so yummy! This last time around, we picked up a few apricots and yellow peaches. And we already had a bag of tangerines at home, so what better to sweeten up your picnic than a Citrus Fruit Salad?
Fruit salads are easy, customizable, and so yummy! Maybe one day I’ll make a vegan version of the creamy fruit salad my mom would make for us, but for now, all I needed were some fruits, lime, and a little sweetener. For ~aesthetic, I found $1 edible flowers at the store and wanted to use them for the first time! They’re so beautiful and pretty much flavorless, but it added another element to the otherwise plain fruit salad. The touch of lime and drizzle of agave transformed it to a pleasant, refreshing addition to the picnic.
Use any combination of fruits you may have on hand, or buy a few on sale, chop them up, and voila! You can also use canned fruit, and add a variety of your favorite toppings. The way I made them for this article was the most cost effective for me, but jazz it up if you’re able!
5. Pour it up!
You don’t need alcohol to have fun, but sometimes, you just need a glass of something to finish up your day. Even if alcohol isn’t your thing, having a nice picnic spread feels incomplete without a nice drink in a fancy glass.
I’m not a huge drinker, but I love Stella Rosa! The peach and watermelon flavors are so delicious, and they have tons of vegan wines. A nice cold glass of rosé to go with your classy picnic? Yes, please! I just bought the standard rosé, but it went so well with all the amazing food.
One bottle was $12, which isn’t exactly cheap or too expensive, but sometimes you can find them cheaper. Another option is to buy (or make) a fruity lemonade drink, sparkling water and juice, or whatever drink you like! Just make sure that, no matter what you bring, you have your water bottle filled up and next to you.
. . . . .
Vegan picnics don’t have to be all fake meat and cheese. You can make amazing tasting food, using minimal ingredients and effort, without breaking the bank.
Don’t be too concerned about making an Insta-worthy charcuterie board to show off (maybe save that for another day). Just use as many things as you have in your pantry and fridge, practice your nice plating, and have fun with it! Summer is meant for picnics, so don’t deny yourself the pleasure by thinking it can’t be classy or affordable or doable. Picnics are for everyone!