I love to eat on the beach. Whether it’s a simple picnic at high noon or cocktails and finger foods watching the sunset, dining al fresco is restorative for me.
In Italian, al fresco means “in the fresh.” Translated into English, it means “outdoors,” and preparing a picnic lunch to enjoy outside doesn’t have to involve lots of work. With some thought and planning, it can be easy and fun.
If you plan to go to the beach on Saturday, begin thinking about what you’ll bring on Thursday. Giving yourself at least two days to shop for ingredients and gather supplies reduces the likelihood of forgetting anything.
I always bring two coolers with me: one for ice and beverages (i.e., sparkling juice or water, still water, juice boxes, white wine or wine coolers) and the other for food and frozen ice packs. This ensures that cold food stays cold and beverages are nicely chilled when you’re ready to enjoy them. Once at the beach, I keep my coolers in the shade, under a small umbrella.
I also like to bring a very large beach blanket with me that I use just for meal time. Nothing spoils a picnic like a wet, sandy blanket that’s covered with toys, inflatable tubes, pails and shovels. When it’s time to eat, I just take out the blanket and lay it on the sand. Of course, you can’t totally guarantee sand-free seating, but it will certainly be dry!
When it comes to preparing meals, I always make kid-friendly and adult-appropriate lunches. Just because the kids want peanut butter and jelly doesn’t mean you’re limited to that, too. Making something for a more mature palate can be just as quick, especially if you have leftovers.
Here are some ideas for healthy and delicious picnic lunches:
• Grilled chicken, pesto, farmer’s market tomatoes and greens: This can simply be done using leftover grilled chicken and a good-quality, bottled pesto.
• Tuna salad, lite mayo, aged cheddar and Roma tomatoes: Serve on a whole grain roll for the benefit of added fiber.
• Black forest ham, low-sodium Swiss, lite mayo and greens: For added flavor, put this filling between marbled rye bread.
• Heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves and olive oil: Use hearty, good quality bread for best results.
• Turkey, Swiss, lite mayo and greens: This is delicious served on a baguette.
• Turkey bacon, provolone, sliced avocado, greens and tomatoes on whole wheat bread: This is a yummy, healthy twist on the BLT!
• Egg salad made with lite mayo and greens: Tucking this mixture into a whole wheat pita makes it easy to handle.
• Hummus, falafel, sliced cucumber and greens: On a baguette or in a pita, this will be a nutrient-rich lunch.
To ensure your sandwiches, wraps and salads stay free from bacteria, keep these tips in mind when preparing, packing and transporting your coolers:
• Food safety starts at home! Always wash your hands and kitchen surfaces in hot, soapy water before preparing anything.
• Rinse fresh fruit and scrub vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
• Wrap individual sandwiches tightly in aluminum foil and tuck them under frozen ice packs in the cooler.
• Keep sandwiches, wraps and salads in the refrigerator until you’re ready to leave the house.
• Be sure to put lots of ice in your insulated beverage cooler.
• Throw out any leftover perishable food like meat sandwiches, salads or fresh-cut fruits and vegetables.
If you want more information about food safety, call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Information Line at 888-SAFE-FOOD, or visit them online at www.cfsan.fda.gov.
Last, but not least, don’t forget napkins, plastic utensils, wet-wipes and cups. I keep those supplies in a reusable cotton bag that’s always stocked. I replenish what was used during the last picnic, so I never have to worry about forgetting anything. Happy summer, and healthy eating!