The Best Way to Pack a Beach Lunch

The Best Way to Pack a Beach LunchA stay at your beautiful Outer Banks Vacation Rental isn't complete without spending some long days on the incredible OBX beaches. It is said, an army marches on its stomach. Well, the same can be said for a family at the beach. Great food, sun, and sand are the perfect recipe for relaxation. We already have the sun and the sand taken care of...but you will need to bring the food. Today we'll give you all the tips you need to pack a perfect beach lunch.

No need to miss a minute of that amazing Outer Banks beach experience because you ran out of ice, snacks, or your favorite ice cold beverages. Warm water is great for swimming, not so great for your favorite beach beverage. Today we will show you how to pack the perfect beach lunch for you and your family, loaded with helpful tips and resources to make sure your family has the energy to enjoy all your OBX rental has to offer.

I know what you're thinking; how hard can this be? Throw some ice in a cooler, toss in a couple sandwiches, and head off to the beach. Well, just like we take vacation fun to the next level here on the OBX, we're gonna take your beach picnic to the next level.  Let's get started with the tools you're going to need. 


Select a Cooler 

Select A Cooler

Most of us have coolers that probably predate Facebook. If this describes you, it's time for an upgrade. Today there are a huge variety of coolers on the market. Prices range from the ridiculous, to reasonable. Soft, or chest style... wheels, or no wheels. You name it, and there is a cooler that will have it. I'm just waiting for the one with integrated WiFi. Put down that flip phone and head over to Walmart for a wide selection of coolers. Here are a few things to look for when purchasing a new cooler.

First asses the size of the cooler you're going to need. Just a romantic getaway with you and your spouse? Then maybe a nice soft case is perfect for you. Bringing out the entire family tree for a day on the beach? To keep them full, you're going to need a large chest cooler. Walking far? Look for convenient carrying straps, or a wagon style. No matter what size party you're going to have, it's always best to go a little bit bigger than what you think you need. A little extra room is always nice and makes packing a whole lot easier. 

  • Important Tip: Leave the Styrofoam cooler at home. Styrofoam coolers tend to break apart into little pieces. These pieces pollute, not only the beach, but the local water ways. These small pieces may seem harmless, but they are very disruptive to the local wildlife and ecosystem. To make matters worse they're almost impossible to clean up. So help us keep the OBX beautiful and forget the styrofoam coolers.

Soft Coolers: Soft-sided coolers have a lot of wonderful benefits. Perhaps the best feature is that when not in use many can easily be packed away. Let’s face it, you already brought the kitchen sink on your vacation so any space savings is a nice feature to have. With plenty of styles to choose from, and a limitless range of sizes, these offer a lot of flexibility. Another nice thing about this style cooler is how easy they are to carry, most come with shoulder straps and handles. Even the most overloaded dad can still strap one of these on and make it over the dunes. Click here for a good example of one soft sided cooler that won't break the bank...but will provide hours of food chilling performance. 

Chest Coolers: Sure, we all have Yeti envy. But don’t despair. There are plenty of coolers on the market that will still allow you to make your mortgage payment this month. A good quality, solidly constructed cooler is all you need. 

Chest Coolers are a little heavier than their soft shell cousins, but they also do a better job of protecting your food. They offer more storage capacity and for the serious beach-goer nothing beats the chest cooler. Chest coolers also make for a nice little table and many have cutouts to hold your favorite beverage. Some have wheels and extending handles which is great for those long hikes across the parking lot. Click here  to cruise some of the latest chest coolers on the market.

One tip, be sure to get one with a drain plug. Nothing is worse than slushy mess in the bottom of the cooler.


The Pregame 

The PreGame 

Just like choosing an amazing Outer Banks Vacation Rental is important to having a great family vacation, so is prepping for your day at the beach. These helpful tips will make sure you have a great day on the beach with plenty of fresh and delicious food. Hint, leave the egg-salad at home.  

First, bring the cooler inside the day before, and leave it open, preferably in an air conditioned place. Doing this will make sure you're not filling a ninety degree cooler with ice. Next, prep all your foods the night before. Let everything chill in the fridge overnight (drinks too), this way the food will already be cold when you pack the cooler on beach day.

No matter how hard you try, if it can leak, it will. Since nobody wants to clean shrimp, or coolers, go ahead put everything in leak proof containers. Before you do this, go ahead and wash your fruits and veggies. Cut up sandwiches, meats and cheeses. Less is more while out on the beach, so save time by doing all those things prior to packing the cooler. Another advantage to using containers is they tend to stack well and save space.   

Finally take a piece of masking tape and label the containers with a sharpie. This way everyone can grab what they want even if mom or dad is not around. 


Food Do's and Don'ts 

Food Do’s and Don’ts

No we aren't talking about your diet; we won't tell your cardiologist what's in the cooler. That being said, some foods are just better suited for the beach than others. Sand, wind, and heat all make the beach a challenging environment for planning a lunch.  With a little planning though you can be sure to have fresh delicious food for the entire day on the beach. Follow these guidelines when choosing what foods to prep and bring to the beach.

Do’s: These foods will all do well in a warmer environment and will chill well in a cooler on a hot day.
  • Fruits with a peel. Think apples, bananas and grapes. These foods already have a build in barrier to help keep out the sand.
  • Oil & vinegar salad dressings hold up well in the heat.
  • Soft cheeses also do well in a cooler.
  • Sliced meats work well and cools easily.
  • Carrot sticks
  • Couscous and Pasta Salad
  • Dry foods, crackers, Goldfish, and pretzels

Don’ts: Avoid the these foods and you will have a worry free day of picnicking on the beautiful OBX.
  • Stay away from sugary sodas, not only are they bad for you, but they really don't do well in the heat.
  • Anything with mayonnaise is a bad choice. Nobody loves a luke warm egg salad sandwich.
  • Avoid cheeses that melt easily, a good example is cheddar. You don’t want your cooler looking like a nacho bar exploded in it.
  • Ice cream, this should go without saying, but can be a rookie mistake.
  • Soups, and heavy foods like lasagna or casseroles.
Tip: vacationing with little ones? Capri Sun or Juice Boxes pack well, and can be frozen to be used as a layer of ice as you'll see further down. 


Packing a Cooler 

The Art of Packing a Cooler

Sure you can take a cooler, dump a bag full of ice in it, toss in some sandwiches, and hit the beach. But, if you want to avoid a picnic slurpee, follow these helpful tips. Here on the OBX we take all things beach to the next level...whether offering incredible beach rentals, having endless miles of perfect beaches, or  our famous sunsets. Bottom line is you will not want to leave our beaches, so your going to need that cooler to keep you and your family fueled up for the day. So let's get packing and hit those OBX beaches. 

  • Build a cold base. Just like building a house, if the foundation is rotten, the rest of the house will be too. To get the most out of your cooler it is important to layer your ice with and the layers of food. For the base layer frozen bottles of water, juice boxes or Capri Suns. You will need to stay hydrated, and these beverages can do double duty as ice. Place as many as you can at the base of the cooler. Make sure (if you have room) to have them in an upright position. Now fill in the spaces between the bottle with ice. Make sure the ice does not go over the tops of the drinks as we want to keep that loose ice off of the next layer. You can also use other things such as ice packs, or just ice, but a layer of separation is your best practice. 

  • Middle Layer: This is where you put those foods that need to be kept cold go. Now this is not exactly NASA level science, but you need to put your meats, soft cheeses, pasta salads, and sandwiches on this level. This is also the place to pack a few drinks you want to remain cold. Try to give yourself some space here to let the cool air circulate. Here is where you need to make sure to use those leak proof containers. These containers, which you chilled the night before will keep cooler longer. 

  • Top layer: I call this the grab and go layer. Here, you want to pack your dry foods, things like chips, cookies, pretzels, apples, bananas, and maybe some Gold fish for the kids. The foods on this layer don’t necessarily need to be cold, but they do need to remain dry. It is also safe to include things like fresh vegetables on this level. 
Tip, if you have a big crowd consider taking two coolers, one for food, and one just for beverages.

Clean Up 

Clean Up and Leaving No Trace

Your choice of an Outer Banks Beach Rental puts you right in the middle of some of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic coast. Being a responsible beach- goer is easy. With a little planning, you can practice a "no trace" visit to the beach... guaranteeing it will be just as beautiful next year when you return. Everyone has a few of those pesky shopping bags from the grocery store lying around. These bags make for great trash bags. Pack one in your cooler. At the end of the day, just fill the bag with your trash.

Wet wipes are also an essential part of your picnic arsenal. Sand, well it gets everywhere. Keep a  gallon size Ziplock filled with a few wet wipes, to take of the sand of your hands prior to eating. Paper towels will work, but you'll find the moisture in the wet wipes does a better job of getting that sand off. Wet wipes also do double duty for clean-up. 

Elan Vacations will take care of all your Outer Banks rental details. Hopefully these tips will help you have an amazing day enjoying the beauty of the OBX. Check out our incredible Outer Banks Vacation Rentals. The temperatures are still perfect here on the OBX for a late summer vacation. So pack up that cooler, load up your friends and family, and head on over to the Outer Banks.
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