And while this can be a stressful time, it’s important to do what we can to prevent burnout, remain productive and focus on priorities like our family. With countless restaurants closed and numerous people quarantined at home, many are in need of food advice during this unplanned staycation. Experts say it’s important to not make major changes during unsettling times, and one way we can continue a popular summer tradition and spend time with our families is by hosting a small family cookout. In hopes of making this upcoming season a time of intentional living, outdoor living expert Chef Tony Matassa offers his tips and tools to host the best cookout with your family.

Prep in Advance

You want to be able to socialize and enjoy your time with your family, so prepare as much food as you can ahead of time. This helps reduce stress. Slice, dice, bag, and refrigerate vegetables or sauces a day or two ahead of time. Make sure to marinate any meat at least a few hours before it goes on the grill so flavors have a chance to infuse.

Keep It Kid-Friendly

When planning the menu, make sure there are kid-friendly items like hot dogs, chicken strips, and sliders. This allows you to grill popular foods like chicken breasts and burgers for the adult crowd while still accounting for children’s tastes. If you want to turn cooking into a game, have kids pile toppings on their own mini grilled pizzas.

Ensure Comfort

In addition to providing good eats, you want to make sure guests are comfortable throughout the party. Put out baskets with sunscreen, bug repellant, and hand wipes. Have towels on hand if it’s a pool party, and blankets to stave off any evening chill.

Don’t Run out of Basics

Thinking about having enough ice, paper towels, and toilet paper isn’t sexy, but it’s an important part of throwing a great party. And whatever you do, make sure you have enough propane or charcoal on hand before the party starts. Trust us, you don’t want to run out of grilling fuel and leave hungry guests waiting.

Create Stations

To generate flow and conversation at your cookout, set up areas for different activities. Naturally, you’ll have the BBQ station, serving area, and dining spaces. But consider establishing a spot for kids, games, and lounging. Make sure there’s enough seating and provide trash cans to encourage guests to pick up after themselves.

Rock On

It’s not a party without music! Curate your perfect soundtrack from services like Spotify or from your personal playlists. The right music can help set the tone for the event.

Light it Up

Just like music sets the mood, so does lighting. If your party will run into the evening, you need to consider what type of lighting best fits the atmosphere you want. Strings of twinkling lights can create a magical atmosphere, while a fire pit can provide light and double as a great place to roast s’mores for dessert. Citronella candles do double duty as well, offering light and warding off pesky bugs all at once.