In my first Car Picnic post (here) I shared a list of things you might want to keep in your car in case you need an emergency meal-on-the-go. While that system works it is still easier and healthier if you can plan for the car picnic before you know you need the car picnic.
You won’t always have time to run to the grocery store to get food, but there are things you can work in to your regular grocery shopping to make car picnics come together quickly, easily, and with minimal fuss. You’ll notice as you read the list that I’m big on individual portions rather than having everybody dig into a community container. Using individually portioned items is quicker when you’re on-the-go, it allows individuals to serve themselves (get one sandwich and one bag of fruit, for example), it allows the parent to manage portion size and limit cookie consumption, and it allows individuals to easily be fed at different times. If you’re crunched for time and not everybody is in the car to eat at the same moment, individual portions are a real sanity-saver.
So here is a list of items you might want to have around the pantry. You may already have a lot of them just like you may already have had a lot of the keep-in-the-car-list from the first post, but having them prepared and portioned for a car picnic will make a huge difference.
Car Picnic Supplies to Keep at the House:
- Sandwich/Wrap Supplies –We usually have bread around as a matter of routine but not always fillings other than peanut butter & jelly. (Not that I’m anti-PB&J. I actually like it a lot, particularly with homemade preserves.) Keep small packages of sliced meat in the freezer for quick thawing and sandwich assembly. Keep canned (tinned, bottled) chicken on hand to make a quick chicken salad (Update: The recipe is here!). Even a cheese sandwich is yummy, or how about cream cheese and cucumber (more popular with me than my kids) on a warm day? Please remember food safety and use a cooler when it’s needed.
- Dried Fruit – My kids loved dehydrated banana chips and homemade fruit leather when they were younger. I’d make them myself, package them in individual portions, and keep the baggies in a larger container in the freezer. If you love Aldi like I love Aldi then you probably already know where to purchase bags of dried fruit or boxes of fruit leather for a reasonable price.
- Other Fruit – I like to minimize the need for coolers when I can. I also like to minimize the cutting and peeling I have to do in advance. As a result, I taught my kids to eat whole apples and bananas by themselves as soon as they were able. Single-serve applesauce or fruit cups are easy and yummy but can be messy. Don’t forget the spoons if you need them! Other fruits or fruit salad can be cut up, portioned into small containers, and kept in the cooler.
- Cut Up Veggies (and Dip, if you want) – My kids and I are much more apt to eat our veggies if they’re all cut up and ready to go, so I try to get everything cleaned, peeled, cut, and packaged in the fridge ASAP after grocery shopping. Several years ago I found cute reusable two-section containers with tight-fitting lids. The sections are divided on an angle in the square container, perfect for a big helping of cut-up veggies and a corner section of dip or dressing. If you’re not dipping then a baggie of veggies is easy to grab and go. And once again, coolers are your friend for food safety.
- Cheese Cubes/Sticks and/or Yogurt – Cutting blocks of cheese into the desired size will be less expensive than buying it pre-packaged. You could even use cookie cutters to make cute shapes if you want. Cups of yogurt (don’t forget spoons!) are quick and portable but may be messy to eat. Or make your own yogurt and portion it in smaller containers. You’ll need a cooler if you want to carry these items for your car picnic.
- Carbs – Crackers, pretzels, granola bars, chips, cookies, whatever you like. Carbs are easy to find and easy to portion and pack. That means we also tend to go overboard on them if I’m not careful. Homemade granola bars are better quality and cheaper than store-bought, in my opinion. Just portion things out into reasonable servings rather than turn everybody loose on a family-sized bag of chips in the back.
- Beverages – It’s easy and obvious to purchase a case of bottled water, juice, or sports drinks, and I’ve certainly done that. I think it’s better and cheaper to half-fill plastic water bottles with water at home and stash them (no lids!) in the freezer. When you’re ready to go, grab a bottle and fill it with water before adding the lid. Built in ice pack! I also keep homemade sports drink (now called Mater-ade by my teenagers) in recycled bottles to grab and go. You could portion a jug of juice into individual bottles, cutting it 50-50 with water if you want.
It seems that a certain amount of busy-ness is part of family life once the children get involved in activities, but that doesn’t have to mean a steady diet of grilled grease and fried starch, expensive carry-out (take-away) meals, or hangry (hungry + angry) family members. Having some emergency supplies in the car, pre-portioning some groceries at home, and choosing to approach on-the-go meals as an adventurous car picnic rather than a rushed hassle can make the busy-ness less stressful and more fun. You can save time, save money, and save your sanity with a little car picnic planning.
What other groceries would you suggest keeping prepped and on hand for car picnics?
I moderate comments manually but will get them posted as quickly as possible. Please keep your comments kind and if you must disagree please do so without being disagreeable. Rude or inappropriate comments will obviously not be published.