The Perfect Beach Cooler

If you still have not perfected the science of effortlessly tossing together your cooler for a great day at the beach, it’s not too late in the season to learn. There’s lots of summer left, so take a few extra minutes to prep and you’ll spend the rest of it happily, healthfully and peacefully with your toes in the sand.

Your cooler: Your cooler needs to work for you, so invest in a good one. When finding the perfect cooler, the rigid plastic ones are best because not only do they retain the most cool air, but you can hose them down at the end of the day. They can also be impossibly heavy to carry, which means you may need wheels. Softer coolers may be harder to clean and have a shorter life, but they are the most practical and easy to use. Regular “insulated bags” won’t protect your food for more than a couple of hours.

Drinks: Load your reusable BPA-free water bottles with ice and fill ‘em up with water, iced tea, spa water and mineral water. Place them strategically to keep your perishables safe in the center and top of the cooler. Avoid bringing disposable plastic water bottles to the beach. They degrade in the sun and become unsafe to drink from.

Cold packs: Place your cold packs on the bottom and sides of the cooler in a thin layer as a barrier between the cooler walls and your food. If your food is stored in airtight containers, you can top your packed cooler off with ice.
Snacks: Go for snacks that hydrate, like fruits and veggies. They’ll be most happily eaten if they are ready to eat, so wash and slice the melon so it is easy for sandy hands to navigate. Consider cocktail forks or toothpicks for fruit salad. Small foods (carrot sticks) win over big foods (big carrot), in case they get dropped in the sand. Nuts are a great snack, too, but remember to buy unsalted versions and portion them in baggies. Other beach snack faves: hummus, guacamole, hard boiled eggs, granola bars, jerky, chia squeeze pouches, dried fruit, roasted veggies, popcorn, trail mix and nut butter pouches.

Tip: Make snacks varied enough that you can make a meal out of them if eating a full lunch doesn’t appeal to you in the heat. Example: hummus, veggies, fruit salad and nuts.

Main event: Sand-wiches are sand magnets, so wrap them up carefully and make sure they’re sliced small. Your safest bets are free of cheese, mayo, eggs and deli meats, and may fare better as a wrap or burrito.  Try a hummus and veggie, black bean and corn salsa or smoked fish sandwich. Or, go classic with a nut butter and jam-wich. If you are a planner, grill up and dice up extra chicken, steak or shrimp the night before and pop it into airtight containers with a teaspoon of avocado oil and a tablespoon of balsamic. Serve it with half an avocado.

Be prepared: Have a checklist! Laminate it and keep it on your cooler with a wax pencil if you need to.

Cooler Checklist:

  • Water bottles
  • Cold packs
  • Bagged crudités
  • Fresh fruit
  • Napkins
  • Plates
  • Forks
  • Spoons
  • Knives
  • Cups
  • Bottle opener
  • Trash bag
  • Wipes