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Ten Tips for Eating and Drinking at the Pool and Beach With Family

The sand awaits your toes.EXPAND
The sand awaits your toes.
Photo by Marcus
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As summer approaches our fair city, we Houstonians prepare for the blistering heat and 90 percent humidity by seeking out various places of refuge. Galveston beaches, backyard pools, the water features at our neighborhood parks; all favorites to beat the heat. However, we have to keep our insides cool and hydrated as well. Despite the pass-out temperatures in H-Town, we still won't abandon our smoked barbecue and steaming plates of fajitas, even in July. If you are heading to the beach or lounging poolside, however, you'll need some better options for food and drink. Here are a few ideas to keep our families healthy, our friends happy and ourselves chill while the mercury rises.

10. Say No to Mayo

For some inexplicable reason, Americans' favorite time of the year to bring out this egg-based condiment is summer. Mayonnaise makes an appearance in our potato salads, coleslaw and everyone's favorite picnic dish: deviled eggs. Unfortunately, mayonnaise, once opened, is no longer shelf stable, though there are studies that dispute this. The FDA recommends that mayonnaise should not remain at room temperature longer than two hours. In Houston, there is no such thing as room temperature, especially outdoors in summer.

Instead, try macaroni or potato salad with a vinaigrette. An apple cider coleslaw is a crisp, cool dish that is more summertime friendly. Still, these dishes should be kept out of the sun and refrigerated within a couple of hours after use as well. The acid in the vinegar helps to limit bacteria, but in Houston's heat, nothing is bulletproof.

9. Fro-yo-on-the-go

Despite Ellen DeGeneres's comedy routine about Go-Gurt and whether yogurt really has a mobility issue, yogurt tubes are a convenient snack for the kiddos, especially when they are kept in the freezer. Before leaving for the beach, you can throw a few frozen tubes in the cooler with ice or ice packs. After a couple of hours in the ocean, the kids can grab one, with no worry about spoons and sandy hands. This is also a great snack to have on hand for a kids' pool party. Healthier and less messy than popsicles.

8. H2O

While many beach-bound folks load up the ice chests with sodas and sports drinks, wiser sun seekers know that there is nothing better than cold water for keeping a body hydrated. A few sports drinks thrown in are okay, but leave the sugary drinks behind. Even juice boxes still contain a lot of sugar.

There are plenty of low-sugar drink pouches and flavored waters for kids who won't touch the pure stuff. And freezing the water bottles will help to keep everything else cold, too. A frozen jug of water can be a substitute ice pack. By the end of a fun-filled day at Surfside, it will have thawed out and can be used to clean off sandy tootsies before the long car ride home.

7. Eat Your Veggies

Whether it's a loaded-up veggie platter at a poolside do, or plastic containers of baby carrots, vegetables are a safe way to provide a healthy snack for little taters and grown-ups alike. While most people can enjoy the sweetness of grape tomatoes and the crispness of cucumbers on their own, there are some picky eaters who cannot stomach a raw vegetable without the accompanying Ranch-style dip.

Most commercial dressings off the shelf do not need to be refrigerated until opened. Once opened, however, they become susceptible to spoilage. Here's where all those condiment packages stashed in your fridge can be put to use. Even the most conscientious of parents has given in to the fast-food nugget temptation. If you have saved any unopened containers of ranch-style dressing, you can pack them in the cooler. Once opened, they need to be used immediately and then discarded.

6. Give Up The Guac

Houstonians love their guacamole dip. It is second only to our beloved chile con queso. However, avocados turn what can only be described as baby-diaper brown when exposed to air for a while. Some restaurants and commercially made dips use citric acid and other additives to prevent discoloration, but it also affects the taste. And no amount of lime juice is going to help guacamole stay pretty at an outdoor fiesta.

Our solution? Avocado-tomatillo salsa. It's easy to make and the color stays good for hours. You can find similar versions at Mexican restaurants across the city. And if you are determined to have queso at your pool party, a mini slow cooker is a great way to melt it and keep it warm. No one likes skin on his or her queso.

The sandwiches are mine, mine, mine!
The sandwiches are mine, mine, mine!

5. (Sand)wiches

This would not be my first go-to beach food. Maybe it's the memory of my mother spreading potted meat on white bread and opening the little cans of Vienna sausages, as my brothers and I snickered at their absurd vulgarity. I am just not that crazy about sandwiches at the beach.

However, my friend and her family disagree with me. They believe there is nothing better than deli meat sandwiches out of the ice chest. These are a make-ahead item. We don't recommend trying to make sandwiches at the beach with all the wind, sand and voracious seagulls.

Those leftover condiment packets come in handy for sandwiches too.

4. Be Berry Cool

Fruit is another perfect beach or pool food. Portable, healthy and hydrating and kept on top of an ice pack, berries and orange slices are a simple way to beat the 95-degree heat. Then there is the undisputed queen of summer fruit: watermelon. Cut into small triangles with the rind left on, it is a perfect fit for sandy little hands.

Caveat: Our friend once froze the watermelon triangles on skewers. It sounded like a good idea, but within a couple of minutes out of the freezer, the kids were walking around, none too happily, with mushy, dripping melonsicles.

3. Adults Need Fruit Too
A relaxing summer day by the pool can always be made better with an adult beverage (for the adults, of course). For some people, a cold beer hits the spot. And a frozen margarita sounds good on any day. However, margaritas made by your bestie might have more tequila than your sunbathing body can take. We recommend you make a pitcher of sangria instead. This has become our go-to cocktail for our summer soirees.

Fresh fruit muddled at the bottom, a bottle of an inexpensive dry red wine, a couple of ounces of Triple Sec, some orange juice, and a little seltzer water is a basic sangria recipe. Pour it over a little ice and you have a refreshing, less alcoholic cocktail. You can vary the types of wine, fruit, liqueurs and juice to suit your tastes. You can even go to the trouble of making a simple syrup if you prefer, but we ain't got time for that. We have to go do a cannonball next to Aunt Bertha sunning on the chaise lounge.

2. Get off the Grill

Some people are obsessed with grilling, sporting their " bow down to the master of the grill " aprons and giant tongs. I don't get it.

For several years, I (wo)manned the grill on the Fourth of July, flipping burgers and turning weenies, while everyone else sipped sangria and probably talked behind my sweat-dripping back. Then I had the brilliant idea of utilizing the stove rather than the grill to cook a giant flat hamburger patty on a baking sheet. Once it was done, I cut it into slider-size squares, put out some slider buns and toppings, and let people make their own.

Okay, so it's not the same flavor, but this isn't summer in Maine, either. It's Houston, for Pete's sake. It's too hot to stand in front of a grill, taking orders. Plus, you miss out on the gossip.

1. Take the Easy Way

When you've had a wonderful day at the beach with the family but all that sun has worn everyone out and they're hungry, you can always take advantage of the many seafood and burger restaurants that abound. In Galveston, you can clean yourselves up and go to Gaido's. At Surfside, there is a casual restaurant, Pirate's Alley Cafe, right on the beach. It has a great view, especially at sunset.

And if you are just too tired to drag the crew to a sit-down joint, there's always the giant box of chicken nuggets at the drive-through. Just be sure to save some of those sauce packets for next time.

The sun sets over Surfside Beach.
The sun sets over Surfside Beach.
photo by Lorretta Ruggiero

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