10 Ways To Keep Food Warm For A Picnic

Summer is on the way, and soon most of us will be spending much more time enjoying the great outdoors. Since you won’t be near your trusty kitchen warming appliances, keeping food warm for a picnic requires a different approach. Adding hot food to your picnic menu makes a delightful change, and it is possible to serve hot food if you know how to keep it warm.

Always start with piping hot food. Heat the inside of a cooler, and add hot gel packs, bean bags, or hot, boiled potatoes to provide additional heat. Wrap all the food in aluminum foil. Fill all air spaces inside the cooler using the picnic blanket and dish towels. Only open the cooler at mealtime.

If you have a small picky eater in the family who only eats chicken nuggets or pizza, but you want to go on a picnic, don’t worry; we have some solutions. Find out how to use things you already have to keep your hot picnic food at a safe temperature so you can enjoy it long after it is prepared.  

How To Keep Food Warm For A Picnic

Picnic food is a little different from most regular meals. Since your group won’t be sitting around a table and eating using knives and forks, picnic food is usually smaller, finger-food-sized portions.

There is no longer any need to limit yourself to only taking cold food to your outdoor activities. So long as you keep food at a temperature above 140F or eat it very soon after it falls below this safe mark, your picnic fare will be perfectly safe to eat.

Some foods, like freshly baked warm bread, are easy to keep warm for hours if you pack them correctly.

Popular picnic items like meatballs, sausage rolls, tarts, chicken nuggets, and quiches can quickly spoil if they don’t stay warm. Packaging effectively to insulate food and to keep the heat locked in is essential.  

When planning a menu for your picnic that includes hot food, there are a few points that you need to keep in mind.

  • How easy will it be to transport your picnic equipment to the selected area? Hot bricks may work well to keep your food warm if you are picnicking near your car, but that would not be a great idea if you needed to hike to your chosen spot.
  • How long do you need the food to stay warm for?
  • What items do you already have that you can use to keep your picnic food warm?
  • The quantity of food that you need to keep warm.

With this in mind, let’s go through ten practical methods to keep your food warm for a picnic. That way, you will be able to pack and serve meals and snacks that everyone enjoys, even when dining in alfresco style.

Prepare Your Food Just Before The Picnic

Planning is key to successfully serving warm food at a picnic. To be able to serve the freshest, piping-hot food even hours later, it should be packed as soon as possible after it is prepared.

Prepare your hot food as the last thing you do before you head out for your picnic. If you have warm dishes that have cooled, reheat them so they are packed while they are as hot as possible. Picnic food that has been prepared and insulated while it is hot will have a head start in staying warm for longer.

Wrap Your Picnic Food In Aluminum Foil

To keep picnic food hotter for longer, it is important to prevent heat from escaping. When you see steam rising off hot food, the hot vapor is moving away from the food, causing it to cool down to room temperature.

When packing for a picnic, your first strategy should be to trap steam and seal the heat as close to the food as possible. Aluminum foil works well for picnic food because it is light to carry and molds closely to the shape of the foods that are being packed, which eliminates cooling air pockets.

Aluminum foil on its own can only keep food warm for around 30 minutes, so it should only constitute the first layer when packing your picnic fare. To be more effective, this versatile kitchen wrap should be teamed up with other forms of insulation around the food.

Use A Cooler To Pack Hot Food For A Picnic

A sturdy cooler is one of your best tools for packing hot food for picnics. Despite the name, the thick insulated walls of a cooler don’t only keep cold items cold on hot days but will also trap and prevent heat from escaping.

There are two things to keep in mind when using your cooler to transport hot food:

  • Heating the inside of your cooler before you pack your food helps to keep the inside chamber warmer for longer. To do this, fill the cooler with hot, not boiling, water shortly before you pack it. Give the walls time to absorb the heat before emptying and drying them thoroughly.
  • Try to eliminate any empty spaces inside the cooler around your food. While towels work well, if you are going on a picnic, fill your cooler with things you need, like your picnic blanket. The idea is to insulate the warm food so hot air is not able to escape.

All the food inside the cooler should be inside its own insulated coverings, like aluminum foil. The cooler itself should serve as a thick outer shell. Unless you are having a picnic in your garden, you may need to add additional heat sources inside your cooler to keep your picnic food warm.

Pack A Hot Gel Pack With Your Food

An effective way to keep hot food steamy and ready to serve at picnics is to add a microwavable hot pack. You may need to microwave the hot pack in short bursts and knead the gel periodically to get it to heat up most effectively.

Gel hot packs work best when they are placed directly against food that is wrapped in aluminum foil. If possible, place one below and another on top of the food. Then wrap everything in your picnic blanket or a towel before putting it into the cooler.

Remember to fill up any empty space inside the cooler with other handy items you can use on the outing. Do not open the cooler until you are ready to serve the food.

Use Dry Beans Or Rice To Create Hot Beanbags

A simple way to keep food warm for longer is to create DIY hot beanbags using dry ingredients from your pantry. Dry beans or uncooked rice work well and can help to keep your picnic food warm – no sewing skills are required!

All you need to do to make a hot beanbag to pack with your picnic food is grab a clean, unused sock and some dry beans or rice.

  • Add the desired amount of your preferred filling into the sock.
  • Tie a tight knot on the end to keep the contents inside.
  • Place it in the microwave for short bursts. Take it out periodically to knead the beanbag so distribute the beans. That way, the contents of the bag will heat up evenly.
  • Heat the beanbag just before you are ready to pack it against the picnic food.

Hot Boiled Potatoes In Aluminum Foil Will Keep Food Warm

Potatoes are delicious, nutritious, and highly practical when you need to keep things warm. Adding hot, boiled potatoes with tasty toppings is not only a lovely addition to your picnic menu but also a smart way to save space and fit more hot food into your cooler.

Everyone knows how hot potatoes are when they come out of boiling water. Use a tong to remove them and wrap the super-heated spuds in thick layers of aluminum foil.

Create toppings for the boiled potatoes, and take along plenty of butter and seasonings to add to the potatoes at the picnic. Using hot, boiled potatoes is a great picnic basket hack, as the potatoes can do double-time as mini-food warmers and tasty menu items.

When you pack your food, place the wrapped hot potatoes close to the other food you want to keep warm. Then insulate everything using a thick towel or picnic blanket before placing it in a cooler or another carrier to take to the picnic.

Heat Bricks To Create A Warmer Drawer In Your Cooler

One of the most effective methods to keep food warm is to superheat bricks. This might not be the ideal option if you need to hike to your campsite, but it is perfect if you are picnicking near where you park or tailgating.

You will need a cooler, a thick towel, aluminum foil, and a few bricks to keep your picnic food warm using these methods. Here is what you need to do:

  • Wrap each brick in a layer of aluminum foil. You will need enough bricks to form a base at the bottom of the cooler.
  • Place the wrapped bricks in the oven at 300F for 20 minutes.
  • Place the folded towel on the base of the cooler.
  • Line the cooler’s interior above the towel with aluminum foil with the shiny side out. It can be longer than the sides at the top as it will be used to fold over the food later.
  • Use oven mitts to carefully place the super-heated bricks on top and cover them with a dish towel.
  • Now place all your packed hot food into the mini warming drawer you created. Try to fill all gaps with useful items you will need at the picnic.
  • Fold the top pieces of aluminum foil down over the top of the food and close the lid. Try not to open it unnecessarily until you are ready to dish.

Insulated Thermos Containers Will Keep Liquids Warm

Your trusty thermos isn’t only perfect for keeping your favorite hot drinks hot; it can also work surprisingly well for many types of hot food.  

A thermos is an effective way to keep any food hot that has a high moisture content. This includes soups, stews, and sauces that you may be serving.  

A thermos is also a highly effective way to keep smaller food items like chicken nuggets warm. An insulated food thermos would be ideal since it has a wider opening, but if you only have your drinks thermos, that will also work.

Whenever you plan to pack hot food into a thermos, always first heat the inside of the flask. To do this, fill the thermos to the brim with boiling water and let it stand for around 10 to 15 minutes. Then empty, dry it thoroughly, and fill it with your hot food.

Use An Insulated Carrier To Keep Your Food Warm

There are plenty of insulated bag options that can be used to keep food warm. These range from simple, inexpensive thermal bags that lock in heat to high-tech insulated catering bags, which are the variety commonly used by takeaway delivery services.

Thermal bags alone won’t keep your picnic food warm for very long. However, when used as a single layer along with several other food insulators like aluminum foil and plenty of padding, they are an effective and lightweight food covering that will keep heat inside.  

Insulated food bags come in a range of shapes and sizes. There are even special picnic basket varieties. The beauty of insulated food bags is that they usually have plenty of individual compartments. That means you can store different types of food in the same bag, and you won’t have to open the warm food section and let out warm air each time you reach for a snack.

Keep Your Warm Picnic Food In A Portable Slow Cooker

Portable slow cookers like a thermal cooker or Wonderbag work well to keep food warm for a picnic. Since they are lightweight and portable, you can take them anywhere, and they can effectively lock heat into your food without electricity.

Although using a slow cooker is one of the most effective methods of keeping food warm for a picnic, there is a downside. Slow cookers work best for dishes like stews, curries, and single-pot meals. These are not always practical for midsummer picnics but would certainly be welcomed on crisp fall days.


Adding hot food to your picnic menu will add a whole new dimension to the outing. To effectively pack to keep hot food warm to enjoy at the picnic requires the food items to be insulated to prevent heat from escaping. Always start with piping hot food, then pack and seal your carrier so your food stays toasty and warm until you are ready to enjoy it.

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