Somewhere along the path of home educating I morphed from a nurturing teacher into a taxi driver. How on earth could a couple of “poor, unsocialized” home school kids be so busy? And how on earth am I supposed to feed everybody from behind a steering wheel?
Even if you have public school kids or private school kids, you parents out there probably know what I mean. You have to pick up the first kid at soccer and have ten minutes (if you’re lucky) to get across town to pick up the second kid at dance and then twenty minutes to get back across town, get everybody’s clothes changed and bellies filled, and hustle in to the library meeting. The “fun” multiplies exponentially if you have more than two kids and/or are parenting solo because your spouse is out of town/has a different meeting/doesn’t exist.
Moms are magicians, because we perform amazing feats like this all. the. time.
Routines help. Organization helps. Pre-packing bags for school and activities helps. But it’s kind of hard to cook behind the wheel. And when everybody is feeling rushed and frazzled it just seems to make everything that much more difficult.
Enter the “Car Picnic” to thunderous applause.
I started hosting Car Picnics when my kids were still pretty small. It saved time, money, and sanity. The concept is pretty obvious. “Hey, kids, since we’re running all over the place tonight and we can’t eat a normal meal like normal people (whatever that means), we’re going to pack stuff and eat in the ten minutes we have in the car between stops.”
That doesn’t sound fun. That sounds messy and miserable. But it’s all in the spin!
How about, “Hey, kids! Guess what? Since we’re going to soccer and dance and the library tonight, I’m going to reward you with a car picnic for being so cooperative. I’ll pack up a fun supper and you can eat it in the car while we’re driving from dance to the library meeting. If you’re super tidy about it you may have a
bribe treat when we get home.”
Much better. Attitude is everything. We’re all in this together. Go, team! But…the food? Right.
First let’s talk about supplies. It is much better if you grocery shop in anticipation of car picnics (We’ll cover that in another post here). It is preferable to have a day’s notice that a car picnic will be necessary. But car picnics have a way of sneaking up on a mom. The goal is to look like you planned the whole thing all along. Keeping a few basic supplies in the car (minivan, whatever you drive, just rename the picnic) will make it easier to pull off. You probably have at least some of this in your car already.
Car Picnic Supplies to Keep in the Car:
- Napkins and/or Paper Towels –Eating in the car will obviously involve mess and napkins & paper towels will help minimize mess or clean it up. Napkins and/or paper towels can also be used as plates in a pinch. You could use cloth items if you want to be “green” but you’ll have to remember to swap them out for clean when you get home. My reality, despite good intentions, is paper products. You choose what’s best for your family.
- Wipes – Some foods just require damp cleaning implements. My then-two-year-old son once ate an entire bag of Doritos in his car seat and barely made a mess because I gave him a wipe and told him to clean his face and hands as he went. I would never have tried that with my daughter because one wipe would have been insufficient. A change of clothes might have been insufficient. And before you send me hate mail for giving my two-year-old Doritos, they were a rarity (still are) and I wasn’t as skilled at car picnics then as I am now.
- A Trash Can and Spare Liners – I happen to have a small metal bucket that is easily lined with used plastic grocery bags, so that’s what I use. The bucket holds the bag open, increasing the odds (but not guaranteeing) that garbage will end up in the trash bag and not on the floor. Buckets also catch “stuff” when somebody gets car sick. It happens. Keep spare bags in the car for “stuff” and those particularly messy days. Every so often I leave my reusable grocery bags in the car while grocery shopping and get some more plastic grocery bags to use for the trash.
- Emergency Food – Now, I’m not suggesting you feed your family a steady diet of the following foods. I am saying that something is better than nothing and that I’m guessing the nutritional value of what I’m about to list is probably on par with a lot of fast food, only less expensive. So for car picnic emergencies I routinely keep a case of bottled water, beef jerky sticks, peanut butter crackers, applesauce cups with spoons, trail mix, granola bars, and fruit leather in my trunk (or boot, if you prefer). It’s not ideal for food storage, but it beats hangry (hungry + angry) kids and a hangry mom, it is cheaper than the drive-through, and it’s quicker than the drive-through by a long shot. Choose shelf-stable protein, carbs, and fruits that your kids will eat and stock accordingly. Be sure to check your stash occasionally. Food will deteriorate more quickly in the less-than-ideal conditions in the trunk than it would in your climate-controlled pantry.
You can see from my list of car supplies that I can handle impromptu car picnics even if I can’t plan at home. One of the ways to keep the kids on board (pun fully intended) is to make it seem like a treat. We don’t routinely eat Doritos, beef jerky, etc. at our house, so getting those treats made it special for the kids to have a car picnic. It also gave them incentive to keep things as tidy as possible, because if car picnics get messy we can’t do them as often…right? (Wink, wink!)
Now that I’ve given the
desperation emergency list, I’ll pause and save the planning list for another post (Update: It’s here!). I’ll admit that I still do car picnics with the family when necessary. My teenagers no longer see it as much of a treat, but they are old enough to appreciate why it’s sometimes necessary and occasionally even appreciate my efforts to keep them fed in the midst of their crazy schedules. Plus they’re old enough not to make a mess with the Doritos.
What food or supplies would you suggest keeping on hand for “emergency” car picnics?
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