10 Dinner in the Car Ideas the Whole Family Will Love
We’ve all been there: you just finished the school pickup and now little Timmy has piano lessons and Sarah and Jane need to go to their soccer games. You won’t be home until nearly bedtime, and you’re so tired you don’t think you have the energy to do anything but sleep—much less make dinner!
When you can’t have a hot meal from home because you’re on a long drive, what you need is a simple, delicious meal that you can have ready to pack up and hand out when dinner time arrives. This is a great way to avoid stopping at the grocery store and the fast food drive through line. So next time you’re staring down long hours in the car with little kids, pack foods your family can eat on the road. Don’t forget your family’s favorite road trip snacks!
The secret ingredient to a successful dinner in the car is the container. You want a container that is packable, reusable, leak-proof, and easy to clean (and dishwasher safe!). Popular options include bento boxes, meal prep containers, glass jars, and lidded bowls. It’s also worth investing in an insulated tote bag or small cooler and some ice packs to keep your food tasting fresh and store all of your containers and essentials—no room temperature meals here! Don’t forget water bottles or juice boxes to wash it all down!
Here are 10 ideas for quick and easy dinners and road trip food ideas. Most of these can be easily adapted to account for dietary restrictions.
Pasta salad is a great option because it’s easy to make and it includes most of the food groups. Grab your favorite pasta and add some vegetables and dressing. Throw in some grilled chicken strips or black beans for some additional protein. The best part? Pasta salad is eaten cold, so you don’t have to heat it up! There are plenty of easy recipes for pasta salad online.
At its core, a rice bowl is just a pasta salad in a different form. But that means it has all the same benefits! It’s easy to make and eat and you can make whatever kind of rice bowl you want. Take some inspiration from other types of cuisine: you could make a Mexican-inspired burrito bowl with rice, beans, tomatoes, meat, and your favorite burrito sauce. Or combine chicken, tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumbers, and some tzatziki sauce for a fresh Mediterranean bowl. Shake things up by substituting quinoa or farro to get even healthier. Check out this post on how to cook the best jasmine rice!
Is there a food that comes in more variety than the sandwich? Perhaps not. The best thing about sandwiches is that the possibilities are endless—you can make them however you want! Sandwiches are also great for making in large quantities. Pack your favorite deli meats with some lettuce, tomato, pickle, and some condiments, swap out the bacon in a BLT with avocado for a vegetarian option, or, for picky eaters, stick with the classic peanut butter and jelly. If you’re ready to move on from deli sandwiches, try tuna or chicken salad sandwiches!
Like sandwiches, bagels are incredibly versatile. There are many flavor options to choose from, not to mention hundreds of toppings and schmears. You really can’t go wrong with a bagel! Depending on the type of bagel you’ve chosen, you could top it with cream cheese, smashed avocado, smoked salmon, or peanut butter (sprinkle some strawberry slices or blueberries on top for an extra healthy burst of flavor!). Or, just transfer your favorite sandwich filling onto your favorite bagel for a twist!
What’s the best way to deliver most of the food groups into your mouth at once? A burrito! You can put anything you want into a burrito, as long as it wraps up when you’re done! Traditional burritos have a mix of seasoned meat (such as chicken or ground beef), vegetables (like bell peppers), beans, cheese, and rice all folded up into a tortilla with some sauce. But if you’re in a breakfast-for-dinner mood, you can substitute scrambled eggs and sausage or bacon for the meat and rice!
Just because green salads are healthy doesn’t mean they can’t be yummy! This is your chance to combine all your favorite foods into one big bowl. Every bit will be a surprise! Start with some leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, spinach, or mixed greens, and throw in all the cheese, meat, veggies, and berries your heart desires! Seriously—when it comes to salad, everything is on the table. Finish it off by dousing it in your favorite dressing.
In some ways, wraps are just a combination of burritos and sandwiches, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious! Layer your favorite fresh sandwich toppings over a tortilla, then roll it up like a burrito! Try turkey with Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes or go Greek with grilled chicken, feta cheese, hummus, and cucumber slices. For a fun twist, or just to make it easier to eat, slice the rolled wrap into smaller sections—the cross-sections will look like little pinwheels! Use toothpicks to hold the pinwheels together until you’re ready to eat them.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with pizza. Whether you make it yourself, pack the leftovers, or pick it up on the road, it’s sure to be a crowd favorite in your car. You can make a pretty good homemade pizza by spreading tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese on some pita bread, and then putting it in the oven until the cheese is melted and the pita is nice and toasted. Throw on your favorite toppings, such as pepperoni, sausage, tomatoes, peppers, or chicken—anything goes! Better yet, get your kids involved and let them each make their own personal pizza.
Quesadillas are quick and simple, and they don’t have to be too fancy. Just sprinkle your cheese of choice between two tortillas and toast them on the stove until the cheese is melted. If you want you can level it up a bit by adding your favorite meat—chicken is always popular—and some green onions or tomatoes, and cut it up into little triangles. Make it even more gourmet by adding a dipping sauce on the side, such as ranch dressing, your favorite BBQ sauce, or some salsa.
Don’t Forget the Sides!
All of these easy meals are great on their own, but it won’t hurt to have some finger foods on hand just in case your family is still hungry or wants some healthy snacks. Make sure you’ve got some healthy food with some fresh fruit and veggies, like strawberries, apple slices, carrot sticks, and cucumber slices. You can also add something crunchy like crackers, potato chips, or tortilla strips. Make sure you throw in some sweet treats as well, as a reward for enduring the road trip for a long time.
Now you have endless options for dinner in the car! Whether you’re embarking on a long road trip or on an evening errand run, you can rest assured that you—and your kids—won’t go hungry. Your whole family will look forward to more enjoyable car rides with a full stomach.