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Cheapest way to keep frozen foods from thawing out in my car?

The waits at those red lights seem even longer when you've got ice cream or frozen food in the trunk....

I'm on a budget and am assuming I need 2 things: a cooler and one of those gel ice packs you keep in the freezer and pull out when ready to use (since I don't want to have to buy and dispose of ice)

Can anyone recommend cheap options for each?

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  1. During the summer you ought to be able to find very inexpensive styrofoam ice chests just about anywhere. My local supermarket has them for about $3--and that's NYC prices which means you ought to be able to find them for half that in most of the rest of the country.

    The cheapest way to acquire gel packs is to ask for them when you buy meat or fish at a good butcher or fishmonger. Around here--NYC again--it's not at all unusual for people to ask that meat and fish be "packed for traveling." Sometimes there's a small charge, but usually not.

    1. styro cooler, about $2. and 2 ice packs about $3.

      1. Go to the seafood dept. of your local market and they usually have fish that has come in styro-type containers or they sell reusable insulated shopping bags fairly cheap and keep them in your trunk. Most grocery stores have ice machines for the seafood or meat dept. and will give you a small bag to keep your stuff on ice till you get home. (No they probably aren't going to "give" you 10 lbs. of free ice--they want to sell that to you).

        I got one of those freebie KFC insulated bags and keep it folded in my trunk. Go to a place like Costco and I'll ask the food court if I can have a small bag of ice for my cooler and they say no problem.

        2 Replies
        1. re: monku

          Get a gallon freezer bag, or smaller, fill it about 3/4 full with water, and freeze. It'll freeze in about 18 hours, combine with the styrofoam cooler, and it lasts a long time, plus can be re-used over and over.

          1. re: monku

            I thought I was the only person who asked the fishman for the foam containers! I usually use them all summer long, and then recycle them.

          2. I keep plastic yogurt tubs filled with water in my freezer. When I need an ice pack - voila: ice pack. If I need more room in the freezer, I take them out until I have room for them again. My cooler is an old one I got at a garage sale.

            Another tip. If you have a large freezer, keep a big wet towel in a plastic garbage bag in the freezer. This is a good thing to put in your cooler. It keeps things cold for a long time. Remember - the less warm air circulating in the cooler, the better. So tuck that frozen towel around your ice cream tubs when you pack them into the cooler.

            You get home, you either replace the towel in the freezer or hang it out to dry.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Nyleve

              That's a great idea for the towel (though my freezer isn't big enough for a large towel). Clever! I'll bet I could use a smaller one for ice packs for injuries, too, that would wrap around the body part better.

              1. re: chowser

                That's the alternate use - the iced towel for sore body parts. I keep a big one in my chest freezer for whatever I need it for.

            2. I found a silver hot / cold bag at Stater Brothers for under $4.00. I've had it for years and did see some at the store today.. It folds up easily and best of all no ice is needed. You can put frozen and cold things together and it keeps it cold for several hours. I carry it around in my trunk so I always have it with me.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Cinnabon

                Thanks for all the suggestions everyone....very helpful!

                1. re: Agent 510

                  those silver hot/cold bags are ideal because you can pack the groceries directly into them in the store. no need to deal with transferring the items to a cooler (or exposing them to the hot summer air) when you get to the car.

                2. re: Cinnabon

                  I have the same bags. They are cheap, and they work. I wouldn't leave ice cream in there for hours, but it certainly suffices to at least get home without melted ice cream. I have kept other things in there for longer -- things like milk, hummus, frozen vegetables -- and they stay cold/frozen for quite a while.

                  1. re: valerie

                    I have similar bags from trader joe's, i think they cost me a buck or two. THey keep things cold for up to 4 hours, no ice pack necessary, as long as it was frozen/cold when it went in. If the top closes - that's the only issue I have with them - if you put a lot of stuff in them they don't close. (they have velcro across the top)

                    1. re: jujuthomas

                      Mine don't have velcro but they do have a plastic thing that closes. You can't fill them to the very top, but they are cheap enough so I keep 2 bags in each of my cars. If I had to resort to using ice packs, I would never remember to put them in the car before I left the house, so these bags are a great, cheap option for me.