Summer means outdoor picnics, potlucks with friends, and camping. And we need to tote our food safely and efficiently, and that means coolers are involved. We are not going to tell you the best cooler (you can look that up if shopping for a new one, or maybe you have a trusted container), but we are going to show you how to pack your cooler. There are ways to pack your cooler for cooling and food preservation efficiency. None of this is hard, but there are definitely some tricks.
Ice, Ice, Baby
When it comes to keeping food cold, you have choices: we will explore ice itself, and ice packs of various kinds.
Let’s look at ice first. Use big bags of cubed ice to pre-chill your cooler. Pre-chilling will set you up for success. If you have a smaller cooler, chill it in the refrigerator overnight. Otherwise, fill with bags of ice.
For larger coolers, do this somewhere out of direct sun and where you can drain the cooler easily before packing it the next day. Make sure to drain and wipe dry.
Have blocks of ice ready for your packing (if using ice). Blocks will last longer than cubes. You can buy large airtight plastic containers at the dollar store and use those. Fill with water and freeze overnight before using.
You can also freeze large plastic bottles (like 64-ounce size) with water to make blocks of ice. As it melts, you can use for drinking.
Let’s look at ice packs next.
Ice Packs: Make a Wise Choice
“Ice pack” is the catch-all term for any kind of portable container that is filled with liquid or refrigerant gel. These can be very flat and small enough to fit into a child’s lunchbox, soft (which are best for medical uses, as are “instant ice packs”), to much larger, hard-shelled examples.
Our focus is on those liquid and gel filled packs used for food. Here are some factors to consider:
- The larger the ice pack, the more cold retention
- Make sure the pack(s) can fit in your freezer for pre-freezing, and that they can fit in your cooler.
- Ice packs don’t leak (well-made ones, anyway)
- Ice packs can be re-used
- Ice packs often freeze to a colder temperature than ice
- Ice packs often retain cold better than ice
- Ice packs vary; some chill better than others, and some are filled with toxic materials. Know what you are buying.
How Much Ice or Ice Packs Do You Need?
OK, this was an eye opener. Basically, none of us have been using enough chilling factor. The pros say use TWICE as much ice or ice packs than food by weight. Yup, you read that right. Plan accordingly.
Timing Is Everything
Here is a timeline to consider:
- Buy enough chill packs and/or have ice frozen in blocks tailored to the size of your cooler.
- Make sure you will have enough per weight of food to be packed.
- Freeze ice packs or ice long enough to freeze as solid as possible.
- Pre-chill your cooler.
- Know the capabilities of your cooler. Some keep food colder than others.
- If you are chilling for the day in the shaded woods, your needs are different from a day at the beach in the blazing sun with no shade.
- Similarly, if you need to chill for the day, that is very different from needing to chill overnight, or even for several days when camping. Buy appropriate coolers and ice packs, etc.
One Cooler Or Two?
You might consider having two coolers on hand: one for beverages and one for food. Chances are folks will be reaching for drinks more often, and every time you open a cooler, you raise the temperature. By having drinks separate, your perishable foods will be better protected from rising temperatures.
How To Pack Your Cooler
Freeze what you can. Not everything is freezable (don’t freeze those hardboiled eggs), but if there is anything that can be frozen, freeze it for maximum chill.
Begin by placing your large blocks of ice/ice packs on the bottom of your cooler.
Have all foods in water-tight containers. You can use vacuum-sealed, plastic or metal containers, or zip top bags. Even if something comes in a packages, you might want to re-package it. For instance, juices from meat could leak from the supermarket wrapping, or the cardboard surrounding beer cans would get water-logged, disintegrate, and make a mess.
Air pockets are the enemy. Place food on top of the ice blocks, then pour in ice cubes to fill in the nook and crannies. One technique the pros use is to alternate layers of food and ice (or ice packs).
Some experts use wire shelf risers to separate layers and keep things organized.
Pack the cooler to the brim. Flexible ice packs can be laid on top as a final layer.
Using Your Cooler
When it comes time to use your cooler, use it wisely. Don’t just flip that top open without a game plan. Know what you want, and where it is in the cooler. Keep the top open for as little time as possible. If you have used the flexible ice packs on top, you can peel back just a corner to access what you need, keeping everything else as cool as possible.
Some people suggest making a cooler “map”, so you know where everything is. Sounds like a good idea, but we are never that organized.
To Drain or Not To Drain
If you have used ice, it is going to melt. Should you drain off the ice water? This depends on many factors. If you are going to replace your melted ice with fresh ice, then drain it, but this is not always possible.
If you cannot refresh with new ice, leave the melted ice water in there. It will help the cooler stay colder than the air would, which would replace that ice water.
Storing Your Cooler
While your cooler is in use, keep it out of direct sun if you can. Blankets put on top of the outside of the cooler to insulate can help. Basically, keep it as cool as you can.
Transporting Your Cooler
Similarly, don’t place your cooler in your car where the sun is going to be beating down on it. They also don’t do well in sealed trunks. Best to have the cooler in the car with you.
Safety: Use a Thermometer
Refrigerator thermometers are quite inexpensive; you can find them for a few dollars. Refrigerated food is safe to eat if kept below 40°F; a thermometer will let you know exactly what is going on. Put it inside the cooler itself. Some folks attach it to the inside of the lid, but if you open and close the lid a lot, this will skew the readings.
30 Perfect Picnic Salads
Let’s have a picnic! Whether it is at a local park, a destination far away, or your back yard, spread out the blanket and enjoy one (or two or three) of our delicious, seasonal salads! Pasta salads, potato salads, slaws, chicken salads, all vegetable salads, and more. Something for everyone. Read 30 Perfect Picnic Salads
The Ultimate Collection Of Summer Get Together Low FODMAP Recipes
How do you celebrate summer get-togethers? Outdoors around the grill? Indoors with a potluck? Looking for juicy burgers, salads, BBQ sauces, and vegan and vegetarian fare? We’ve got it all, including homemade dips and salsas, refreshing drinks, and one-bowl baked desserts. Celebrate summer holidays – or just any old day – with over 90 tasty treats.
15 Grill Recipes That Are Way Better Than Your Regular BBQ Fare
Don’t settle for the same old hot dogs and burgers on the grill. You can fire up your imagination and your taste buds with these 15 creative recipes that go beyond the basics. From pizza with a crispy crust to a hearty bread salad, from succulent beef to tender fish and chicken, from smoky sides to zesty salsas, you’ll find something to satisfy every craving and impress every guest. Get ready to unleash the full potential of your grill and enjoy the delicious results.
Easy Peasy Dinner and Dessert: 20 One-Pan, One Bowl Recipes for Busy Nights
We all need One-Pan, One-Bowl recipes in our repertoire, and we’ve got ‘em! From main dishes to soups, pasta, curries and desserts, these kitchen-tested recipes will get you in and out of the kitchen fast. With minimal clean-up, too! Click here for all of our One-Pan, One Bowl recipes!
36 Dishes You Didn’t Know You Could Make With Rice Noodles
Rice noodles are naturally gluten-free, but that isn’t the only reason to cook with them. They are delicious unto themselves, come in a variety of shapes, and are the noodle of choice in so many Asian-inspired recipes. But it doesn’t stop there! There are rice-based lasagna noodles, shells, manicotti, elbows…From soups to main dishes, casseroles, salads and summer rolls, we have 36 recipes for you to get you slurping with joy. Click for 36 Dishes You Didn’t Know You Could Make With Rice Noodles
30 Quick & Easy Recipes For A Happy Gut: Low FODMAP and Flavor Packed
At FODMAP Everyday® we define “Quick” as a dish that can be on the table, ready to eat, in 30 minutes or less. “Easy” recipes have 15 minutes or less of prep time. All of these recipes are low FODMAP and free of gluten so they can be served to tender tummies too! Click for 30 Quick & Easy Recipes For A Happy Gut: Low FODMAP and Flavor Packed
Grab A Rotisserie Chicken On Your Way Home And Make Any Of These 18 Delicious Meals In Minutes
Grabbing a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket is not “cheating” by any stretch of the imagination. Having cooked chicken ready to use is a great jump-start to all sorts of creative recipes – from salads to main dishes, lunches and dinners – and is a brilliant move, in our book. Click for Grab A Rotisserie Chicken On Your Way Home And Make Any Of These 18 Delicious Meals In Minutes
Easy and Tasty: 34 Sides to Serve with Rotisserie Chicken for a Stress-Free Meal
We buy a rotisserie chicken every week – and enjoy the bounty for days. But we like to mix it up; potatoes, veggies (hot and cold), pasta – there are many ways to enjoy that chicken and to turn it into a meal. Here are our 34 community favorites. Click here for Easy and Tasty: 34 Sides to Serve with Rotisserie Chicken for a Stress-Free Meal
9 Insanely Delicious Easy Homemade Chicken Wing Recipes
Entire restaurants build their menu around chicken wings, but we’re going to show you how to make the best chicken wings at home – and they’re easier than you think. Most of these recipes are baked, not fried, so you will not only save on calories, but also have less mess and spend less time in the kitchen. Click here for 9 Insanely Delicious Easy Homemade Chicken Wing Recipes
18 Iced Tea & Refreshing Drink Recipes That Will Make You Scream Summer Is Here!
Quench your thirst and beat the heat with a refreshing lineup of tantalizing beverages. Whether you’re craving a tall, chilled drink on a scorching day, in need of hydration after a workout, or seeking a delightful mocktail sans alcohol, we’ve got you covered. Get ready to dive into a world of iced teas, invigorating punches, flavored lemonades, zesty limeades, luscious smoothies, sparkling spritzers, and even a homemade electrolyte beverage. Click for 18 Iced Tea & Refreshing Drink Recipes That Will Make You Scream Summer Is Here!
23 Dinner Solutions: Quick and Delicious Soup and Stew Recipes
There is nothing like homemade soup or a hearty stew, especially when it is cold outside! (For you hot weather folks, we do have a few cold soups). We’ve got 23 recipes for you, from Instant Pot quickies to long simmered renditions. Comfort food in a bowl. Get 23 Dinner Solutions: Quick and Delicious Soup and Stew Recipes here.
Potatoes! White, red, yellow, starchy russet, sweet potatoes – even blue and purple potatoes – can be a main meal in the form of double stuffed baked potatoes, a weekday side-dish, a potluck salad, or they can add richness to soups. And don’t forget breakfast casseroles and home fries! We have 23 recipes for you to try and potatoes are often economical, too, so dive in! Click here for 23 Easy Potato Recipes: Which One Will You Try First?
Holy Cow! These 10 Ground Beef Recipes Will Knock Your Socks Off!
Ground beef makes a great burger and meatloaf, but it is so much more versatile than that, and we have 11 recipes for you to add to your weekly rotation. Chili, Chili Mac and even a Quick Korean Beef dish, that package of ground beef has never been more inspiring. Click here for Holy Cow! These 10 Ground Beef Recipes Will Knock Your Socks Off!
10 Gut Friendly Chicken Recipes You Can Have On Your Table Tonight!
Chicken is one of our favorite protein building blocks for an easy, delicious meal. Sometimes you can get in a rut though and end up making the same chicken recipes over and over.
We’ve got one pan meals, warm weather salads and grill options, dinner party worthy dishes, lighter fare and hearty dinners. Click here for 10 Gut Friendly Chicken Recipes You Can Have On Your Table Tonight!
6 Rich And Fudgy Brownies That Will Make You Want To Lick The Bowl
In our opinion, you can never have enough brownie recipes. We have gathered our top 6; the brownie recipes you don’t have – yet. And you do need them; trust us. Nutella. Peppermint. Toasted almond & Coconut. S’Mores. PB & J – and even a super quick One-Bowl Brownie. Get ready to be inspired. Click for 6 Rich And Fudgy Brownies That Will Make You Want To Lick The Bowl
85 Desserts For The Chocolate Lover In Your Life
Welcome to the largest collection of desserts for the chocolate lover in your life. Each of these are also gut-friendly so that you don’t have to worry about bloating, or a noisy belly when getting romantic! All of these desserts are gluten-free and low FODMAP! Click for 85 Desserts For The Chocolate Lover In Your Life
The Crazy Best and Easy Cookie Recipes Ever!
Cookies – small, large, soft, chewy, crispy, chocolaty, peanut buttery, elegant, homespun, one-bowl, drop, rolled and shaped – we’ll take them all. You can never have enough cookie recipes and ours are all created in our very own Test Kitchen; these recipes work! Several can be prepped in the time it takes to preheat the oven. Click for The Crazy Best and Easy Cookie Recipes Ever!
Looking For Dairy Free Ice Cream & Frozen Desserts?
This article will discuss the low FODMAP ice cream and frozen desserts that you can find in supermarkets and restaurants, as well as our own exclusive recipes, and will include information on dairy based as well as alt milk frozen desserts and recipes. Click here for Dairy Free Frozen Desserts Recipes.
20 Strawberry Recipes That Will Make You Berry Happy!
These days, depending on where you live, you might be able to get decent strawberries all year long. Spring, however, brings fresh, new batches and we are always looking for new ways to incorporate these delicious berries into our diet. From drinks to cakes, crisps, cobblers, bars and even a salad, frozen desserts and a salsa, we have 20 strawberry recipes for you. Click for 20 Strawberry Recipes That Will Make You Berry Happy!
Top 100 Low FODMAP Recipes
These are our community’s favorite Top 100 Low FODMAP Recipes. Are you struggling with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Are you following the low FODMAP diet and having a hard time finding delicious recipes that even the whole family can enjoy? You are in the right place! At FODMAP Everyday® we specialize in teaching you how to THRIVE on the low FODMAP diet! Get ready to eat well, without the IBS triggers! Click for our Top 100 Low FODMAP Recipes!
Looking For More Delicious Ideas?
If you have been diagnosed with IBS and are following a Low FODMAP diet, we have 1000+ Gluten Free & Low FODMAP Recipes to help you live deliciously and symptom free!
And Don’t Miss These Articles If You Have IBS
Our team of low FODMAP and IBS trained dietitians and healthcare experts have written 100’s of Wellness Articles to help you THRIVE.
And Be Sure To Visit Our Shop!
We have curated hundreds products to help you live your best life all in Our Shop!