15 Hacks to make eating outdoors a lot more delicious this summer

Jun 18, 2015 at 5:30 p.m. ET

Outdoor dining is one of the joys of summer, but if you aren't prepared, a lot can go wrong.

You want to be surrounded by nature, not infiltrated by it! Luckily these handy tips will help you enjoy the best of both worlds. You can have your cake and an ocean view too.

1. Be prepared

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First things first. You're outdoors and not just in the backyard. That means you have to bring whatever you might need with you. Sunscreen, bug spray, umbrellas, hats, long-sleeved shirts — it may seem like a lot, but you'll enjoy your outdoor dining experience a lot more if you're not alternately frying in the sun, being eaten alive by bugs, caught in an unexpected rain shower and left shivering.

2. Bring wet wipes for easy cleanup

Sand, dirt, juice and sandwiches aren't exactly a match made in heaven. Bring along some wet wipes so you and the kids can clean up before digging into your epic outdoor meal. You'll be surprised at how much more enjoyable outdoor dining is when your sandwich isn't crunchy with sand.

3. Make walking tacos

Walking tacos

Image: Saving Dollars & Sense

These "walking tacos" are made inside of mini chip bags and eaten with a utensil, meaning no dirty or sandy fingers will get all over your food. Precook the meat at home, and pack your favorite toppings together in a container like a salad. When you're ready to eat, just spoon the ingredients into an open bag of your favorite corn-based chips. No matter how crazy your day outdoors gets, tacos will make everything better.

4. Keep it cool

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The best way to ruin a picnic? Food poisoning. According to the USDA, prepared food shouldn't sit out for longer than two hours — even less in hot summer weather. Make sure your food is kept in an insulated container with plenty of ice or freezer packs so it stays cold. And if you're feeling crafty, fancy up your cooler with some custom artwork.

5. Use Mason jars for portability

Pineapple potato chicken salad

Mason jars won't just make your picnic seem cute and chic; they're also super practical. For hearty foods, like this chicken salad with pineapple and potatoes, layer everything together as you wish. For more traditional greens-based salads, put the dressing in first, then layer the ingredients from most sturdy (think cucumbers) to most delicate (your greens). This will ensure that nothing gets soggy, and when you're ready to eat, you can just shake up your jar so that every bite of salad is perfectly dressed. No salad bowl, tongs or bottles of dressing required.

6. Do your homework

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From reserving a grill at your local park to making sure your favorite campsite is available, planning ahead will make your outdoor fun go off without a hitch. And if you're inviting guests outside of your closest friends and family, make sure you ask about any allergies or dietary restrictions too.

7. Low-maintenance recipes

Lemon pasta salad

If the thought of preparing food outdoors makes you cringe, not to worry — there are tons of delicious dishes perfect for the park or beach that you can make ahead of time. Try one of these recipes so you can spend your time outside stuffing your face instead of working.

8. Bring a cutting board

Cutting board at picnic

Image: Bliss at Home

Even if you don't end up needing to cut anything, having a firm, flat surface to put on the grass or in the sand is super helpful. You can put drinks and condiments (and wineglasses!) on your wooden cutting board so they don't tip over, saving you a ton of messy cleanup.

9. Use foil packets for effortless grilling

Tex Mex chicken grill packets

Scraping the grill clean is a huge pain, especially if you're using one at a public park or campsite. Those things can be so grody you don't even want to think about cooking your food directly on them. That's why foil packets are such a lifesaver. You can cook amazing food, like these Tex-Mex chicken grill packets, right in the foil, and when you're done grilling, all you have to do is crumple them up and toss 'em. No more grill scraping for you, thanks very much.

10. Stay dry

15 minute DIY picnic blanket

Image: Lil' Luna

Tired of sitting on an inevitably soggy blanket at the park or beach? Lay down a tarp before you set up your blanket to prevent any moisture on the ground from soaking through and ruining your meal. Or you can DIY your own by sewing together one waterproof tablecloth with a fabric one. Either way, food tastes a lot better when you don't have to worry about looking like you wet yourself when you stand up.

11. Do double duty

Mexican iced coffee

Use frozen water bottles to keep your food cold. As they melt, you'll also have plenty of icy, cold water for hydration, which is super important when you're outside in the sun all day — especially if you're enjoying any adult refreshments. Try freezing a delicious flavored water or fun iced coffee for an extra-special hydrating treat.

12. Cook corn in a cooler

Corn on the cob cooked in a cooler

Image: The Thrifty Couple

If you're camping with a large group, this trick can have you serving up a healthy side dish with almost no work at all. Just heat up some water to boiling on the campfire or grill. Add shucked corncobs to a cooler, then add the boiling water, and cover. After 30 minutes, you'll have enough perfectly cooked corn to feed an army.

13. Turn your chip bag into a bowl

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Salty, crunchy chips are the perfect outdoor snack, but trying to keep the bags from constantly tipping over and feeding the ants instead of yourself can get annoying fast. Instead, use this simple trick to turn your chip bags into their own snack bowls that stay upright without any hassle. More chips for you!

14. Keep electronics safe

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Keep your phone or tablet in a plastic bag to keep it safe from water, sand, dirt and food. I mean, in a perfect world, we would just enjoy being outdoors without electronics, but we all know the need to take selfies on a beautiful day outdoors is real. And of course, Instagram is dying to see the pics of your delicious picnic spread! Or so I always tell myself.

15. S'mores without fire

s'mores bars recipe

Image: Cooking Classy

S'mores just scream summer, but depending on where you are, access to an open fire can be tricky. Instead, make one of these no-fire-required s'mores treats at home, and take them with you. You'll get all of the ooey-gooey marshmallow and chocolate you crave, minus the terrifying combo of children + fire.

More outdoor dining

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Juicy Indian chicken kebabs will make you love your grill

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