Let Paleo Picnic Season Begin

Memorial Day is the official beginning of the American summer picnic and potluck season. Are you ready, paleo people?!

Here’s a list of the recipes from my archives that I believe you can take to a picnic or a potluck without tipping anyone off that they’re eating “paleo” or “healthy” or “clean.” They will just nosh and celebrate – and so can you, knowing that you’re taking care of yourself and participating in a great American tradition of eating food while sweating and enduring/enjoying relatives.

Cooking and eating quality food is among the most caring things you can do for yourself and others — especially on holidays.

Protein & Main Dish Salads

I chose recipes for meat that can be made in advance, are easy to cook in large quantities, and will travel well. Plus, it’s hard to go wrong with a big pile of spicy meat alongside fresh, bright vegetables. For the salads, just prep and package the meat and vegetables separately, then construct individual salad plates when it’s time to eat.

BBQ Pulled Pork
This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated remains one of my favorites. It takes a few hours to smoke on the grill, but it’s worth the wait. And it’s a lot of cooking time, but virtually no work.

My Favorite (Chocolate) Chili
Make a double batch, throw it in a crockpot, and you’re good to go for serving a hungry crowd.

Stovetop Pork Carnitas
Make these in advance and serve at room temp — caramelized, crispy, luscious pork.

Ginger-Lime Grilled Shrimp
These are also great chilled or at room temp. Nice to nibble on as part of a salad platter with hard-boiled eggs, pepperoncini, sliced red bell peppers, and olives.

5-Spice Slow Cooker Pork Ribs
These have a spicy Asian flair. If you want a more all-American BBQ taste, replace the Chinese five-spice powder with equal parts chili powder and paprika.

Merguez Meatballs (turned into burgers)
Rolling meatballs for a crowd can be a drag. Turn these spicy Moroccan sausage meatballs into burgers instead. Serve in a butter lettuce leaf with Lebanese Parsley & Onion Salad, Citrusy Carrot Radish Salad, or the fixings from the Deconstructed Gyro Salad.

Buffalo Chicken Chopped Salad
All the spicy flavor of chicken wings, without the problematic frying — plus, bonus vegetables and creamy Ranch dressing.

Tropical Chopped Salad
With mango, cucumber, red pepper, and avocado, it tastes like summer. What else do you need to know?

Deconstructed Gyro Salad
Meat + veg + a taste of the Greek islands. This one is easy to share the responsibility: you bring the meat, someone else brings the veggies and dressing. BAM! Kitchen collaboration.

Firecracker Tuna
or Fiesta Tuna Cups

I’ve been cramming my tuna salad into quartered bell peppers lately, and it. is. AWESOME. You might steal that idea for your next picnic or potluck.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
This recipe calls for large slices of jicama, but you can make it potluck-worthy by using half-slices of jicama, or stuffing the salad into cucumber boats (cut in half, scoop seeds, fill hollow) or into quartered bell peppers.

Veggie Salads

All of these salads are worth the chopping! If you’re taking ’em on the road, pack the salad and dressing separately, then toss about 20 minutes before eating to allow the flavors to meld. If you don’t eat all the leftovers, you can always quickly sauté the salad in a hot skillet to turn a cold salad into a hot side dish.

Cold Sesame Cucumber Noodles
This becomes a one-dish meal when you add cooked chicken — or serve alongside grilled pork, pork ribs, or grilled shrimp. Cool, creamy, and super easy to make.

Salty Sweet Broccoli Salad
Broccoli gets all creamy and luscious with homemade mayo, bacon, and just a hint of sweetness from raisins.

Turkish Chopped Salad
This is my summer go-to salad. You can dramatically change the flavor by changing up the seasonings in the dressing, and it looks great on a potluck table. It’s delicious on its own or served as a relish on top of grilled chicken or steak — or toss it with some hot zucchini noodles for a cold sauce-hot pasta kind of thing.

Belly Dance Beet Salad
Makes me wiggly — must be the pistachios!

Citrusy Carrot Radish Salad
I thought I didn’t like radishes until I made this salad. Tastes like summer and holds up to dressing really well, so it’s always crisp and light.

Lebanese Parsley & Onion Salad
Don’t be afraid of the onions. They’re mellow with a little bit of a bite after marinating in the dressing, and this is so so so good on any kind of grilled meats (especially kebabs!). When you’re tired of eating it cold, throw it in a sauté pan with some ground beef, then serve on a pile of cooked collard greens or kale.

Veggie Dips

A giant platter of beautiful raw veggies — jicama, carrot, and celery sticks; snap peas; red and green pepper strips; cucumber coins; whole scallions, mushrooms, and radishes — can be paired with different dips so even committed chip eaters might consume something green or red or orange that came from the earth and not from a package.

Southwestern Cumin-Lime Dressing
Creamy Italian Dressing

Sunshine Sauce
Tahini Dressing

Baba Ghanoush
Moroccan Dipping Sauce
Ranch Dressing


Nibbling is a big part of potlucks and picnics, so make sure you have dino-chow snacks on hand, too.

Rice-free, soy-free sushi
Fun to make! Fun to eat! Plus it’s so colorful, it feels like a party, and even on a hot day, it’s cool and refreshing.

Spiced Nuts
These are another go-to for me. They have just the right level of spice and salt with just a hint of sugar. Omit the sugar if you’re keeping it squeaky clean; they still taste great.

Smoky Pear Bites
The ideal combo of salty and sweet. These are dead easy to make in advance and travel well, too.

Fancy Olives
What’s not to like about olives tossed in spices and extra-virgin olive oil?!

Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmas)
I know these aren’t traditional picnic food for most people, but they were in our house. And the beauty of these dolmas is that they taste best cold, so keep ’em on ice in the cooler, then bust ’em out for snackin’.


Just in case you find yourself on dessert duty, I have a few  treats to share. They’re not Whole30-approved, but they are grain free, gluten free, and delicious. Plus, they both make large quantities, perfect for sharing. Or you could, you know, get a big ol’ box of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries and just EAT THEM!

Sweet & Salty Fudge Bombs
They’re like candy without the annoying white sugar and garbage ingredients. Add a little cayenne pepper, Aleppo pepper, or chipotle chile powder for a nice bite at the end of the smooth, dark chocolate flavor.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla-Maple Frosting
This tastes great cold, and it’s also super easy to make.

Spiced Cantaloupe
A little salt, a little spice, and suddenly, ho-hum melon is whiz-bang!

Happy Summer, Northern Hemisphere!
Happy Cooking, Everyone!


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23 Responses to “Let Paleo Picnic Season Begin”

  1. barb says:

    A big thank you – this will carry me through the whole summer and early fall pot luck/picnic season!!

  2. Victoria says:

    Did you see the article in yesterday’s NYTimes on homemade mayonnaise?

  3. Amanda says:

    Love this post! However, the link to the recipe to the Fudge Bombs takes you to the Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake! :)

    I want to try to bring the Fudge Bombs to an End of Year party! They look delicious!

  4. gogo says:

    This is an awesome list, thanks!
    I love the meat + vegetable + grill combination of summer, so delish and perfect for whole30, I’m on day 2 :)

  5. Amy says:

    Just want to let you know the Belly Dance Beet Salad is belly dancer approved! Tested a half batch last night and loved it, so I’ll be serving it to even more dancers at a picnic Saturday.

  6. deb says:

    Thank you for this post! Simply can not wait to dive into this recipes! Bring on the picnic (s)!

  7. […] has a great roundup of Paleo recipes over at The Clothes Make the Girl. Share Tags: Memorial Day, Menu, Murph Posted in Crossfit, Daily Life, Food, Health + […]

  8. Samantha Ryan says:

    I don’t think I’ve told you lately that I LOVE YOU! You’re the best! Can’t wait to try these.

  9. mars says:

    Awesome ideas! Thank you! We’re invited to a Memorial Day potluck, this is perfect timing.

  10. […] Paleo Picnic Season – more summer time recipes! […]

  11. […] of the celebration – here are some great Whole9 approved dishes to get you through all of your summer BBQs! Thanks, again to Melissa at […]

  12. DrKellyann says:

    Yum, Yum and Yum. Thats all I have to say about that!

    Summer potluck is now a breeze. Thanks Mel!


  13. […] Let Paleo Picnic Season Begin | theclothesmakethegirl. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in […]

  14. Sallie says:

    BINGO! Thanks for this very comprehensive list of recipes! It’s that time of year and this is perfect. I love your cookbook and this just takes the cake, so-to-speak, as an easy reference guide! You are awesome. Woo!

  15. De23 says:

    I just made the Tropical Chopped Salad Sunday for a church picnic. Yummy! I’m going to try the Cold Sesame Noodles next as I am overrun with cucumbers form my CSA boxes.

  16. stacy says:

    These are great! Thank you so much! Now, is there a list for picnic foods for toddlers? :)

  17. Heather says:

    I hope you included some of these in your next book!! They sound fabulous!!!

  18. Jane says:

    Hello Melissa! Thank you for your blog and your book Well Fed! I guess I waited too long to purchase the book because after looking through it I realized you offered an ebook for $1.00. It has since expired. My question: is it still possible to purchase the ebook? Please feel free to just email me the answer, if you prefer.


    • Mel says:

      We didn’t close the link yet, so you can still get the ebook for $1. Just follow the instructions in the book. Thanks for buying Well Fed!

  19. Hubby announced he wanted to go on a picnic today and I stood there stumped as to what I could make now that we are Paleo (well, I am…he eats whatever I make). Great ideas here…but obviously I need to plan ahead next time. Thank you.

    • Mel says:

      Spontaneous picnic ideas – no advance planning necessary: boneless skinless sardines straight from the can, drizzled with lemon juice and paprika. Cut up raw veggies alongside. Fresh berries or cherries or melon. Coconut flakes and dry-roasted nuts mixed together to make instant trail mix.

  20. […]  Paleo Picnic Foods from The Clothes Make The Girl […]

  21. Kim Lee says:

    I was searching for some summer paleo/primal recipes I didn’t have to heat the kitchen with. These have some great dishes. Thank you,

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