Declare Independence (From Boring Picnics)


The best of the summer holidays will soon be here: JULY 4! 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. (NOTE: All recipes below are Whole30-approved except the Sweet & Salty Fudge Bombs and the Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake.)

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 (except for the Muffaletta). 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.


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.


Muffaletta Salad
This is awesome because (1) It’s easy to make. (2) It tastes better when it sits, so you can make it in advance. (3) It’s crazy good. Mange!


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. Only one of them is Whole30-approved, but they are all 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!

Berries & Cream
Grab a spoon and go to town!


And just in case this isn’t enough for you, check out this post from Whole9 with tons of ideas for Whole30 approved Fourth of July goodies.

To all my American friends, Happy 4th! And to my other international peeps, hope you have a kickass regular Thursday!


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  • Cathy M says:

    I started my next Whole 30 today, and have decided to recruit my 6-year-old this time around. She’s not happy about it, but she really has no choice in the matter. I am, however, going to win back a few popularity points with the berries and whipped coconut milk on Thursday.

    And I have now officially read through the entire archive of your blog. Now how will I entertain myself when I’m alone and bored at work?!

    • Mel says:

      I guess I better get busy and write some new posts!

      Did you really read the whole archive?!

      • Cathy M says:

        Yep. Now it sounds a little stalker-ish, but it was really interesting to go back to the beginning and watch the evolution of your blog, and how you have changed your goals and priorities over the past few years. Your blog is one of the reasons I started CrossFit — I’d been toying with the idea, and reading about how much you loved it pushed me over the edge to joining. I am now five days into my first Whole 30, and again reading about your experiences was part of the inspiration for trying it the first time.

        So, thanks for putting your life out into the blogosphere for the rest of us to digest!

        • Mel says:

          That is so awesome! I love it! I’m really glad you find my posts helpful. And thank you for following along with me as I experiment on myself 🙂

          Congratulations on tackling the Whole30! I hope your month goes smoothly… and I hope you enjoy it!

  • Awesome round-up! Wish I was cooking up yummies tomorrow but instead we need to camp out to get a spot to watch fireworks with the kiddos 🙂