Keeping your food and beverages fresh for longer could spell the difference between a memorable or a miserable trip. If you’re looking forward to some chill time on the beach or in the great outdoors, keep your meals from going stale by all means.
To avoid soggy sandwiches and rotten meat from ruining your holiday, prepare your cooler or lunch box properly. To achieve this: arm yourself with ice – lots of it! – in all types, shapes and sizes.
This article teaches you how to keep your head cool by knowing how to choose the best types of ice packs and how to preserve perishables in your lunch box and cooler more effectively.
What are the types of ice packs you can use for a lunch box or cooler?
Various types of cold packs may be used to prolong the freshness of your meals stored in a lunch box or cooler. These packs are available in pharmacies, general merchandise stores and online platforms. They are easy to make, too.
- Reusable ice packs or coolers – Handy and compact, they work great in keeping food and drinks chilled in a lunch box or in a cooler. They come in various sizes, filled with either water or gel and covered by PVC or plastic. Some freeze rock solid while some are made with a special gel that stays flexible even when frozen. In principle, gel-based packs last longer than water-based cooling tools.
The good thing about reusable ice packs is that they can be stored in the freezer to re-chill, and they’re always ready to use when needed, anytime, anywhere.
- Homemade, DIY ice packs – If you run out of reusable ice coolers or packs, it’s easy to make one (or plenty) using common household products and recyclable materials. We’ll tell you more about it in the subsequent sections.
- Regular ice or frozen water – This one’s easy to make if you have containers or plastic baggies to spare. Otherwise, you can purchase them in select stores. We highly suggest buying big blocks of ice for your coolers. Ice cubes or crushed ice are not recommended for use in your lunch box, though.
- Dry ice – Who knew that the smoking effects for Halloween can be used to chill your consumables for a camping trip? Dry ice is actually a solid form of carbon dioxide and it is extremely cold, causing ice burns if it touches your skin. Dry ice is not edible so great care should be taken in using them.
What are the things to consider in choosing the best ice packs?
Fresh meats and other similar types of food need to be frozen for as long as possible to stay fresh. Drinks, on the other hand, do not necessarily need a zero degree temperature all the time. Check your commercially-sold ice packs to know their respective temperature capacities.
Another factor worth looking into is the pack’s cooling duration, although this can be quite difficult to measure owing to external factors such as ambient temperature and usage (i.e opening the cooler frequently, etc.). However, it is mostly understood that ice packs with lower freezing temperatures stay cool for longer compared to traditional ice or frozen water.
Of course, it pays to have durable, reusable and multi-purpose ice packs that you can use whether you need to store and preserve meals in a lunch box or a cooler.
Is an ice pack better than regular ice for your lunch box or cooler?
Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), but gel-based ice packs freeze in temperatures lower than this. This means that ice packs stay cold for longer periods of time compared to frozen water. Additionally, because ice packs take longer to thaw, they are perceived to provide better cooling power.
Traditional ice may be used only once. They’re good as gone once they thaw or melt. Thus, you’ll need to buy ice in bulk if you have enough space in the car, or make frequent store stops, which could take up too much of your travel time. Ice packs, on the other hand, are reusable and take up less space compared to regular ice. This means buying reusable ice packs will save you in the long run.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using ice packs is that they leave no mess and won’t soak your foods and drinks when they thaw or melt. Yes, ice packs may give off a few drops of condensed water but it’s not enough to make your sandwiches soggy unlike regular frozen water.
What are the best types of ice packs for a lunch box?
Regular ice, whether cubed or crushed, is not recommended for use in lunch boxes because they leave a mess of water that will drip into your food, making it soggy.
Reusable ice packs or homemade ice packs are best to keep foods in your lunch box fresh.
- Reusable ice packs – As a parent, you shouldn’t gamble with your family’s safety. If using commercially available ice packs, choose ones that are non-toxic and leakproof.
This 5-piece set of colourful lunch ice packs are perfect for kids and young-at-hearts because they tick all the boxes. They’re about the size of a small sandwich but they do pack a serious cooling punch, being that they’re filled with non-toxic, long-lasting cooling gel and not water.
Compact and light, these Amazon’s choice ice packs are above the competition in keeping food cold and crisp for hours. They’re guaranteed to be the best value for money lunch box ice packs in the market.
- Homemade ice packs – Make your own homemade ice coolers if you can’t find reusable ice packs for lunch boxes. The general rule is to mix these household products with water and to place the mixture in a resealable plastic bag that’s durable enough to be frozen.
Here are few of the household products you can use for your homemade ice pack:
1. Corn syrup mixed with water forms a gel-like consistency and retains flexibility even when frozen. They’re perfect if you’ve got little space left in your lunch box, as they can mold to fit anywhere.
Be careful not to puncture the bag, though, because the mixture will leave a gooey mess in your lunch box if it leaks.
2. A sponge soaked in water and sealed in a plastic baggie can keep cold for a long time. It’s reusable as well so you can pop it again in the freezer until your next use.
It freezes solid, though, and takes up bigger space in your lunch box compared to other homemade ice packs.
3. Salt and water doesn’t freeze into a solid ice block and remains malleable, keeping the snacks in your lunch box fresh for a reasonable period.
If it leaks, you’ll be left with a salty mixture that’s almost sure to seep into your food, so make sure your plastic bag is leak proof or is sturdy, especially at the seams.
4. Rubbing alcohol with water placed in a bag will also result in a slushy compound, so it can fit anywhere in your child’s lunch box.
Just make sure it won’t leak to avoid ingesting alcohol-soaked meals.
5. Liquid dish soap and water is flexible, too, when frozen, and it has a decent cooling power. However, like rubbing alcohol, it’s not safe to ingest, so make sure to place it in a durable ice bag.
Now that you’re familiar with the different types of do-it-yourself ice packs for your lunch box, here’s a rundown of alternative ice packs for your cooler.
What are the best types of ice packs for a cooler?
If you’re going out for an adventure or a picnic, it’s better to take two coolers – one for your food and another for your beverages. You might need different cooling approaches for each group. For instance, it is okay to soak your drinks in melted ice or ice water, but it’s bad for most consumables such as frozen meat, cheese and butter.
To avoid melted ice from seeping into your foods, use the following:
- Reusable ice packs – If you’re planning to take your family out for a picnic or an adventure, you definitely need serious cooling power from these big camping cooler buddies. Long lasting and non-toxic, these coolers can stay cold for up to 36 hours. Amazing, right? What’s more, they are available online, too.
This set of 6 cooler and lunch box buddies come in large (25 x 10”) and small (4.7 x 4.7”) sizes perfect for both lunch box and cooler use. If you haven’t bought this set, we recommend you do it now!
In the meantime, try making these homemade cooling implements to preserve your meals. All you have to do is fill them with salt and water so they don’t freeze into rock solid ice blocks.
1. Frozen water balloons – This is one good way to reuse your leftover birthday balloons. Once filled with salty water and frozen, place them strategically around the food and drinks in your cooler.
2. Water-filled frozen plastic bottles – It’s like hitting two birds with one stone – it’s a cooling agent while frozen and a water container as the water melts.
3. Water-filled food containers – If space is not an issue, use your water-filled food containers to chill your food and drinks for that long trip.
4. PVC cooling tubes – Convert your plastic pipes into ice tube coolers. Just buy sealing caps and PVC cement and you’re good to go.
5. Drink-filled frozen wine box bladder – Don’t be ashamed to refill your empty wine bladder with an alcoholic drink (or water, we’re not here to judge)! Like empty plastic bottles, you can use wine bladders to extend your cooler’s icing power, with the added benefit of drinking your favourite beverage later.
Can I use dry ice for my cooler?
If you’re ready to take all the safety precautions in handling, storing and transporting dry ice, using it for your cooler can be a great way to keep your meals and snacks fresh.
A solid form of carbon dioxide, dry ice has a lower freezing temperature compared to water and, like reusable ice packs, they do not leave a puddle of water when they melt, because they turn to gas when they warm up.
How do I use dry ice for my cooler?
There are a few caveats in using dry ice. Given that dry ice evaporates quickly, you should only buy dry ice when you’re about to leave for a trip. When stored in an area without proper ventilation (for instance, in an enclosed vehicle), it can give off enough carbon dioxide gas for you to lose consciousness. Dry ice is extremely cold, too, and is capable of burning your skin, so always wear gloves before handling it.
For maximum cooling, try mixing and matching the different types of ice packs, as they all do a good job of enhancing your lunch box and cooler’s food preserving capacities.
We’d like to know how you keep your food and drinks chilled and fresh, too. How about sharing your comment below or starting a conversation with us here?