Jesse Broadt: Contributor
If you are like most people who visit Myrtle Beach or are planning your first trip to the Grand Strand, a beach picnic may be on your itinerary. Below are some tips to help you plan a great outing, regardless of how many people are traveling in your group:
Poor planning is the biggest reason many beach picnics fail to live up to vacationers’ expectations. For this reason, your number one priority when planning such an event should be organizing in advance, down to the smallest detail.
Always remember that once you arrive at your picnic destination, returning home or finding a store to pick up forgotten items may be difficult or impossible. This is why a great place to begin is making a list of everything you need in advance, such as the following:
When your list is complete, you can begin focusing on individual tasks, such as how to keep everyone comfortable, safety issues, and of course, your menu for the day.
If you plan to use a picnic blanket, make sure it is large enough for everyone who will be joining you. Although this may seem like a simple task, many people find that their picnic or beach blankets appear much larger in the garage or linen closet than they do when spread out on the beach.
It is usually a good idea to choose the biggest blanket available: extra space is never an issue, but lack of space can definitely create problems, especially if you are traveling with youngsters. As a general rule, allow approximately three to four square feet per person, and arrange your coolers in the middle.
If using lawn chairs, think about whether you prefer low chairs or loungers, or standard height beach chairs. You may even decide to bring some of each so that you and your family are always comfortable, regardless of what you are doing at the moment.
Bringing along an appropriate sunscreen and a formula to keep bugs at bay are two more tasks that should never be overlooked. If you are visiting the beach from up north or haven’t been in the sun for a while, do not make the mistake of trying to get your tan all in one day. This will merely result in a bad sunburn and not-so-good memories of your beach picnic.
When packing your cooler, keep food safety in mind. The following are the best tips for storing food and avoiding food poisoning:
Invest in a beach cart
There are very few ways to pack light for a picnic day at the beach. For this reason, investing in a beach cart is a wise course of action, even if you only go on one or two outings of this type each year. Anything that makes a day at the beach more convenient to plan should be considered a must-have, and a beach cart is definitely in this category.
Plan on bringing two coolers, as it is convenient and practical to have one for food and another for beverages. Most families find that they open a cooler far more often to get beverages than food, and therefore keeping drinks in a separate cooler minimizes the number of times you expose edibles to a blast of hot summer air.
Although it may be tempting, never haphazardly throw food into a cooler. This is because you will end up groping blindly when it comes time to find the items you want first, which will have magically made their way to the bottom of the chest. Instead, consider the order in which you are most likely to eat the food, and pack accordingly. Always wrap food tightly or package it in containers to avoid leaking and cross contamination.
It is much better to have too much ice than too little, as excess ice takes care of itself by the end of the day. You should also consider freezing water bottles in advance, which can then be kept outside the cooler for instant ice water throughout the day. This trick also works well with iced tea, lemonade, and essentially any beverage that is not carbonated.
That is surely a matter of opinion and even locale. Although everyone has ideas about the best foods for a picnic, you know the type of fare you and your family enjoy. Therefore, you may only need to tweak a few things in order to indulge in these same foods at the beach.
You can bring your favorite sandwiches on your outing, but you should opt for pita bread or wraps as opposed to classic, sliced bread. Pitas and wraps are less sloppy and much easier to consume in a picnic environment where you may be balancing your plate on your knees. Wraps are also easy to eat one-handed, and such breads offer better protection for your food than sandwich bread. Additionally, pita bread and wraps are typically firmer than traditional bread, and therefore less apt to become soggy.
Food skewers are a marvelous beach picnic option, whether you prefer meat and cheese, vegetables, fruit, or a combination of all three. This utensil-free, convenient way to eat is perfect for active days at the beach, and cleanup is as easy as throwing the skewer in your trash bag when you are finished.
Whole fruit is always a winner for a beach picnic, and most summer fruits will please even the pickiest eater in your family. Grapes, apples, nectarines and peaches are all terrific choices for a day at the beach.
However, make sure you place fruit appropriately in your cooler, specifically where it will not become bruised or damaged.
Fried chicken is a wonderful summer staple and is relatively easy to eat. It usually holds up well in a cooler if it is properly packed, and goes well with virtually any side dish. You may enjoy this great article about preparing fried chicken for the beach.
Surprisingly, couscous and pasta salad also hold up well in a cooler. However, be careful with pasta salad, as it is usually prepared with mayonnaise. Contrary to what most people think, it is not the mayonnaise itself that “goes bad” in the heat and leads to food poisoning. Rather, it is the items with which mayonnaise is typically combined that create the problematic bacteria. These include tuna, potatoes and pasta.
If you are concerned, opt for couscous instead of pasta salad or make sure the pasta salad is kept in the coldest part of the cooler.
If you prefer finger food, chop up some salami and cheese and create your own “grab and go” bags. Fare of this type is filling, convenient and requires hardly any cleanup.
If you are like most people, meals are not complete unless they end with a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth. Cookies are a simple, easy to pack finger food that lend themselves well to beach picnics.
Brownies are a good choice as well, but may be a bit more prone to melting than cookies, which are usually firmer.
Avoid candy bars and desserts with frostings or fillings, as they will quickly turn into a sticky mess. However, frozen candy bars make a great after dinner treat.
If you are planning a sunrise to sundown affair, between meal snacks are a must. Below are some ideal choices in this category:
You should also consider packing hard-boiled eggs–pickled or plain–and spreads and salsas in the food cooler. These are all good companions for virtually any of the snacks listed above.
Having a plan for packing up leftovers is important as well. Use shallow, see-through containers that quickly chill down again when put back in the cooler.
If you are having dessert at your picnic, clean up immediately after the sweet foods are consumed, as this prevents insects from making an appearance.
Always keep handi-wipes close by as well. This will not only help keep everyone’s hands clean, but it will make it easy to wipe excess food from the plates and containers you plan to take back home.
Beach picnics are likely to remain a favorite venue among outdoor lovers, and by following the tips mentioned above, your beach outing is guaranteed to be a success.
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