At various times in my life, I’ve needed to transport hot food. From camping trips with my children to delivering hearty meals to elderly parents I’ve used many hacks to ensure the dishes I’ve cooked arrive hot and ready to eat.
You can keep food warm when transporting in various ways from Insulated food containers and electric lunch boxes to heated car seats and hot water bottles. Each method retains warmth for different durations so it’s important to pick the one that suits your needs.
As well as the hacks I already knew about I decided to research the topic in more detail. I was surprised to find how many options there really were so I tested as many options as I could, some of which involved me borrowing a car from friends that had heated seats.
So in this article, I share my experiences and my 21 innovative ways to keep your food warm while on the move.
I’ve also summarised the heat retention properties of each method in a table at the end of the article.
1. Insulated Food Containers (4 hours)
- Double-Walled Insulation Keeps Food Hot For 6
- Lightweight And Easy To Carry
- Composed Of 18/8 Premium Food-Grade Stainless Steel
- Condensation-Free Exterior And A Leak-Free Lid
I began my journey with insulated food containers, as they are designed specifically for this purpose.
I tested two brands and found that the duration of warmth preservation depends on the container’s quality with the best one keeping food warm for around 4 hours.
Insulated food containers are designed with one primary purpose in mind – to keep food warm for extended periods.
These containers typically come in various sizes and are equipped with thermal insulation that effectively retains the heat of your dishes.
They are a versatile option, suitable for various types of food, from soups and stews to casseroles and pasta.
What I found was to maximize the effectiveness of insulated food containers, I preheated them before adding my hot dishes.
This made all the difference.
Preheating ensures that the initial heat loss is minimal, helping your food stay warm for up to four hours.
These containers are particularly useful for family picnics, potlucks, or longer journeys.
2. Preheated Oven Method (2 hours)
The preheated oven method is a straightforward but effective way to keep your dishes warm during transportation.
I tested this method by wrapping my dish in aluminium foil which I then placed in an oven set at 200°F (93°C).
This method kept the food warm for a surprising 2 hours.
While this method may not offer the longest duration of warmth retention, I find it very useful for shorter trips or when I need to keep food warm for just a couple of hours.
Top Tip: It’s essential to ensure your dish is well wrapped in foil to prevent heat loss. Additionally, using an oven thermometer to verify the temperature accuracy is a good practice.
I find that the preheated oven method is suitable for dishes like roasted meats, baked goods, or casseroles.
I would just keep in mind though that the oven should be preheated to the appropriate temperature for your specific dish to maintain its optimal quality.
3. Hot Water Bath (1.5 hours)
Using a hot water bath is a practical method to keep your food warm when transporting it short distances. This method involves placing your dish in a larger container filled with hot water, which acts as a natural insulator.
For this test, I placed my dish in a larger container which was filled with hot water from the kettle and covered it with a lid.
It kept the food warm for 1.5 hours.
What I find is that this method works best for dishes that should be kept moist and don’t require excessive heat to stay warm, such as lasagna or pasta dishes.
This is another method to use for transporting food over shorter distances.
One thing to note is that it’s a straightforward and budget-friendly solution.
Slow cooker transport bags are tailor-made for carrying slow-cooked dishes while keeping them warm and secure.
4. Slow Cooker Transport Bags (3 hours)
- Lined With A Padded Insulated Aluminum Foil Lining
- 2 Layer Extra-Large Capacity
- 2 Options For Carrying, Strap & Handles
- Perfect For Camping, Picnic, Family Gatherings, & Office Pot-Lucks
- Sturdy Hard Insert For Supporting The Bottom Of The Bag
These bags feature thick insulation to maintain the heat of your dishes, and they often come with safety straps and handles for easy and comfortable carrying.
To test the slow cooker transport bag method I placed my hot dish inside the slow cooker, ensuring it was turned off.
Then, I carefully positioned the slow cooker inside the bag and secured it with the straps.
The thick insulation and sealable lid of the bag helped to keep the heat trapped inside, maintaining the dish’s warmth for up to three hours.
I find this method is especially convenient for people who frequently prepare slow-cooked meals for loved ones, parties, or family gatherings.
It ensures that your food remains at a safe and delicious temperature, allowing you to transport your dishes without the stress of them cooling down prematurely.
- Made Of High-Quality Tear And Water-Resistant Oxford Fabric
- Leakproof & Thermal Insulated
- Comes With A Detachable And Adjustable Shoulder Strap
- Modern And Lightweight Design
- Great For Packing All Of Your Food And Snacks For The Entire Day
5. Insulated Lunch Bags (1.5 hours)
I always thought that insulated lunch bags were traditionally associated with carrying sandwiches and snacks to keep them cool but of course, they can also serve as a suitable option for keeping your hot dishes warm during shorter journeys.
While their insulation isn’t as robust as that of some other methods, in my tests the lunch bag still provided around 1.5 hours of warmth preservation.
To test the insulated lunch bag, I simply placed my hot dish inside and sealed it tightly.
This method is ideal for dishes that require only short-term warmth retention, such as hot sandwiches, pasta, or small servings of soup and whilst they may not keep food warm as long as some other methods, They are a handy choice for quick trips and casual gatherings.
One important thing to note is that these bags are available in various sizes, which makes them a practical option for individuals who often transport their meals to school, work, or picnics.
Top Tip: For longer journeys, consider pairing the insulated bag with another method such as the insulated food container method to extend the duration of warmth retention.
6. Aluminum Foil and Towels (1.5 hours)
This method is a simple yet effective DIY solution where you wrap your hot dish in aluminium foil and then insulate it with kitchen towels.
To test this method, I started by placing my hot dish on a sheet of aluminium foil and wrapping it up tightly.
This is an important step as it helps to trap the initial heat.
Then I wrapped the foil-covered dish in clean kitchen towels and secured them with rubber bands.
This is another approach that is most effective for short-distance transport of dishes like grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, or bread rolls.
While it may not be the best choice for maintaining warmth over longer journeys,
I find it’s a budget-friendly and easy option when I need to ensure my dishes stay warm during a casual gathering or meal sharing event with friends.
7. Heated Bricks (2 hours)
Using heated bricks as a heat-retaining method might not be the most common approach, but I found it surprisingly effective.
By preheating bricks in the oven and then wrapping them in aluminium foil, you can create portable heat sources to keep your food warm.
For this test, I preheated bricks in my oven at 350°F (177°C) for around 30 minutes.
Once heated, I carefully wrapped them in aluminium foil, making sure they were well insulated. This is an important step to ensure you don’t burn yourself.
Then, I placed the wrapped bricks in a cooler and positioned them around my hot dish, securing everything to reduce the possibility of heat loss.
Although you might think I’m crazy the heated bricks method is particularly useful for longer journeys, picnics, or outdoor events where access to electricity or other heating sources may be limited.
With the right precautions and proper insulation, this method can keep your food warm for approximately 2 hours, ensuring your dishes maintain their flavour and temperature.
This is also an incredibly useful method for when you’re camping, you simply heat the brick on a fire rather than in the oven.
8. Portable Food Warmers (3+ hours)
- Maintains The Moisture And Freshness Of The Food
- 80W Fast Heating
- 1.5L Capacity + 0.45L Compartment
- Supports 110V Home/Office +12V Car And 24V Truck Use
- Grab-And-Go Carry Handle
Portable food warmers are an excellent investment for those who frequently need to transport hot meals such as those caring for a loved one.
These great little devices come in various designs, such as heated trays, electric lunch boxes, and heated lunch bags, and each comes with its unique features.
I found the most common type by far is the electric lunch box.
I decided to test this option.
I simply plugged the lunch box into the 12V power socket in my car, positioned my dish in the box, and set my desired temperature.
In this test, the electric lunch box maintained the food temperature for over 3 hours.
I find this method suitable for a wide range of dishes such as hot sandwiches and wraps.
It’s particularly convenient for occasions like office lunches, picnics..
Top Tip: Portable food warmers come in various sizes and styles, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.
9. DIY Heat Packs (2 hours)
Next up is the DIY heat packs using uncooked rice and a cloth bag.
I find this an ingenious way to maintain the warmth of your dishes while transporting them.
It’s definitely a budget-friendly option, and it’s surprisingly effective.
To make a DIY heat pack, I simply take a clean, heatproof cloth bag and fill it with uncooked rice.
I then Heat the rice-filled bag in the microwave for a few minutes until it reaches my desired temperature.
Top Tip: Make sure to secure the bag properly.
after heating I place it alongside my hot dish, wrapping both together in a towel or small blanket.
During my testing, this method kept my food warm for approximately 2 hours.
It’s perfect for dishes like curry, rice, or any meals that don’t require extremely high temperatures to remain appealing.
The DIY heat pack is particularly useful when you need to transport your food for a short to medium distance.
10. Towel Wrap (1 hour)
If you’re only transporting food short distances this is the simplest method I tested.
I found that this method provided warmth retention for approximately 1 hour.
To use this method, place your hot dish inside an insulated container, if available, or a covered casserole dish.
Next, wrap the entire container in clean kitchen towels, ensuring there are no gaps for heat to escape.
Secure the towels with rubber bands or similar.
Personally, I find the towel wrap method more of a last-minute solution for when you don’t have access to a better option or you’re in a rush.
It’s ideal for dishes like baked potatoes, roasted vegetables, or bread, which can still be enjoyed when served at slightly lower temperatures.
While it may not provide the longest duration of warmth retention, it’s certainly better than transporting your dishes without any insulation, especially in cases where maintaining some warmth is essential for the food’s quality and safety.
11. Thermal Blankets (2 hours)
Another very odd method but worth considering if you can get your hands on some thermal blankets
Thermal blankets are typically used for medical purposes to maintain a patient’s body temperature.
However, they can be repurposed to keep your dishes warm when transporting them.
I find that in order to use thermal blankets effectively, it’s best to wrap your hot dish in aluminium foil first to trap the initial heat.
Once you have your foil-wrapped dish, place it inside the thermal blanket and secure it with safety pins or clips.
Based on my research the insulating properties of the thermal blanket will help keep your food warm for approximately 2 hours.
This method is particularly useful for dishes that need to be served hot and moist, such as lasagna or casseroles. It’s also handy for dishes that you need to transport a short distance.
While not the most common method, it’s a reliable option when you need to maintain warmth without using electricity or more specialized equipment.
12. Heated Seat Covers (2 hours)
- Ten Seconds Fast Heating
- Easy To Install, Non-Slip Bottom
- Skin-Friendly Wear-Resistant Material
- Keep The Temperature At Around 104 °F
- Essential Snow Shovel And Gloves In Winter
Heated seat covers, typically used in cars during cold weather, can also serve as a method to keep food warm when transporting it.
These covers are designed to provide warmth and comfort to the people sitting in them, however, I’ve found they are surprisingly effective for maintaining the temperature of your dishes during shorter journeys especially if you are delivering meals locally.
To use heated seat covers for this purpose, first, ensure your dish is securely covered with aluminium foil to minimize heat loss.
Then, place the dish on the heated seat cover, ensuring that it’s turned on and if possible adjust the temperature as required.
In my testing I found that the heated seat cover I used kept my dish warm for approximately 2 hours, making it a practical option for short trips.
This method is ideal for dishes that don’t require extremely high temperatures to remain enjoyable, such as sandwiches, wraps, or pasta.
It’s also a clever choice if you’re transporting your food by car and want to ensure it stays warm without using additional equipment.
13. Styrofoam Coolers (3 hours)
- Keeps Food Or Groceries Hot Or Cold For Up To 4 Hours
- Made From Strong, Heavy Duty Material
- Easy To Clean
- Great For Picnics, Takeout, Food Delivery, Traveling,Catering
- Large Styrofoam Cooler - 23 Inch W X 15 Inch H X 14 Inch D
Styrofoam coolers are known for their excellent insulating properties, which make them effective at keeping your food warm during transportation.
These containers are lightweight, affordable, and widely available.
To test the Styrofoam cooler I placed a hot dish inside and secured it with a well-fitting lid.
The insulating properties of the cooler helped to maintain the heat, and it kept my food warm for approximately 3 hours.
I find that styrofoam coolers are a practical choice for a variety of dishes, such as baked goods, hot appetizers, or side dishes.
They work particularly well for potluck gatherings, picnics, or other events where you need to transport hot food over a short to medium distance.
Top Tip: Consider pairing the Styrofoam cooler with additional insulation materials, like kitchen towels or thermal blankets, to extend the duration of warmth retention, especially for longer journeys.
14. Portable Stoves (4 hours)
- Lightweight And Compact
- Precise Temperature Control
- Matchless Lighting
- Burn Time: Up To 1.25 Hours
- Easy To Clean
Portable stoves powered by butane or propane are versatile and reliable solutions for keeping food warm during transportation.
These stoves are often used for outdoor cooking, but they can also serve as excellent heat sources when you need to transport hot dishes.
To test the portable stove, I placed my hot dish in a heat-resistant container.
I then turned on the stove and set it to a low or medium heat level.
Top Tip: The heat level you will need will depend on your specific dish’s requirements.
The stove’s flame will maintain the temperature of your food, keeping it hot for extended periods, typically around 4 hours or more.
I find this option is ideal for dishes such as hot pots, or grilled items however there is one clear downside.
You should not use the portable stove whilst actually travelling as this could be very dangerous.
This means that for short trips such as local delivery of food to loved ones who live locally, you should choose one of the other methods.
Portable stoves, however, are a convenient choice for outdoor gatherings, camping trips, or any event where you want to serve hot meals without the need for electricity.
15. Hot Water Bottles (2 hours)
Hot water bottles, often used for soothing aches and pains, can also serve as a clever method for keeping food warm during transportation.
These bottles are simple to use and effective in retaining heat.
When I tested hot water bottles, I filled them with hot water from the kettle.
Top Tip: Ensure the caps are securely fastened to prevent leaks which could be dangerous.
I then wrapped my hot dish in towels and placed the wrapped dish and hot water bottle in a cooler.
This method maintained the warmth of my food for approximately 2 hours.
I find hot water bottles work well for dishes that don’t require extremely high temperatures to remain enjoyable, such as macaroni and cheese, pasta salads, or sandwiches.
They’re particularly useful when you need to transport food over shorter distances.
16. Insulated Food Delivery Bags (3 hours)
- Can Store Hot And Cold Items For A Long Time
- High-Quality Two-Way Zipper Pocket And Two Pairs Of Hand Straps
- 8+ Amazing Designs
- Water Resistant
- Large Size And Capacity
Insulated food delivery bags are designed specifically for transporting hot dishes and maintaining their temperature.
These bags are often used by professional caterers and food delivery services, and they offer superior insulation.
My testing of insulated food delivery bags consisted of placing my hot dish inside and closing it securely.
This option is incredibly simple.
The thick insulation and sealed design helped to keep my food warm for approximately 3 hours, making them ideal for a variety of events.
Whether you’re delivering meals to friends or catering for an event this option makes sure your hot dish arrives in top condition.
Top Tip: To keep your food warm for longer, place the hot dish into the bag as soon as it’s ready and securing the bag with minimal openings is essential. This gives your food the best chance to stay warm until it reaches its destination.
Also worth noting is that these bags are available in various sizes to accommodate different dish sizes and quantities.
17. Heated Car Seats (2 hours)
Heated car seats are typically used for adding comfort whilst travelling during cold weather.
But they can also serve as an ingenious method to keep your food warm while transporting it in your car.
These seats provide a gentle, even heat that can help maintain the warmth of your dishes during shorter journeys.
Like the heated seat covers method above I tested the heated car seats by covering my dish with aluminum foil to minimize heat loss.
Then, I placed the dish on the heated car seat, ensuring that it was turned on to the desired temperature setting. In most cases, this would be set to the high setting.
I found the heated car seat option provided warmth for approximately 2 hours, making it a practical option for short trips.
This method is ideal for dishes that don’t require extremely high temperatures to remain enjoyable, such as sandwiches, wraps, or pasta.
I also find that it’s a clever choice if you’re transporting your food by car and want to ensure it stays warm without using additional equipment.
18. Thermos Flasks (Over 4 hours)
- Keeps Food Hot Up To 6 Hrs & Cold Up To 8 Hrs
- Bpa Free
- 1 Year Warranty
- Modern Look And Feel
- 100% Leakproof
While thermos flasks are typically used for keeping beverages hot or cold, they can also be repurposed to maintain the temperature of liquid-based dishes.
I find this method works particularly well for soups, stews, and other hot liquids.
My testing of a thermos flask was very simple.
I simply poured my hot dish into the thermos and made sure it was tightly sealed straight afterwards.
Thermos flask manufacturers will show how long they will keep food warm with most averaging around 4 hours.
In my case, I tested the Black+Blum Insulated Food Flask which keeps food warm for up to 6 hours!
Thermos flasks are a convenient choice when you need to transport hot soups or other liquids that need to stay hot and delicious.
Top Tip: Thermos flasks are available in various sizes, so you can choose the one that best accommodates your specific dish.
19. Electric Warming Trays (Over 4 hours)
Electric warming trays are a top pick for keeping food warm when catering events or hosting large gatherings.
These trays are designed to maintain food temperature effectively and efficiently.
I tested my electric warming tray by plugging it into the electrical outlet of my car and setting it to a high temperature.
I then placed my hot dish on the warming tray, ensuring that it was well covered.
Electric warming trays can maintain food temperature for over 4 hours, making them ideal for extended events or for delivering food to more than one location.
These trays are available in various sizes and designs, and as with mine, many models come with multiple temperature settings.
20. Portable Hot Plates (3 hours)
- Keeps Food Warm For Occasions Such As Parties, Buffets, Or Family Dinners.
- Portable And Lightweight
- 8+ Amazing Designs
- Sleek And Stylish Food Warmer
- Modular Food Warmer - Connect More Than One Together
Portable hot plates are a versatile option for keeping food warm during transportation, especially for dishes that require ongoing heating.
These hot plates can provide the necessary heat to keep your dishes at the right temperature.
When I tested a portable hot plate I placed my hot dish in a heat-resistant container.
I then turned the hot plate on and set it to a low or medium heat level.
In my tests, the hot plate maintained the temperature of my food keeping it warm for approximately 3 hours or more.
This method is ideal for dishes that require ongoing heating, such as hot pots or grilled items.
Portable hot plates are a versatile choice for outdoor gatherings, camping trips, or any event where you want to serve hot meals without the need for electricity.
They are available in various sizes and designs, so you can select the one that best suits your needs.
21. Chafing Dishes (Over 4 hours)
Chafing dishes are a staple in the world of professional catering and large-scale events.
These heated containers are designed to maintain food temperature effectively over extended periods, making them a top choice for serving hot dishes to a large crowd.
Clearly, you can’t use a chafing dish to keep food warm whilst transporting but they are perfect for when you are out about with family such as a family camping trip.
The water pan and flame ensure that your food remains hot and moist, preserving its quality and flavour.
My test of the chafing dish involved filling the water pan with hot water and lighting the fuel source beneath it, usually a can of gel or a flame.
I placed my hot dish in the designated food pans above the water pan and in my test, the chafing dish maintained the warmth of my food for over 4 hours.
Top Tip: Chafing dishes are available in various sizes and designs to accommodate different dishes and quantities.
How Long Can I Keep Food Warm Whilst Travelling
Below I’ve listed out my 21 ways to keep food warm whilst on the move along with the associated length of time heat is retained.
|#||Method||Heat Retention (hrs)|
|1||Insulated Food Containers||4 hours|
|2||Preheated Oven Method||2 hours|
|3||Hot Water Bath||1.5 hours|
|4||Slow Cooker Transport Bags||3 hours|
|5||Insulated Lunch Bags||1.5 hours|
|6||Aluminum Foil and Towels||1.5 hours|
|7||Heated Bricks||2 hours|
|8||Portable Food Warmers||3+ hours|
|9||DIY Heat Packs||2 hours|
|10||Towel Wrap||1 hour|
|11||Thermal Blankets||2 hours|
|12||Heated Seat Covers||2 hours|
|13||Styrofoam Coolers||3 hours|
|14||Portable Stoves||4 hours|
|15||Hot Water Bottles||2 hours|
|16||Insulated Food Delivery Bags||3 hours|
|17||Heated Car Seats||2 hours|
|18||Thermos Flasks||Over 4 hours|
|19||Electric Warming Trays||Over 4 hours|
|20||Portable Hot Plates||3 hours|
|21||Chafing Dishes||Over 4 hours|
In conclusion, keeping food warm when transporting it is not only possible but can be done effectively using a variety of methods.
Depending on your needs and the duration of your journey, you can choose the most suitable option from the 21 methods I’ve shared above.
From insulated containers to chafing dishes, there are solutions for everyone, whether you’re catering a large event or simply bringing a homemade meal to a friend’s house.
Keep in mind that the duration of warmth retention can vary, so selecting the right method for your specific situation is essential.