With school out and warm weather, it can only mean one thing… it’s time to hit the beach!
As bathing suits, towels, sunscreen, cameras, shovels, and pails are being carefully packed up, lunch is usually thrown together at the last minute and sometimes leading to unhealthy food choices. Along with trying to make the healthiest choices, you also have to consider which foods are the safest to bring to the beach and which ones should probably be left at home. But don’t worry, we are here to make packing lunch for the beach a little easier!
In order to make a quick lunch that still tastes good, some planning must be involved. What kinds of foods do your friends and family enjoy? What foods should you leave at home so that you can avoid food contamination at the beach? What foods are the most nutritious and will help keep everyone satisfied and fueled for the day?
Food Safety at the Beach
When considering food safety, many things come to mind but with the addition of the sand and the sun of the beach, food safety takes on a whole new meaning. The biggest thing to consider when it comes to beach safety is the steaming hot temperature. When you combine foods that need to be chilled with the blazing hot sun, things do not end well. According to the FDA’s Qualitative Risk Assessment, once intact fruits and vegetables, such as melons and tomatoes, are cut and protective barriers are open, microorganisms can grow more easily. Once heat and humidity are introduced, the rate at which bacteria grow increases significantly. Therefore, it is best to bring whole fruits and vegetables to the beach. Some ideas for whole fruits and vegetables are oranges, grapes, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, and raw broccoli. If you decide to bring fruits or vegetables that need to be cut or sliced, it is safer if you do so while you are at the beach. Bringing proper utensils to cut/slice these foods will make it a lot easier. For example, bringing an apple core to slice an apple or a pear is easy. Also, using a knife to slice veggies such as cucumbers or peppers is also quick and simple! Make sure you are storing these foods in appropriate containers and at cool temperatures to keep them fresh before you cut them! Prevent sand from touching the food and fruit juices from leaking; use a lockable container like Sistema or Black+Blum.
Another food that should be avoided at the beach is undercooked chicken, fish, or meat as well as different kinds of “salads”. Not only do these kinds of foods allow for a large number of food borne illnesses, but they also can cause cross contamination with other foods. A research study that appeared in Letters in Applied Microbiology, has recently suggested that Salmonella (one of the most common food borne pathogens) contaminates raw/undercooked chicken and meat products at the highest rates over the summer. Also, different chicken salads, egg salads, and tuna salads can cause cross contamination due to the mayonnaise, if they are not chilled to the correct temperature. These different kinds of “salads” containing mayonnaise can still be enjoyed if they are transported and kept at the appropriate temperature. Foods containing mayonnaise must be stored at 45 deg F or lower. To be sure of this, use freezer gel packs to keep food and beverages cold and at a safe temperature.
These types of foods should be stored in containers that can be kept cold such as Kangovou, which is made from food grade stainless steel.
When keeping food safety in mind at the beach, it is also important to consider how you are going to transport and eat your lunch. It is important to pack your food in a cooler with ice (or ice packs) so that the food stays cold and fresh. Also, finger foods tend to be the easiest for the beach and help to avoid “sandy” lunches, so think whole fruits and sandwiches! Don’t forget to wash any fresh produce you pack with you!
So, what are 5 safe and healthy lunches to bring to the beach?
1. Whole-wheat bread with natural peanut butter and banana – The bread won’t get soggy and the peanut butter and banana will give you fuel for hours!
2. Whole-wheat pita with grilled chicken and veggies with hummus –Pack celery and raw broccoli florets to dip in hummus. Single-serve hummus packs are a great way to eat more healthfully and to enjoy finger foods!
3. Whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese and a handful of grapes or cherries, and carrots or celery sticks – Having a variety of food can make lunch at the beach fun and make it feel like a picnic!
4. Whole-wheat wrap with lean turkey or lean ham with veggies and homemade trail mix (dried fruit, cereal, and nuts) – Homemade trail mix is a fun and healthy way to eat some of your favorite foods!
5. Grilled chicken sandwich on a whole-wheat bun with dark lettuce – pile more veggies on your sandwich for more flavor!
Don’t forget about snacks! To keep everyone satisfied and happy, think about quick and healthy snacks such as whole fruits, veggie sticks with low fat dip/hummus, homemade trail mix, whole grain granola bars, and popcorn. And don’t forget to pack plenty of water!