10 Tips for Packing a Kick-Ass Cooler


We’ve all heard that saying… “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Why not make the journey to wherever, sweeter or tastier with an amazing cooler full of love & happiness. This isn’t a recipe post… goodness knows I am definitely not a chef. So whether you prep for days making homemade applesauce or hummus… or grab store-bought favorites, here are a couple dynamite tips to keeping your cooler packed and the smiles stacked. 

It’s all about the container: 

  1. Invest in a decent, quality made cooler with wheels for those longer trips or larger events. Inspect your cooler for leaks and damage – it happens and can spoil the mood quicker than spoiling the food. 
  2. Individual containers keep meals and snacks separated for ease of distribution and no need for serving dishes “family style”. 
  3. Keep the snack on top – or pack a smaller cooler for the back seat, keeping those tasty treats within arms reach as needed. 
  4. Pack the meal containers on the bottom of the cooler, stacked neatly across the bottom allowing room on top for additional sides, drinks and snacks. 

Keeping it cool: 

5. Freezing plastic water bottles ¾ full will double as ice and water to drink when melted. Alternatively, we have used recycled half-gallon milk jugs for the same. Simply refreeze in the hotel mini fridge. The “block” of ice will stay frozen for a long period of time.

6. Place ice cubes in ziplock baggies to avoid melted ice and water slush in the bottom of your cooler. Replace the ice at any hotel ice machine or convenience store. Be sure to test the ziplock bag with water for any leaks. While the ice may not stay frozen as long as suggestion #5, the baggies can be more flexible in terms of packing odd shaped containers or layering food between ice packs. 

7. Layer items that require the most cold temperatures on the bottom with ice blocks or bags of ice, then place a bathroom towel folded on top of the food items to act as insulation. This offers the option of placing dry items, boxed or bagged items, etc on top without worry of condensation ruining the packaging or water leaking into the items. And having a spare towel on hand is never a bad idea anyway. 

As for the food: 

8. Drinks should be the most accessible, pack them on top or carve out a section on the side of the cooler for beverages. 

9. Unless you are naturally a health-conscious family, I suggest NOT making travel time the kickstarter of your new diet. That doesn’t mean you need to pack 8 varieties of chips and skip the veggies altogether, but definitely keep family favorites in mind. The term “comfort food” exists for a reason… and again, I’m not suggesting you eat your way through the journey but having a couple of favorite bites on hand could otherwise light up the room… errr car. I typically like to get a couple splurge items that I always pass on in the grocery store, like beef jerky or fruit roll ups. Pulling something like that out of our packed cooler is like a magic trick to my kids. 

10. Keep everything bite size. Slice grape tomatoes in half, cut chicken into cubes, shred lettuce for the salad… everything that would otherwise require a knife for cutting, prepare in advance. Knives are not easy to manipulate in a vehicle… moving or parked. Avoid the hassle and potential mess. 

11. (Bonus Tip) Remember variety. Granola bars are great… if you’re starving!! Pack your cooler so that you are never tempted to pull over for ANYTHING! I always over pack our goodies. Rather spend an extra $7 or $8 at the grocery store covering my bases than be tempted to hit the convenience store along the way. It saves money (and time) this way. 

12. (Bonus Tip 2) Since we always over pack… I also bring along a plastic bag to store all the dirty containers & utensils… the alternative might be mixing dirty dishes with uneaten food items. Yuck. This, of course, assumes you aren’t using disposable, which of course is the most convenient but at the cost of additional carbon footprint. 

After or during a long car ride, some unexpected and favorite snacks can provide that much needed “pick-me-up”. Don’t underestimate the power of an amazingly thought-out and prepared cooler. Perfect for rest stops, meeting your final destinatination, or just appeasing tired, bored, cranky kiddos. Remember, easy access to the goods is essential and enjoy their smiles of gratitude.