July is National Picnic Month!
Celebrate it by dining al fresco, and there’s no better place to do it than at the beach. While drinking and dining outside can take a little more preparation than a meal you plan to eat inside at Bella Vista, it doesn’t have to be overly burdensome to prepare.
Picnics can range from super-simple to uber-extra, but either way you go, there are some key things to make it a successful and enjoyable experience! Read below for some tips to have a perfect beach picnic while staying at Bella Vista Beach Villa.
Gather essential supplies
Cooler(s) and tote bags: we find it's easier to divide up our picnic items into several smaller bags than having one huge, heavy bag to carry to the beach
Ice packs: In our ground floor lobby, there is a large ice machine on the way to the beach elevator. We like to fill up gallon-sized Ziploc bags with ice, in addition to putting ice directly into the cooler, which gives us more flexibility in packing around food as well as being able to use that ice for our drinks.
Picnic blanket: there’s a large, lightweight nylon beach blanket available in Bella Vista’s beach closet in the foyer. We also like to put down dishtowels on top of the blanket and then put the food on top of the towels, to help corral crumbs and spills. If any food or drink ends up on the beach blanket, please just be sure to wash it for us before putting it away.
Plate, cups, and cutlery: Bella Vista has plastic reusable divided dinner plates stocked in the kitchen for kids to use, but they can work well on the beach too! Just make sure to bring a resealable Ziplock bag to bring back those dirty dishes and flatware, so you can throw them in the dishwasher when you return and don’t get your main bag dirty transporting them back. If you go for single-use utensils, there are compostable versions available at many stores. We like to bring a roll of paper towels instead of individual napkins since it is less likely to blow away in the wind.
Small, serrated knife and small chopping board: just wrap the knife in a dishtowel for safety when transporting; the board can also be handy for laying out a charcuterie board or having a flat surface to place containers or bottles.
Bottle opener and corkscrew: self-explanatory. Stemless plastic wine glasses are a good option for the beach.
Plan ahead for clean-up
Have some hand sanitizer ready before diving into your food, plus biodegradable wet wipes are super useful when rinsing hands in the saltwater after your meal just won’t cut it. Bring a couple extra garbage bags to corral post-picnic waste, since people who don't clean up after themselves at the beach are not my kind of people.
Make a beach-friendly menu
The easiest types of food for the beach are ones that you can eat with your hands, instead of ones that require utensils to eat. Or at least serve bite-sized food, so you don’t need knives to cut it.
When my kids were infants and we were brave enough to dine in public with them, as I scanned the menu, my guiding thought was “What can I still eat if I can only use one arm?” (since the other one would more than likely be holding the baby). Penne…? Good. Linguini…? Bad. I use the same thinking now when planning picnics.
If making sandwiches, another tip is not to add items that will make the bread soggy (tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, condiments) until right before eating. Alternatively, select robust bread like ciabatta or a baguette that will stand up to wet items. Wraps can also be convenient options to keep all the ingredients in place.
For dessert, skip anything that has icing that will melt in the heat or that needs to be sliced to be served. Much as I love chocolate, I would definitely opt for brownies over chocolate cupcakes. Nothing is quite as sad as a frosted cupcake that has landed icing-down in the sand. [sad trombone]
But I would definitely opt for chocolate cupcakes over a full-on cake or pie that requires slicing and serving. Individual fruit tarts or other small-bite desserts are so much easier to manage at the beach. Fresh cut fruit is a good option to cap off a meal; cold cubes of watermelon are always a hit.
To keep your food as cold as possible, you’ll want to limit how often your food cooler is opened and closed during your picnic. To do this, we recommend you plan for at least 2 coolers: one dedicated for food and one for drinks.
We often like to keep the kid drinks in a smaller, separate cooler from our adult beverages and give them drinks that have resealable tops, like the mini Gatorade bottles. Ever try to balance partially-drunk Capri Sun pouches in the sand to keep them from tipping over, and then have kids come back from playing and launch into an argument about which one is theirs and then once that is settled, field complaints that their drinks are warm? No? Just trust me then. Resealable tops make it easier to throw their half-finished drinks back into the cooler.
Pro tip: bring a Sharpie marker to write each kid’s name on the top of their cap so they can figure out which one is theirs with no fussing. Additional bonus, when they are done with their drink, they can rinse out the bottle and use it to collect any shark’s teeth or cool shells they find on the beach.
We also like to freeze water bottles the night before, which act as additional ice for keeping other drinks cool and then we still have ice-cold water at the end of the day. If using reusable water bottles, fill them only about half-way to allow for adequate expansion as the water freezes, and then top it off with more cold water right before heading out the door.
If you have a Yeti can cooler or something similar, that’s also great to throw in the freezer for a bit to get extra cold. Yours truly has an insulated tumbler that serves me well all day long. Pro tip: pre-mix your cocktails and pour into a empty quart-size (or larger, no judgment here) water or juice jug with a resealable screw-on cap to keep your adult beverages cool all day.
Then, to maximize room in your food cooler, pack dry goods that don’t need to be kept cool like crackers, bread, baked goods, or fruit like apples, oranges or bananas in a separate bag as well. The additional benefit is that delicate but bulky items, like bags of chips don’t take up precious cooler space or get crushed.
Pack your cold food cooler as tightly as possible, since it will stay colder longer that way. Make sure anything you pack is in waterproof containers or bags so that melting ice won’t ruin your food. If you have soft-sided coolers and have room to put them in the fridge overnight, it will pre-cool them before you load them up and will help keep your items colder just a bit longer.
Follow food safety guidelines
To keep from getting sick, make sure that cold food stays cold (at 40 degrees or below) and discard anything left out after 2 hours, or after 1 hour if temperatures outside are higher than 90 degrees. I don’t typically plan for hot food at a beach picnic because that gets a little complicated.
To keep your food as cold as possible, don’t lay out all the food at once, just serve items only right before you’re going to eat them. Start with snacks, appetizers, and charcuterie. Then break out the salads and main dishes. Finish up by bringing out the desserts. That way you can minimize the time that food is sitting out in the heat. Check out the FDA’s site for additional tips on outdoor food safety.
Here are some ideas for beach-friendly picnic dishes:
Snacks and Appetizers
Veggie Tray | Serve with a variety of dips; ranch and hummus are favorites.
Charcuterie board | Or if folks are worried about family-style dining, try Jarcuterie instead.
Soft cheeses | Opt for brie or camembert as hard cheeses like cheddar will get oily/sweaty in the heat.
Dried fruit like cranberries and apricots
Hard boiled eggs | I love deviled eggs, but a little fussy for the beach
Snack Crackers | Jazz up some oyster crackers; make them the day before in order to let the seasoning soak in.
Antipasto Kebobs | Best when eaten cold, so pull these out of the cooler only when you're ready to chow down.
Store Bought | You're on vacation, I get it. Maybe you don't want to spend the time to pull these things together. It's cool, there's options!
Macaroni Salad | check out our family recipe below, courtesy of Bill's Grandma Alice.
Colorful Spiral Pasta Salad | I'd add some artichoke hearts too, yum!
Green Bean Pasta Salad | I would skip the walnuts, but that's a personal choice.
Greek Salad | This our hands-down favorite salad to make and we pretty much love anything we've ever made by America's Test Kitchen. Best made the night before so the flavors have time to mellow and blend.
Loaded Avocado BLT | I actually like using hot dog rolls and romaine leaves for BLTs since they are the perfect shape for strips of bacon! Also if you're already getting avocados, make some guacamole too.
Turkey Salad on Wheat Bread | If you're already cooking bacon for the sandwich above, set aside some for this one; also don't assemble until right before eating so your bread doesn't get soggy.
Turkey Guacamole Wrap | All about using the same ingredients for multiple dishes, so if you have guacamole and turkey from above, this is another good option.
Pizza Wraps | To keep the filling from getting your tortilla soggy, layer on the pepperoni and cheese slices first.
Roast Beef and Cheese Wraps | Shredding the carrots makes it easier to eat than having chunks throughout.
Simplified Bann Mi | Put the fillings in first and then add the mayo mix after, in order to keep the baguette from getting soggy.
Veggie Ranch Tortilla Pinwheels | If you don't want to do all the prep, Publix (and likely other grocery story delis) makes pinwheel roll trays, you'd just need to order ahead.
Hummus & Veggie Wrap | Layer the salad greens before putting on the hummus to prevent soggy wraps (can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?); if you've got vegans in your group, just check that your tortillas are the right kind.
Fruity Peanut Butter Pita | This is particularly kid-friendly because using a pita means no filling falls out of the bottom and into their lap. Ask me how I know.
Fruit Kabobs | It's just your basic cut mixed fruit, but upgraded presentation by placing them on skewers, this one includes a dip; I'd skip the cheese if serving for dessert
Ambrosia | Step up your cut-fruit game by prepping this the night before to let the marshmallows get smushy, then keep cool since it includes yogurt. I'd serve this to kids in plastic cups versus using bowls because, well, kids.
Bomb Pop Cookies | Since actual Bomb Pops won't survive long on the beach, these might be a good alternative but are pretty involved, so I'd probably save the effort for an Independence Day themed picnic.
Grandma Alice’s Macaroni Salad
Here's a family recipe from Bill’s maternal grandmother, Alice Rodgers, which we really enjoy. It is best prepared the night before, so the macaroni can absorb the flavors. Yields 8 servings and we usually double this recipe when we make it.
1.5 cup elbow macaroni
1 can tuna in water
1/2 onion, diced
1.5 large carrot (or 10-15 baby carrots), diced
1 cup Miracle Whip
1 tsp paprika
1. Cook macaroni according to package directions until slightly under al dente. Drain and let cool in large mixing bowl.
2. Drain tuna and add to cooled macaroni. Add onion, carrots, and Miracle Whip and toss until well combined.
3. Refrigerate until next day. Macaroni will absorb some of the Miracle Whip overnight, so before packing up, add additional Miracle Whip and mix until it returns to a creamy consistency. Sprinkle with paprika on top before serving. Keep cold.
Level up your Beach Picnic
So all this planning is well and good, but are you ready to take your picnic up a notch? Check out Beach Picnic Co, a local business located in Myrtle Beach that specializes in setting up amazing picnics at, you guessed it, the beach!
From birthdays and marriage proposals to brunches and gender reveals, or simply just because, they can set up a beautiful environment for dining and celebrating al fresco. Pick a day of your stay at Bella Vista and have them set up a beautiful beach picnic for you.
They have three different packages starting at $150 and you can also add on a photographer to capture your beautiful feast for posterity. It's a great option if you were already thinking of having family photos taken on the beach during your stay!
Photo credits for this post go to Beach Picnic Co, check them out on their website, Facebook, or Instagram. Thanks Grace!