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Lunch at the Beach? Pack These Easy Picnic Food Ideas

Serve up an elegant spread with this summer-perfect fare.

5 min read

If a picnic at the beach conjures memories of soggy grocery sandwiches, warm soda and sand in your potato chips bag, think again. Make-ahead food for the beach doesn’t have to be humdrum. And if it’s smartly packed in containers that won’t leak or bend, your beach lunches will travel well and taste terrific.

For some help with your next summer outing, whether you’re headed to the ocean, lake or your neighbor’s pool across the street, check out these elegant but easy meals.

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No-Wilt Grain Salad

A bowl of leafy greens sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always stay fresh and crisp in your car trunk on the way to the beach. A better salad pick: one made with whole grains as a base. These sturdier, nutty options improve over time in a cooler. Consider quinoa, brown rice or farro and then add in any veggies that are languishing in your produce keeper, such as shredded carrots, radishes, scallions or pepper strips. Dress it ahead with a zingy vinaigrette so the flavor infuses the grains, then pile it into a sleek, no-leak salad container. For extra dressing on the side, transport it separately in one of these easy-grip, no-drip dispensers.

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Crispy Paninis

A panini is a great make-ahead food for the beach and the toasted exterior helps prevent the soggy mess of plain bread or a roll. (Let the bread cool at home first, before packing, to keep things crisp.) Fill your panini with combos you love, such as bresaola, pesto and mozzarella, slices of grilled eggplant with hummus or leftover chicken with chopped vegetables. (For easy cleaning, use one of these brushes to remove stuck-on bits without scratching the press.) No panini press? A waffle iron does the same job. Pack each half of your finished product in this divided container for easy sharing.

Prosciutto and Figs

Hot weather can kill an appetite, so building your beach lunch ideas around a variety of snacks rather than a large main course is smart. Prosciutto-wrapped figs are an excellent salty-sweet nibble on their own or they can be stuffed with a bit of cheese (blue or Manchego) as well as roasted almonds. To round things out, add hummus and crackers, slices of watermelon and a few deviled eggs. You might also pack a bunch of frozen grapes. These do double duty as a refreshing snack while keeping other foods in the cooler cold.

Hand Pies

Packing a whole pie for the beach is a recipe for sand-filled disaster, but mini versions are a different story. With a pre-made pie crust and fruit filling, you can stuff, fold and bake these in the morning, before you head out. You can make your own filling from just about any fruit you have on hand. Slice a mango and toss it with some sugar, or open a jar of jam if you’re in a hurry. Or make mini pies with canned cherry pie filling and bake them in silicone cups. For easy transport, pack your pies in these prep-and-go containers.

Summer Punch

If all these beach foods are making you thirsty, wash them down with summer-themed drinks. Strawberry lemonade, pineapple and orange juice with soda water or cranberry and pomegranate juice with lime are all mixtures you can whip up fast. Pour individual servings into old water bottles or travel mugs, adding a splash of tequila or vodka into the ones for adults (label them carefully).

For more great ways to up your beach picnic game, learn how to use grilled lemons to enhance the flavor of tacos, kebabs, salads and more.


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