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How to Transport Food

Julie Hartigan
How to Transport Food
Between potluck events at the office, homemade treats as presents for teachers and neighbors, and helping the host by “bringing a dish,” the holidays are a time for constantly making, baking, and taking our treats on the road.

But because nobody is asking for crushed cookies and sticky messes this year (as far as we know), we’ve got some packing strategies for you. These tips on transporting food will help your dishes arrive without spills, and looking great.


First, Find the Right Container

When you’re taking food on the road, you need a container that has just the right combination of size, sturdiness, and spill-proofing. Here’s what to keep in mind for some of the most popular “to go” foods.

Appetizers: If you’re bringing an hors d’oeuvres like crudités or chips and dip, you need a carrier that will keep your dippers organized and party-fresh. Covered trays with dividers and a center well are great for keeping things neat, and much easier to manage than a separate container for each type of veggie. Tote the dip in a separate container and add it to the well when you arrive to avoid en-route spills. A tip for keeping cut veggies fresh? Place a damp paper towel on top before you seal the container for the trip.

Homemade treats like granola, salsas, chutneys, or sauces are always appreciated at the holidays, and they’re super-easy to travel with. Grab a few Mason jars for a trendy, homespun (and, best of all, spill-proof) presentation. If you’re taking several jars to a celebration, keep the box the jars came in for easy transport!

Baked goods: With most baked goods, the main travel-risks are crushing, cracking, and crumbs. So choose shallow, lidded containers that are sturdy and sized to prevent your items from sliding around. Cookie tins, gift boxes, or even small craft boxes from the art supply store all make great options. Once you’ve chosen a container, use parchment or wax paper inside to limit shifting even more.

Adding frosting to your treat takes the complexity of travel up a notch, because the decoration is so easily nicked. So for items like cakes and cupcakes, a caddy designed specifically for delicate treats makes it a snap to deliver them without frosting fails. (Cupcake carriers can tote other baked goods such as muffins or scones as well).

Main Dishes and Sides: Hot dishes like soups and sides hold up best in a glass or other melt-proof container that’s microwave- and/or oven-safe (in case you have to reheat it when you arrive). You might also consider an insulated tote to retain the best temperature for your dish—these are usually great for keep-cool sides like salads as well.

Remember to look for an option with a sturdy, well-attached lid. It’s a much safer bet than foil or plastic wrap for avoiding in-transit spills.

Goody (or Doggie) Bags: A memorable way to send guests home from your own gathering is with a small “party favor” of homemade treats. Pack up some truffles, candies, or cookies in cute Chinese takeout style containers or small gift boxes to end your party on a sweet note. Or send breakfast items to enjoy the next morning – tuck muffins, scones, or a small loaf of quick bread in cute gift boxes; cushioned with tissue paper or parchment so they stay smush-free.

If your table is laden with leftovers it’s a generous (and practical!) gesture to share some with guests. Keep inexpensive plastic-sealed storage containers at the ready and put together mini-meals of leftovers for guests to enjoy the next day. Be sure to let them know you don’t need the container back to make the holidays a little easier for all!  (Check out our article on Smart & Savvy Storage of Leftovers for more easy tips about storing leftover holiday dishes.)

Pack It To-Go

As anyone on a reality-tv cooking contest can tell you, food presentation is key. So once you’ve found the right container, give it holiday flair by adding those little extras that make the food feel like a present: Attach a colorful bow or some craftsy twine to your mason jars or casserole dishes. Use cute hanging gift tags to label your goodies. Make bakery-beautiful stacks of cookies or candies in their container by arranging them inside colored cupcake liners.

When you place your food in the car, there are a few ways to make traveling even easier. Wrap hot dishes in a towel to insulate them a bit more. Cold dishes can travel picnic-style in a cooler or surrounded with cooler packs. And if you’re placing the dish in the trunk, make sure you create a sturdy, flat surface—a great way to do that is to use shipping boxes from your online shopping. (Tuck newspaper, paper towels, or dishtowels between containers before you head out to avoid slippage.)

Prep for Serving

If you’re bringing a dish to a party, check with the host to see if they need the gear to serve it so they won’t be scrambling for platters in the middle of taking coats and welcoming guests. Remember to jot your name on the bottom on masking tape to make it easy for the host to sort out dishes post-party, or make the dish you brought your hostess gift!

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