Dinner in the Car Ideas for Busy Athletes

13 Dinner in the Car Ideas for Busy Athletes

13 Dinner in the Car Ideas for Busy Athletes

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With busy practice and competition schedules, dinner in the car is often a necessity for busy athletes. Thus, it can be helpful for athletes to be equipped with healthy dinner in the car ideas that can support their sports nutrition needs.

Let’s take a look at key nutrients to include in an athlete’s dinner. Then we will explore 13 dinner in the car ideas for busy athletes.

Planning Dinner in the Car for Athletes

The first consideration when planning an athlete’s dinner in the car is whether the meal will be eaten before or after activity.

Athletes Dinner in the Car

Dinner in the Car Before a Practice or Competition

Prior to a practice or competition, athletes should focus on eating a dinner that provides a good source of carbohydrates. Similar to gas in a car, carbohydrates provide the body with the energy needed to perform at their best.

Athletes can combine the high-carb food with an item providing a lean source of protein. This will create a mini-meal that the athlete can enjoy in the car on the way to the activity.

Foods to Limit with Dinner Before Activity

When planning a meal to eat in the hour or two prior to competition, athletes should limit foods that are high in fat, fiber, and/or protein. Consuming these foods too close to the start of activity may lead to GI distress during the practice or game (1).

It is also important for athletes to know their own individual tolerances with regard to eating before activity. Athletes should try out different food combinations during practice so they are confident on game day that they are fueled to perform at their best.

Dinner in the Car After a Practice or Competition

When eating dinner in the car following a practice or competition, athletes want to focus on eating a dinner that supports their recovery nutrition needs.

The three key areas of recovery nutrition include:

  1. Rehydrate: Consume fluid and electrolytes to replace sweat losses
  2. Refuel: Consume carbohydrates to replace energy stores
  3. Repair: Consume protein to build and repair muscles

In addition to carbohydrates and protein, athletes can balance out their meal with healthy, unsaturated fats and anti-inflammatory foods.

Dinner in the Car Ideas for Athletes

Now that you have an understanding of what to include in an athlete’s dinner (either before or after activity), let’s take a look at 13 dinner in the car ideas for athletes

#1 Sandwich Wrap: Quick Dinner in the Car Idea

Sandwich Wrap Convenient Dinner in the Car Idea

Sandwich wraps can be an ideal solution for a quick dinner in the car for athletes. Not only are wraps a convenient hand-held food to eat when traveling, they are also simple to prepare.

Athletes can easily make a sandwich wrap with a whole grain tortilla, wrap, or flatbread, filled with a variety of protein and veggie toppings, and then rolled up to enjoy.

Ideas for protein fillings that can be added to your wrap include: lean deli meat (turkey, chicken, ham, or roast beef), reduced-fat cheese, leftover grilled chicken, shredded rotisserie chicken, tuna salad, or hummus.

Some of my favorite wrap varieties include:

  • Turkey, avocado, and spinach wrap
  • Greek chicken wrap (add tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese, and black olives)
  • Chicken Caesar wrap
  • Hummus and vegetable wrap
  • Roast beef and cheddar wrap

Enjoying the wrap with a piece of fresh fruit and pretzels can be a great pre-game meal option for athletes.

#2 Bento Box Ideas for Dinner in the Car

Another simple dinner in the car idea is to create a bento box meal with a combination of several different food items. If you are not familiar with a bento box, it is a small food storage container that has individual compartments within it to keep the food items separate.

When packing a bento box meal, I recommend athletes ensure they include a food providing a lean source of protein along with a variety of whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

Athletes can enjoy a different bento box dinner in the car each night by selecting different combinations of favorite food items.

Ideas for food items that can be included in a bento box are listed in the chart below.

Bento Box Dinner in the Car Ideas

Individual serving containers of items such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, hummus, guacamole, and nut butter are all convenient options to have available for dinner in the car.

Selecting a Bento Box

If looking to purchase a bento box, I recommend selecting one that is microwave and dishwasher safe. In addition, ensure the bento box you purchase is made with BPA-free material.

The Bento Box Adult Lunch Box (available on Amazon) is an affordable option that can come in handy for athletes who frequently eat dinner in the car.

#3 Burrito Bowl

A burrito bowl is a simple meal athletes can meal prep in advance to enjoy during the week. Burrito bowls can be a great way for athletes to enjoy a high-carb dinner in the car that also provides lean protein.

When prepping the burrito bowl, make sure to use a base of brown rice and black beans. Then add a lean protein topping, such as chicken or steak fajita meat, and sprinkle on some reduced-fat shredded cheese.

On the side, consider packing individual containers of guacamole and salsa, which can make the perfect addition to the bowl.

Keeping ingredients on hand, such as steam-in-the-bag brown rice, canned black beans, and frozen, fully cooked fajita meat, can allow this dinner in the car to be prepped and ready in minutes.

Burrito bowls can also be a great way to utilize leftovers from a fajita dinner at the house.

Build a Healthy Burrito Bowl

#4 Grain Bowl: Post-Game Dinner in the Car Idea

Similar to a burrito bowl, athletes can also prep a Mediterranean grain bowl to be eaten in the car. A grain bowl can be a great dinner option, providing athletes with carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

Consider the following ingredients that can be included in your grain bowl:

  • Grains: Brown rice, wild rice, basmati rice, quinoa, farro
  • Lean Proteins: Grilled chicken, salmon, steak, falafel, tofu
  • Veggies: Mixed greens, sliced cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red onions, pepperoncini peppers
  • Healthy Fats: Sliced avocado, olives

On the side, consider packing pita bread and hummus for athletes to enjoy along with their grain bowl.

#5 Healthy Chili

Chili can be a great post-game meal option that athletes can enjoy in the car. Tips for preparing a healthy chili for athletes include:

  • Use extra lean ground beef or turkey
  • Add a variety of beans: Kidney, black, pinto, cannellini, and navy
  • Mix in veggies: tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, diced carrots, and zucchini
  • Spice it up: Garlic, cumin, onion, turmeric, paprika, cayenne and chili pepper

Make sure to pack a carbohydrate-rich side item for athletes to enjoy with the chili, such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole grain cornbread muffins.

Build a Healthy Chili

Packing Chili for Dinner in the Car

It is important for athletes to have a way to hold their chili hot until the are ready to eat it.

I find that insulated food thermos containers work well to keep chili, soup, and other hot items warm. Our family has a THERMOS® 10-oz Funtainer (available on Amazon), which we have used for years.

Stanley® also offers their 14-oz Classic Legendary Food Jar (available on Amazon), which is a great option for keeping an athlete’s food hot for dinner in the car.

Dinner in the Car Hold Food Warm

#6 Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is often a favorite meal item amongst athletes. By making a few adjustments to your mac and cheese recipe, you can create a healthier version for athletes to enjoy.

First, consider using high-protein milk in your recipe, which will help to boost the protein content of the mac and cheese. Next choose a whole grain or chickpea pasta to use in the recipe to add fiber to your dish. Finally, stir in vegetables for added nutrients.

Fairlife® has a great recipe for One-Pot Veggie Mac and Cheese available on their website. Consider trying this recipe out for a tasty dinner in the car.

Along with the mac and cheese, consider packing grilled chicken strips or baked chicken tenders for athletes to eat with the meal. Applegate Naturals® has a variety of fully-cooked, ready-to-heat chicken strips and tenders that can be heated in the microwave in minutes. These can make a quick, protein-rich addition to an athlete’s dinner in the car.

#7 Pasta Salad

Similar to the mac and cheese, athletes can enjoy other types of pasta salad for a simple dinner in the car. When possible, I recommend making a healthier version of your favorite pasta salad recipe by substituting whole grain or chickpea pasta and adding in vegetables.

Once the pasta salad is made, consider mixing in diced grilled chicken, shredded rotisserie chicken, chopped turkey or ham. This will then create a pasta salad that provides both carbohydrates and lean protein that athletes can enjoy in the car.

#8 Overnight Oats: Breakfast for Dinner in the Car

Although oatmeal is traditionally thought of as a breakfast food, it can be enjoyed for dinner as well.

An advantage of overnight oats is that they can easily be meal prepped in advance and enjoyed on a busy weeknight. In addition, overnight oats can be enjoyed cold, making it a convenient option for the car.

Consider adding protein to your overnight oats with ingredients such as high-protein milk, Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butter, and seeds.

If you have never tried making overnight oats, here is an easy recipe that you can download and try out.

#9 Hard-Boiled Eggs, Bagel with Nut Butter and Banana

An easy way to add protein to an athlete’s dinner in the car is with hard-boiled eggs.

A large egg contains ~6 grams of protein (2). In addition to protein, eggs contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them a nutritious addition to an athlete’s dinner (3).

To make the eggs easier to eat in the car, make sure to peel them at home prior to packing them with the meal.

You can also purchase premade hard-boiled eggs at the store that come peeled and ready-to-eat.

Along with the hard-boiled egg, athletes can enjoy a whole grain bagel. Bagels provide a condensed source of carbohydrates. Thus, they are a great option to enjoy with a meal before a game or workout.

Athletes can try topping the bagel with nut butter and sliced banana, which will add protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to the meal.

Hard Boiled Eggs with Dinner in the Car

#10 Pita Pocket Sandwiches: Handheld Dinner in the Car Idea

Pita bread sandwiches are another convenient handheld option that work great for dinner in the car. Similar to a wrap sandwich, athletes can change up the contents of the pita sandwich to add variety to their dinners during the week.

Pita pockets stuffed with chicken salad, egg salad, or tuna salad are all great options for dinner in the car. Greek yogurt can be used as a healthy substitute for mayonnaise in your favorite chicken, egg, or tuna salad recipes.

Substituting Greek yogurt for mayonnaise will help decrease the fat content of your recipe as well as add protein.

I suggest adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice as well as some Dijon mustard to further enhance the flavor of the recipe.

Here is a simple “go-to chicken salad” recipe from Siggi’s® that uses yogurt in place of the mayonnaise.

#11 Tuna, Crackers, and Dried Fruit

Tuna is a great way for athletes to add lean protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids to their dinner in the car. 

Many brands of tuna now come in convenient single-serving pouches, which athletes can easily add to their dinner bag before leaving the house.

When selecting tuna, choose tuna that is packed in water rather than oil. When the fish is packed in oil the product will be higher in saturated fat. 

In the car athletes can enjoy the tuna as a topping on whole grain crackers or as a filling in a pita pocket or wrap.

Athletes can enjoy dried fruit, such as raisins, dried cranberries, mango, papaya, or pineapple along with the tuna and crackers.

Dried fruit is a great option for the car because it is mess free. In addition, dried fruit provides carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, thus it is a nutritious addition to an athlete’s dinner (4).  

#12 Greek Yogurt Parfait with Protein Muffins

Another breakfast-type item that athletes can enjoy for dinner in the car is a Greek yogurt parfait.

Greek yogurt is an easy way to add protein to an athlete’s meal. A 5.3 oz individual container of vanilla Greek yogurt contains ~13 grams of protein (5). 

Topping the Greek yogurt with mixed berries will add carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to the parfait.

Athletes can then finish off the parfait with a layer of granola or whole grain breakfast cereal, which will further boost the carbohydrate content of the meal.

Along with the parfait, athletes can pack a couple of high-protein muffins to enjoy in the car. Kodiak Cakes® make a variety of protein-packed muffin mixes that athletes can try out. My personal favorite is their banana muffin mix.

Athletes can consider making a batch of the muffins on the weekend to enjoy throughout the week with breakfast, healthy snacks, or dinner in the car.

Greek Yogurt Parfait with Dinner in the Car

#13 Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich: Simple Dinner in the Car Idea for Athletes

Last but not least, a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an easy dinner in the car solution for busy athletes. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a great way to add carbohydrates, protein, and healthy unsaturated fats to an athlete’s meal plan.

Athletes can pair their peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a fresh piece of fruit as well as low-fat milk for a nutritious dinner in the car.

If desired, athletes can try out different types of nut butter for their sandwich, such as almond or cashew butter.

In addition, if an athlete has a nut allergy, a sandwich made with Sunbutter® may be an option. Sunbutter® is made with sunflower seeds and is allergen free. 

Dinner in the Car Ideas: Healthy Drinks

Hydration is another important consideration when planning dinner in the car for athletes. Dehydration can negatively impact an athlete’s health as well as sports performance.

Thus, it is important athletes go into a practice or competition in a hydrated state and rehydrate following activity.

 Ideas for beverages to enjoy with dinner in the car include:

  • Water
  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juice
  • Sparkling water
  • Infused water
  • Sports drink
  • Post-workout smoothie

If stopping at a gas station to purchase a drink, make sure to look for one of the healthy options listed above to enjoy with the meal.

Healthy Drink Choices with Dinner in the Car

Dinner in the Car Ideas for Busy Athletes

You are now set with a variety of dinner in the car ideas that can support athletes with meeting their sports nutrition needs. Athletes should take time to plan ahead so they are prepared with healthy dinner options on busy weeknights.

For additional sports nutrition tips for athletes, check out my blog with tips on healthy fast-food options for athletes.

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About the Author

Mandy Tyler is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. 

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