“Car Picnics”- How To Eat On The Go: The GOOD


Don’t you wish you could be like a Swiss Army Knife: compact, organized, and prepared for anything? I would like to be one of those little red-hot numbers too. These next few posts will help us all be the Swiss Army Wives we want to be in the area of How To Eat On The Go or “Car Picnics” a phrase coined by reader Car Picnic Momma who asked for ideas for feeding her children on the go during this busy sports season. If you are not a wife, no worries, these posts are aimed at helping any person who requires assistance with eating on the go. This information will also be useful to those of you who enjoy leisurely picnics too.

Let’s start with The GOOD. In order to eat well on the go one must have a GOOD foundation. You must be prepared, organized, and quite compact to accomplish eating on the go with success. Below is a list of things you will need to prepare yourself for all your future Car Picnics. But first memorize this mantra:

Any food, hot or cold, can be eaten on the go with the right utensils and vessels.

One of the most important vessels is the outer vessel you will be using to store and cart your picnic with you. In the picture above you can see that I have all shapes and sizes of carriers or coolers.


Things to look for when purchasing a cooler:

1. Soft sides- These will fold up and store much more efficiently that the hard plastic types. The soft sided coolers are lighter and more flexible as well. They can be stored inside of each other to save space in your pantry or closet.

2. Varying sizes to meet all your picnic needs. I prefer small to medium sized coolers.

3. Shoulder strap or wheels- for easier carrying or pulling.

4. Dark colors- does not show the dirt as readily as the lighter colored coolers.

5. Large pockets in front or on the sides to hold disposable or reusable forks, spoons, knives, paper plates, and serving utensils. Paring knife, bottle or wine opener, salt and pepper, dish towel, and pot holders if you have something right from the oven in your cooler.

6. Top-easy access. I had one without the easy access top and we wore the zipper out before the cooler’s time was up.

A word about these large plastic coolers: NO. These large coolers are not for eating on the go. They are for travel. The reasons they are not convenient for eating on the go or “Car Picnics” is that once filled with ice and food they are extremely heavy, difficult to manipulate, and do not fold up for efficient storage. Even if you are a large family, of say 9!, still resist the temptation to purchase one of these large coolers for eating on the go. We like ours for long road trips where it stays put in the van for our meals on the road but not for “Car Picnics.” If you are a family bigger than ours, then may I suggest you purchase 2 or 3 of these coolers…

The Soft Cube On Wheels

This is my favorite cooler. If you purchase more than one then you will find that even the children can help you wheel them around as they are lightweight. Also you may use one for hot food and one for cold. I like that these fold up neatly, have a front pocket and top-easy access, and can hold another smaller bag on top. I purchased mine from Sam’s Club for $29.00. So you see bigger is not always better. Compact is our goal here.


Here is where you need to find the best thing that works for your family. You may prefer bottled water or sports beverages, stainless steel bottles, or food-safe plastic bottles to store your fluids. These 1/2 and 1 gallon Rubbermaid coolers work well for us and here is why:

1. Lightweight

2. Washes easily

3. I am saving money by bringing my own beverages

4. I am saving the planet from extra plastic bottles

5. Fluids stay cold for a long time

6. I can use paper cups or reusable cups and serve my whole family or I can pour some into a sport bottle for my slugger in the dugout.

7. Most ball park snack bars would be happy to refill your beverage cooler with water and ice for free.

8. Inexpensive- I found mine at Target for under ten bucks

9. Very durable

10. Single carrying handle

Note: I prefer the type of beverage cooler without the spicket at the bottom, they always seem to get leaky.


Like the mantra says, any food can be eaten at your “Car Picnic”, you just need the right food vessels. For under 20 bucks at Sam’s Club I purchased this set of varying sized containers. I know, I know they are plastic. I would much rather serve food in these than glass when on the go. So go to your kitchen right now and clean out your plastic cupboard or drawer, throw away any bowl that is missing a lid, and get it all organized and neat. If you need to, you have my permission to purchase a nice new set of plastic-ware. Be sure to label everything with your name on it.

Food Vessels to Consider:

1. Stainless Steel Thermos for hot items such as soups, pastas, or even hot cocoa and coffee.

2. Plastic wrap

3. Aluminum Foil

4. Waxed paper or Waxed Bags

5. Zipper Topped Bags- all sizes even the “bead” bags for salt and pepper

6. Any Bento container- bento boxes, Mr. or Miss Bento

7. Plastic lidded containers of all sizes


1. An activity bag for children who may not be participating in the sporting event of their other siblings. Fill with pencils, erasers, crayons, markers, tape, paper, coloring books, books, puzzle books, binoculars, card games, and small toys. Also bring everything they need to complete their homework.

2. A Sharpie Pen- to label all of your child’s equipment, coolers, uniforms, etc.

3. Napkins, paper towels, wipes, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper. Also some old towels to help protect your car from mud, to dry off wet children, or to sit on.

4. Umbrellas, rain ponchos, extra jackets or sweat shirts, maybe even a change of clothes for your little athlete.

5. Folding chairs and/or picnic blanket to eat on or keep warm with.

6. Sun screen, bug spray, Tylenol, well stocked and updated first aid kit, epi pen and bee sting kit if needed, eye drops, sunglasses, hats, ice pack kept frozen in your cooler and emergency phone numbers.

7. Extra zip topped bags and a trash bag

8. Don’t forge the diaper bag it you are still in that mode!

9. Thermos of good, strong hot coffee and the cream and sugar too. We even pack our own mugs! Old ones of course.

10. Also be sure your cell phone is charged and that you have it, your car is gassed up, and you have the car seats and booster seats in your car. There have been many times when we had jumbled the cars around only to find that the wrong person had the car seats.

Bonus Idea- One gallon of water kept in the trunk at all times used to wash off muddy feet, hands, or equipment. This is how Ma bathed us after a day at the beach and the water was always plenty warm from being in the trunk on those hot summer days.

Being prepared for every situation will save you time and money.



The nice thing about the soft cube type cooler is that it can keep a hot 9×13 inch casserole wrapped in a towel hot for a long time. Wrap it in a towel to prevent the lining of your cooler from melting. I find that hot items wrapped in foil then a towel keeps my hot foods pleasantly hot. I do carry pot holders with me to prevent burns. If you place a large piece of stiff cardboard between two casseroles to prevent crushing the bottom one, you may keep a whole meal hot if need be. Preheat any Thermos bottles with hot water before using, this will keep your food or beverages hotter longer.


Use another soft cube cooler for your cold items and food safe water bottles if you choose not to use a beverage cooler. In my cold coolers I make my own ice bags by filling a gallon sized zip top bag with water, seal, place in a second zip top bag to prevent leaking, and freeze flat. Do not overfill as you want these to be flat. Use these flat ice bags to line your entire cube cooler and layer between cold food for extra cold protection. If the bags are not damaged then they can be reused over and over.


1. Remove all rubbish and trash from your cooler after your “Car Picnic.”

2. Wipe down with a warm, damp, soapy water cloth. Dry. Leave open over night to dry completely. These things can be like incubators so keep clean and dry- always.

3. If there is a rip in the inner lining then seal with gray tape immediately. If moisture gets in the insulation it will rot your cooler and smell.

4. Use a dry towel to brush dirt and dust from the exterior.

5. Grease wheels if needed with some WD40.

6. Restock with supplies such as disposable or reusable forks, spoons, knives, paper plates, and serving utensils. Paring knife, bottle or wine opener, salt and pepper, dish towel, and pot holders.


1. Clean up old coolers or purchase new ones if needed.

2. Clean out and organize your plastic container cupboard or drawer.

3. Gather and place any items you think necessary from the above lists in reusable shopping bags (like my Trader Joe’s bag above) to place in you car trunk or van. You may need 2 of everything as sometimes moms and dads have to split up and take kids to different activities.

4. Make a list of main entrées, snacks, sides, and desserts that travel well and your family likes. Remember: Any food, hot or cold, can be eaten on the go with the right utensils and vessels. *In the past I have packed a giant baked Ziti (made in crock pot and spooned into a large plastic container with lid), paper plates, forks, rolls, and salad for my family to eat right before a Little League game. We were the envy of the ball park.

Tomorrow in BRK: “Car Picnics”- How To Eat On The Go continues with The BAD. Food and recipe ideas for eating on the go. You are going to be one BAD mamma-jamma after this post.

Related Posts:
“Car Picnics”- How To Eat On The Go: The Plea
“Car Picnics”- How To Eat On The Go: The BAD- The Chicken and The Egg
“Car Picnics”- How To Eat On The Go: The BAD- Noodles and Dough
“Car Picnics”- The UGLY: Ballpark Food- Nachos
“Car Picnics” The UH OH’s: Pop Pop Pop Popcorn
Loaves of Sandwiches
Tips For Packing Better Lunches
Snack Cake Mix
Lunch Lady

Being organized on the go will bless your family and those around you who have not visited the Big Red Kitchen!


  1. GFE--gluten free easily
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 7:13 AM | Permalink

    Wow, what a terrific post! I am sure this will be helpful to many in this situation. 🙂

    A few beach towels can work great in the car. They are less bulky and cumbersome than a blanket. Yet, they can serve as blankets for warmth or sitting (and kids can even have their own, which they often prefer). They also come in handy for any spills. We also use ours to de-sand our feet after walking on the beach.


  2. Patsyk
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 8:23 AM | Permalink

    Great ideas! We’ll be starting baseball practices soon, so I love this post!

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 8:43 AM | Permalink

    Robin, What fun and such a great idea. I remember as a child, GrandMa and PaPa and all us kids, (Uncle Jimmy was married) We went to Revere Beach and GrandMa cooked a huge pot of spaghetti and meatballs. She left it in the pot and wrapped it in towels. It was so good. Ma

  4. Sweet P
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    What a great post. I don’t have to deal with car picnics anymore as my children grown. But this summer DH and I are taking a 2-week road trip and these tips will come in handy for packing the car with food. Thanks!

  5. Donna and Greg
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:19 AM | Permalink

    Great Post Robin! We eat car picnics alot when we travel. Many at parks or rest areas. It is so much cheaper and healthier to pack your own! Thanks for all the details.


  6. Sheila
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 10:59 AM | Permalink

    I have never thought of buying a new cooler, but I definitely need one of those soft cubes. Not only for cold and hot foods, but just to keep in the car for grocery trips. That may take longer than expected or if the groceries need to stay in the car until I have my toddler settled in the house.

    It’s funny how after 7 kids, I still need a reminder to pack a diaper bag! I got caught a couple of weeks ago with a stinky diaper; ugh:(

  7. Joie de vivre
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Permalink

    I love your ideas! I’m shopping for a “big cooler” this year for longer summer camping trips. Off topic, but I like the look of your big cooler. You can feel the cool seeping out from the sides of ours, so it’s time for one with better insulation. Great post Robin Sue!

  8. noble pig
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:41 PM | Permalink

    You have such great ideas. I always overpack and need to oranize my stuff. I use those same drink coolers though, they are great.

  9. Sabrina
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:00 PM | Permalink

    Love the posts! Please keep them coming. Thanks for all the great tips.

  10. grahamstravelblog
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:21 PM | Permalink

    This is going to be a great series. One thing that I thought I would mention, though it’s slightly off topic is the idea of cooking on site.

    Beyond tailgate BBQ there is the technique of foil wrapped food on a hot engine block. More practical would be a 12 V portable oven. http://www.amazon.com/RoadPro-Portable-Travel-cigarette-lighter/dp/B00030DLEE I’ve seen these at truck stops before. Supposedly you can bake in ’em.

  11. Maria
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:30 PM | Permalink

    Great info! Thanks for sharing! I can’t wait to go on a picnic!

  12. Sara
    Posted March 18, 2009 at 3:48 PM | Permalink

    Great tips! I don’t do much car eating right now, but I’m sure I will in the future.

  13. Elyse
    Posted March 19, 2009 at 1:09 AM | Permalink

    What fabulous and relevant tips!

  14. vincent
    Posted March 22, 2009 at 8:58 AM | Permalink


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  15. BarbaraD
    Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:17 PM | Permalink

    Some of your pictures don’t show…….I bought a Coleman soft cooler on wheels this year which I use for more than picnics or meals while traveling cross country. I pack ice jars (a quart of ice lasts longer than anything else) and take it to the farmer’s market. Easy to wheel, no hurry to get home, plus we have our own cold drinks and even lunch if we want! The rest of the time it can be used for our hour’s drive to the beach for the day, but when it isn’t traveling, it holds a 72 hour++ supply of emergency food rations & a backpacker’s stove for use post-hurricane if we have to evacuate. Five days without power, water, or toilets at a time will make one a believer in emergency prep. I LOVE my new cooler!

    • Robin Sue
      Posted November 20, 2013 at 9:27 PM | Permalink

      I’ll have to look into the photos not showing…
      Yes I love my soft sided cooler on wheels too, it goes everywhere with us when we travel far distances. So handy to have.

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