Going at the beach is so much fun. Simply looking at the blue of the ocean makes me happy and the joy of the kids splashing in the water and playing with the sand is priceless. Still, moving away from the Instagram perfect beach picture reality is that a stress-free lunch at the beach with a toddler requires planning and some tips from experience. Improvising is definitely not an option.
I would like to share with you all my tips I learned with my kids through the years to enjoy a lunch at the beach without finding yourself with enough sand in your car to build a sand castle.
Let’s start from the food planning.
Snacks – Fresh fruit and vegetables ready to be grabbed and enjoyed.
Fresh seasonal fruit and veggies are always a lovely refreshing snack at the beach. We love cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, grapes, blueberries, apples, strawberries, watermelon, melon, baby carrots, tangerines, bell peppers…
Anything in season (it’s sweeter) and already washed and pre-cut so that it’s ready to be grabbed from the container. That means a bit of prep work at home but so much less work at the beach.
- Tangerines. Peel them and remove the white lining.
- Apples. Core and slice them. Squeeze few drops of lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Brown is healthy but not visually appealing, I get it.
- Grapes/Blueberries/cherry tomatoes. Cut them in half or quarters for little ones.
- Banana. No need to peel.
- Cucumbers. I like to cut them either in sticks or circles.
- Strawberries. Remove the green leaves and the central white part. Cut them in half and keep them united so that the inside part will not get dry.
Other Snacks other than fruit and vegetables?
There are so many other snack options to add in your bag for the beach: cheese string, yogurt sticks, fruit or yogurt pouches, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, cookies just to mention few.
I like to freeze the yogurt sticks so that they will keep the other food fresh during the drive to the beach and they will be fresh and thawed when it’s time to enjoy them.
Crackers. My favorite snack. So many flavors and flours you can choose from (all purpose, whole wheat, chickpea..) They can be savory or sweet. Easy to handle, they don’t stick.
Nuts. If there are no allergies in the families nuts can be great for toddlers and older kids. Remind your little ones to chew them or crush them in small pieces to avoid any chocking hazard. Shaved almonds are a nice idea that you can buy ready to enjoy. Loaded with good fats and protein they can really be a complete meal for your little ones.
Dried fruit. Did you know that dried fruit is an impressive source of iron? They are also a concentrate of energy for little ones. Dried apricots, cherries, raisins. All lovely choices. Same warning as for the nuts. Chop dried fruit in tiny pieces to avoid chocking hazard. Also, I recommend to check that the dried apricots are Sulphur dioxide free. They will be brownish and not sparkly orange but they will be natural and with no not necessary preservatives.
Cookies. Well, cookies are an easy food, we all agree, it’s nice to take a nice treat to the beach too. I would suggest not too sticky cookies, dry ones. Also be careful with chocolate chips, they melt very quickly under the sun.
Sticky food? Mhhh, maybe not.
Talking about sticky food. To be sincere it’s not in my green list to take to the beach.
Hummus, fruit spread, peanut butter, chocolate spread they are all super toddler friendly foods but the chance that even few grains of sand will get into them is too high.
Still, if sticky food is the only one your toddler might eat at the beach, here few tips.
- Use small mono portion containers that kids can easily hold so that if the sand gets into it, it’s only one portion and not the entire family serving.
- Get ready with extra napkins as sticky foods equals sticky hands.
- If the sticky food comes in a combo (carrots and hummus, peanut butter and apple slices) have the two foods in a container with a divider and two sections. It will be easier.
What about the main course?
Snacks are great but when you spend the whole day at the beach you might want to pack a “main course” too. I have some ideas for you.
- Small sandwiches. Tea sandwiches, pita sandwiches. Anything that can be cut in small bite size cubes. The concept is to grab the sandwich piece from the container and place it directly in your kid’s mouth. No holding, no biting. Do not overfill the sandwich or it will not be easy to cut it in small pieces. We love different combinations of sandwiches: ham & cheese, tomato & mozzarella, tuna spread & cucumbers, cucumbers & cream cheese, roasted chicken & grilled zucchini.
- Pasta Salad. My favorite. A lovely cold pasta salad. You can prepare it the day before: tomato, mozzarella and fresh herbs or pesto and steamed green beans or steamed broccoli, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese, peanut butter and jelly just to mention some options. I have few suggestions on how to store it. If the whole family is going and you need to serve 5/6 portions the easiest way is to place the pasta in a large container with a lid and also bring with you paper bowls and forks for everyone. You will divide the pasta in portions at the beach. Paper bowls will be more functional than paper plates. If it’s a small party (you and the kids) I like to place the pasta in the small thermos that I use for lunchboxes so that the individual portions are ready and you just need to hand the container with a spoon or fork. Check out my pasta salad videos here. On my Instagram account you will find more pasta salads ideas.
- Focaccia. My kids’ favorite. Homemade or store bought, white with just olive oil or topped with vegetables or cheese. Any form is welcome. Cut it in squares or sticks so that kids can grab their piece easily. Check out my focaccia recipe here.
- Rice Salad. It’s a cousin of the pasta salad. Same concept. You boil and drain the rice, let it cool down and than add a mix of ingredients of your choice: proteins (ham, cheese, tuna, boiled eggs), veggies (zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers), legumes (chickpeas, sweet peas) and you can also add olives, sun dried tomatoes, capers pending your little one taste. Check out the tomatoes stuffed with rice salad recipe.
How to get rid of the sand?
Reality is that if you are going to a sandy beach you will find sand grains in so many unexpected places for weeks (pockets are the worse, they really catch you off-guard).
Still there is no need to eat a mouthful of grit at every bite. There are few tricks to kind of keep the sand under control.
- Elevation – picnic tables. I try to keep things away from the sand as much as I can. The best scenario is to find a beach with picnic tables. You will not have to worry about eating on the sand or bringing your chairs and you can keep all the food containers on the table.
- Elevation – chairs. If picnic tables are not an option you can bring with you foldable chairs. Having your toddlers sitting on a chair while eating will at least reduce by half the quantity of sand he might play with while eating.
- Elevation – stacked containers. If option a or b are not available you can lay down on the sand a large blanket and a second one, smaller on it. I find that the double blanket gives more filter to the sand. Place the food containers in the center under your umbrella or tent and try to stack them as much as possible. We usually have the cooler and on top of it I place the snack bags.
- Multiple bags. I always carry multiple bags, fabric ones and I have small plastic bags inside the big tote bag with different items: utensils, snacks, dry change of clothing to go home. Dividing the items in small bags is useful when the sand “accidentally” gets into the big bag. You can easily remove the small bags, shake the sand out of the big one and place everything back again.
- Small spray bottle with fresh water. Some beaches do not have any water fountain or shower to wash your kids hands or the closest one is at half a mile under the sun. Yes, the sea/ocean water can help cleaning the extra sand away from the hands but a nice spray of fresh water after it to remove the saltiness is so nice.
- Cornstarch or baking soda. They told me it’s an old trick but I only recently discovered it. Bring with you some cornstarch or baking soda in a small container. When it’s time to eat sprinkle some of it on your kid’s sandy dirty hands. Gently remove the sand grains from the hand. It’s not only easy to do, but the hands will end up smooth and totally sand free. Impressive. Of course you can do the same with any other body part you will need.
Still, even with all the above suggestions my very first suggestion is to embrace the fact that your kids will get sandy and yes, they will eat some sand grains.
Plastic containers & Reusable utensils.
I’m a convinced environmentalist and I try to reduce plastic in my family life as much as I can (glass containers, silicone wraps, bamboo toothbrushes…) Still, when you eat outside plastic is more functional: it’s lightweight, doesn’t break and…it’s reusable.
The reusable part is what brings peace to my green soul. I have a set of plastic containers with lids that I’ve been using for years when we eat on-the-go. I use them, wash them and reuse them again. For the utensils I do the same. When we order take-out food we also get so many utensils that we end up not using. I do not throw them away but I place them in the “picnic” box. It’s also fun to use utensils of different shapes, colors and styles. After the beach I take them home, clean them and place them back in the box for the next adventure.
I’m a big fan of reusable lunchboxes as you might know if you follow me on Instagram. They are a bright idea if you have lunch at the beach with toddlers too: everything is ready to be served and in one box only. You only need to open and close, and not let the sand in.
I hope you will find some of these tips useful for you. Let me know if you have more, sharing is caring!!