How to pack the perfect cooler for the beach

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Packing a cooler for a relaxing, sunny day at the beach is like playing Tetris. But no matter how adept you are at puzzles and video games, you inevitably give up on neatly stacking all those multifaceted containers, resorting to lugging a poorly organized cooler — along with several bags — across the hot sand.

“You don’t want to feel like you’re working the moment you hit the beach,” said Nikki Boyd, professional organizer in North Carolina and author of “Beautifully Organized: A Guide to Function and Style in Your Home.” “Keep the cooler compact and make it work for you as efficiently as possible.”

With a little planning and some expert advice, a day at the beach can be relaxing.

To master the Tetris cooler, choose a cooler with a large, insulated interior. Lauren Rivard, the founder of Picnic Collective, a picnic catering company in Costa Mesa, Calif., recommends avoiding multi-compartment coolers, such as soft, collapsible coolers with various sleeves and pockets, which only take up valuable space.

Use lightweight reusable containers that conform to the shape of your cooler (rectangles and squares are the way to go). Glass containers are not recommended as they are heavy and cannot be used outdoors. Place heavier, perishable items at the bottom and tuck them into smaller round shapes, like cans and thermoses, into nooks and crannies.

Alanna O’Neil, a Maui photographer and author of “The Art of Picnics: Seasonal Outdoor Fun,” suggests creating a cold cooler by freezing all non-carbonated drinks and chilling carbonated drinks ahead of time. . “Start with a solid base of something cold, like a layer of frozen water bottles or frozen blocks of ice,” O’Neil said. (Just be sure to use freezer-safe bottles.) The frozen base helps keep items balanced and melts less quickly than ice cubes. Packing your cooler to the brim works to your advantage: “The stronger it is as a unit, the cold air will stay trapped longer,” she says.

Once the cooler is full and the spaces are filled with ice, keep the foods you reach for most, such as dips and fries, on top to minimize opening the cooler and melting the ice . (You can, of course, pack dry goods in a separate bag, or transfer them to a container to keep them dry – and limit waste on the beach – and put them in the cooler.) Ms Boyd, the organizer , also suggests designating an area for drinks and giving them sections so you don’t waste time digging for what you want. “If you want to get fancy,” she said, “you can label the lid of the cooler, so when you lift it, everyone knows the drink layout.”

When choosing a sandwich, consider ingredients that can withstand hours outdoors and won’t get soggy. Salted butter, like in a ham and jam sandwich, holds up much better to the elements at the beach than mayonnaise on a sandwich. Ms. O’Neil likes to wrap the sandwiches in parchment paper and, to be on the safe side, stuff them in reusable bags to prevent condensation.

Hearty grain or pasta salads, like farro or orzo tossed with artichokes, olives and hard-to-melt feta cheese, travel well. The tangy, briny flavors of store-bought marinated artichoke hearts, olives, and feta balance and complement the sweet jammy notes of the sandwich, if you choose to serve them together.

And a refreshing, creamy, ranchy dip — made from a mix or with fresh herbs and yogurt — is the perfect companion to salty chips for all-day snacking between dips in the ocean.

Chilled fruit is non-negotiable for a beach picnic, and Ms. Rivard, Ms. Boyd and Ms. O’Neil agree that frozen grapes are the way to go. Pack them in reusable bags and store them on the top layer of the cooler, so they keep things cool but don’t get crushed when defrosting. To save space, Boyd recommends cutting fruits like watermelon and pineapple into bite-size pieces and skewering them on sticks, like skewers, for easy-to-grab individual portions stored in a container.

For a late-afternoon pick-me-up, Rivard recommends storing your favorite iced coffee in a chilled insulated bottle, to serve with a sweet treat at the end of the day. Individually wrapped Rice Krispies candies are hard to crush; cut them into a square or rectangle shape for easy storage. Enjoy it, then put it all away – in perfect Tetris formation – and make the trip home salty, sandy and satisfying.

Receipts: Fresh Ranch Dip | Salad of artichokes and farros olives | Ham and jam sandwiches | Caramelized Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats

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