Dinner in the Car Ideas: Tips to Eat Healthy on the Go

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Do you need some athlete dinner in the car ideas that are creative and practical? It’s challenging to juggle after-school activities, sports practices and late evenings.

That’s why we’re sharing some tips for meal prep and some easy dinner in the car ideas to keep you well-fed, nourished and energized even during the busiest days so that you can refuel, recover and be ready for your next activity. (1)

You don’t have to rely on fast food or junk food when you are eating in the car and on the go. Instead, our recommendations will help you to make and pack healthy and tasty meals that you can enjoy on the go

Here are some tips and ideas for athlete dinners in the car that will help you plan and eat better on busy nights.

dinner in the car ideas

Tips for planning dinner in the car

1. Choose foods that are easy to eat

When you are eating in the car, you want to avoid foods that are messy, drippy or require a lot of cutting or peeling. 

Instead, opt for foods that are easy to hold with one hand, such as wraps, sandwiches, burritos or muffins. 

Or use a bowl with a lid and a fork to eat foods that are more saucy or salad-like, such as pasta salad, rice bowls or green salads.

Also, keep extra napkins and utensils in the car just in case they’re needed. And consider some hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to wash your hands after practice.

2. Pack foods that don’t need to be heated or refrigerated

One of the challenges of eating in the car is keeping your food at a safe and appetizing temperature. 

So to avoid this hassle, you can choose foods that can be eaten cold or at room temperature, such as hummus, cheese, nuts, dried fruits, crackers, granola bars or fresh fruits and vegetables. 

You can also use an insulated cooler bag with ice packs to keep your food chilled until you are ready to eat.

Then combine a protein, carbohydrate and fruit or vegetable to make a quick and easy car meal.

Shelf-stable foods

When you need meals that can last for a few hours, these shelf-stable options have got you covered. Explore a variety of carbohydrates and protein sources that are perfect for on-the-go dining.

Carbohydrates (Shelf-stable or can stay at room temp for awhile):

  • Whole grain crackers, pretzels, tortilla chips
  • Granola, dry cereal
  • Whole grain bread, tortilla, pita, bagel
  • Fresh fruits with peels such as banana, orange, apple, pear
  • Dried fruit such as mangoes, apricots, raisins, tart cherries
  • Muffins, quick bread
  • Granola bars
  • Graham crackers
  • Applesauce pouches

Protein (Shelf-stable):

  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Nut butter packets (peanut, almond)
  • Beef jerky, turkey jerky or plant-based jerky
  • Protein bars 
  • Roasted chickpeas fava beans
  • Mixed nuts
  • Hummus (shelf stable)
  • Chocolate milk or regular milk, (shelf stable) like Fairlife
  • Trail mix
  • Olive packs (healthy fats)

Cooler bag foods 

For meals that stay fresh and cool, these cooler bag options provide a delightful combination of carbohydrates and protein. Ideal for longer trips or when you prefer a chilled meal.

Carbohydrates (Cooler bag):

  • Pre-cooked quinoa or brown rice (in a microwaveable pouch)
  • Couscous, tabouleh salad
  • Whole grain pasta salad (pre-made)

Protein (Cooler bag):

  • Pre-cooked chicken cubes, turkey breast slices, tofu cubes
  • Baked falafel
  • Greek yogurt cups
  • Cheese sticks or slices
  • Hummus
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Cottage cheese cups
  • Guacamole (healthy fats)

3. Make ahead and freeze for later

Another way to save time and stress on busy nights is to make your meals ahead of time and freeze them for later. 

You can do this with foods that freeze well, such as soups, stews, casseroles, meatballs, or lasagna. Just thaw them in the fridge overnight or in the microwave before you leave the house. 

Then pack them in a thermos or a microwave-safe container to keep them warm until you eat. 

Additionally, you can make some time on the weekends to grocery shop and prep foods for the week. This way you can cook protein, veggies and grains and carbs that can be used to make bento boxes or other car meals.

4. Use leftovers creatively

Leftovers are a great way to use up what you have in the fridge and avoid food waste. You can also transform them into new and exciting meals by adding some extra ingredients or mixing and matching to create a bento box. 

Dinner boxes (Bento-style)

For a well-organized and balanced meal, consider creating dinner bento boxes. They bring together main proteins and sides, making a complete dining experience even in the car in an easy to pack container.

Protein:

  • Grilled chicken strips
  • Turkey or ham slices
  • Smoked salmon
  • Baked falafel

Carbohydrates & veggies:

  • Couscous, quinoa or pasta salad
  • Baby carrots or cucumber slices
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced bell peppers
  • String cheese
  • Whole grain crackers, pita chips
  • Pita bread 
  • Hummus 
  • Bean dip
  • Tzatziki dip
  • Grapes, strawberries, sliced watermelon

5. Grab some healthy options along the way

If you don’t have time to prepare or pack your own meals, you can still find some healthy options along the way. Look for places that offer salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, or grilled chicken. 

You can also check out grocery stores, gas stations convenience stores that have prepared foods sections or salad bars. 

Or you can stock up on some non-perishable snacks that you can keep in your car for emergencies, such as nuts, seeds, dried fruits, jerky or popcorn.

Grocery Store & Gas Station Options

When you’re in a rush, these convenient options from grocery stores and gas stations can save the day. Explore choices that are readily available and suitable for a quick, nutritious bite.

Grocery store:

  • Rotisserie chicken (pre-cooked)
  • Pre-packaged salads (look for ones with lean protein)
  • Deli case salads, vegetables, protein options
  • Pre-made sandwiches
  • Hot bar and salad bar
  • Pre-cut fruit cups or containers
  • Greek yogurt with granola

Gas station:

  • Greek yogurt cups
  • Fresh fruit (e.g., apples, bananas)
  • Mixed nuts or trail mix (unsalted)
  • Veggie sticks with single-serve hummus
  • Protein bars

Dinner in car ideas for meals

  • Tuna salad wrap: Use whole grain bread or a tortilla, spread with canned tuna and add some dried cranberries for sweetness.
  • Nut butter and banana sandwich: Spread almond or peanut butter on whole-grain bread and add banana slices.
  • Chicken wrap: Fill a whole wheat tortilla with pre-cooked chicken slices, veggies, and a dollop of hummus.
  • Pasta salad: Pre-make a pasta salad with whole grain pasta, diced chicken, veggies, and a vinaigrette dressing.
  • Quinoa bowl: Mix pre-cooked quinoa with black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, and a squeeze of lime juice
  • Hummus and pita snack:  Enjoy hummus cups,  pita bread,  baby carrots and cucumbers and olives.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: Spread whole wheat bread with peanut butter and jelly or honey. Pair with a string cheese and orange slices.
  • Veggie and cheese quesadillas: Melt shredded cheese and black beans with chopped veggies like bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and spinach on whole wheat tortillas. 
  • Greek yogurt and granola: Mix plain Greek yogurt with honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and berries. Serve with granola.
  • Vegetable soup: Heat a hearty veggie soup and pour into thermos, serve with a side of, cheese quesadillas on whole grain tortillas and, fruit salad
  • Chicken and rice bowl with broccoli florets and an apple
  • Protein pack bento box: Hard boiled egg with pita bread, string cheese and a banana.
  • Quick bread and nut butter: Banana nut bread spread with almond butter, with a side string cheese and chocolate milk

Final thoughts

Eating in the car can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be a compromise. With some planning and creativity, you can make and pack healthy and delicious meals that you can enjoy on the go.

By following these tips and ideas for dinner in the car, you can save time and stress on busy nights and still eat well.

Check out our pantry staples list to help you plan your meals.

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