10 of the Best and Worst Foods to Eat While in the Car

First-person point of view of a person eating a burrito while driving
Living in a fast-paced culture, we’re often forced to eat on the go, including in our cars | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Every day, millions of Americans chow down on food while sitting behind the wheel without any sign of hesitation. May they be knee-deep in the morning commute, coffee and donuts at the ready, or on a family road trip with a Big Kahuna burger, there’s no denying the fact that Americans won’t hesitate to eat while driving.

But the truth is that most of us actually hate eating while driving. Since we’re rushed, certain foods can never truly be enjoyed properly. We constantly fear that we’re going to smack into someone mid-bite. And a fat glob of ketchup always seems to end up on our shirt as we pull into the office parking lot.

First person point of view of driving a car
Driving a car presents all sorts of risks, and distractions are everywhere | iStock.com

So what foods are ideal for when the open road calls? We’re not talking about feeding on some fries, chomping on a Snickers bar, or slurping down a smoothie here — almost anyone can handle that kind of light grazing while being behind the wheel. We’re talking about full meals, and filling ones at that. The kind of nourishment that is designed to keep the hunger wolf at bay, all while giving a driver the ability to commute with confidence.

Don’t get us wrong: We understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to throw the car in park in order to enjoy their daily dose of greasy goodness. As a thriving capitalistic culture, many of us have meetings, deadlines, luncheons, and strict schedules to uphold. So to help you decide what foods work best behind the wheel as well as what to avoid, here are a handful of travel-size culinary options.

The good

1. Baby burritos and well-rounded wraps

Two meat burritos with vegetables served on a plate
A well-constructed burrito or wrap can be easily consumed while driving | Thinkstock

Here is a simple offering that works quite well behind the wheel. We’re not talking about that 45-pound Chipotle monstrosity that is bursting at the seams, but a much smaller, tightly rolled victual that can be contained in foil and filled with nutritious goodness.

The topping choices for foods like this are endless, with everything from a Greek feta and hummus veggie wrap to a seared steak burrito. Prep time for this road-friendly feast is minimal as well. And for those of us who are truly in a rush, Taco Bell has everyone covered in the burrito department, while Wendy’s offers numerous wrap options.

2. Beautifully built breakfast biscuits

Golden bacon cheddar biscuits with honey butter
Bacon cheddar biscuits with honey butter are filling and easy to eat on the go | Christine Skopec/The Cheat Sheet

There’s something comforting about having a greasy breakfast biscuit first thing in the morning on the way to work. Throw some eggs, cheese, and bacon between its fluffy folds, and you’ve got a filling meal that’s easy to wield. Not having a ton of toppings or sauces certainly helps, and because breakfast sandwiches are usually fairly small, the one-handed grab is key with this one.

Just be sure to opt for a fried egg, as scrambled eggs can get crumbly, and over-easy yolks are no joke when they dribble on those freshly pressed khakis. Want a healthy alternative to ham, sausage, and bacon? Try searing some sliced turkey breast with a little grapeseed oil for a fresh spin on protein.

3. Compact calzones

A freshly cut calzone is ready to be served for eating
A freshly cut calzone is a great substitute for pizza when you’re driving your car and are in need of a quick bite | iStock.com

While pizza may be out of the question when it is time to drive, its estranged cousin, the calzone, is still very much a contender. With its thick, doughy outer layer and countless filler options, the calzone stands tall when it’s time to get a bite to go.

Key tips for ordering or making a low-maintenance calzone are simple: Don’t overdo it on the sauce (or opt for a garlic-olive oil base instead), keep it to a handful of toppings to prevent disintegration, and remember that too much cheese will cause a stringy mess that’s impossible to manage.

4. Smart scones

Golden-colored chocolate chip scones fresh out of the oven with milk
If you’re craving something sweet while on the road, chocolate chip scones are a safe bet | iStock.com

People always think of a scone as this lightly sweetened pastry that is only good for breakfast, and they don’t think much further than that. Scones are one of those foods that are pretty awesome when they’re salty and savory too, with some of the better ones offering many of the same toppings you would find on a pizza or a sandwich. Scones don’t require two hands to eat them, they can be packed full of almost any kind of protein, and they require very little clean-up. So when perusing Panera in the morning, keep those eyes open for a savory scone for the road ahead.

5. Superior sushi

A man places a small amount of rice on seaweed while making sushi
Sushi rolls can be a great alternative to regular sushi when you’re driving | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Sushi is one of those delicate foods that is designed for table consumption, along with soy sauce, wasabi, and flagons of sake. While most of the time this proves to be the case, there is one strong exception, and that is the sushi roll. With customizable “Subway-style” sushi joints like Fusian popping up across America, this foreign delicacy is quickly becoming a mainstream meal for anyone in a hurry.

Virtually anything can be thrown into a sushi roll, and we highly recommend getting one where the seaweed is on the outside in order to keep the rice from falling onto the floorboard. When ordering, ask if sauces can be rolled into the sushi to avoid any soy sauce mishaps, and always make sure the roll remains uncut and wrapped in foil or saran wrap so it can be eaten like a burrito.

The bad

1. Catastrophic coffee

A coffee cup sits atop a car in a parking lot
Drinking coffee while driving might seem easy enough, but you’re more prone to spillage than you think | Thinkstock

While it may not be a food per se, coffee certainly has become synonymous with the daily commute. Once considered a luxury around the office, this caffeinated creation has become a commuter go-to ever since the advent of the to-go cup. With Starbucks drive-thrus growing in popularity, it doesn’t appear that this dangerous form of drinking and driving is going away anytime soon.

One thing many of us fail to notice, though, is that coffee causes more accidents than any other digestible product. According to a report by Wired, a multitude of independent studies have shown that coffee continues to be the primary offender when it comes to food-related automobile accidents. Scalding hot cups of liquid, an unsuspecting lap, a flimsy plastic lid, and rush hour traffic really seem like the perfect recipe for disaster once they’re all combined.

2. Hulking hamburgers

A cheeseburger with onions
Hamburgers and cars don’t mix, unless you’re parked | iStock.com

Burgers have become so synonymous with American fast food culture that it’s impossible to think of modern life without them. Pass by a drive-thru on any given lunch break and you’ll see dozens of hungry people waiting in their cars for their to-go meal.

But have you ever seen someone in a commercial take a massive bite out of a juicy burger with just one hand? We didn’t think so. These greasy Goliaths are totally a two-handed affair, and anyone daring enough to attempt a one-handed approach to Wendy’s Quad Baconator while driving is just asking for an accident. Even if someone ever did find a way to clutch that monster with one hand, all of the grease, pickles, and sauce are surely set to slide out onto the steering column.

3. Deadly donuts

Glazed donuts like these can be detrimental to one's health
Eating a donut can be detrimental to your health, especially when driving | iStock.com

Dunkin’ Donuts has a drive-thru, so it must be good food for the road, right? Wrong. This delicious grease trap may seem like the ideal companion to that scorching cup of coffee, but in reality, it’s nothing more than a great way to ruin your perfect day.

Jelly or cream-filled donuts are notorious for shooting their insides all over the place upon first bite, and anyone who is into powdered sugar- or sprinkle-covered foods is just asking for a refined sugar bomb to go off in their face. Sticky fingers are just as dangerous as greasy fingers when driving, and a wimpy wet wipe won’t do much for that sugar-soaked suit.

4. Accidental ice cream

Three gourmet fresh fruit ice cream bars
Save the ice cream for the home or the park | iStock.com/adogslifephoto

While it may seem like a fun accessory to the ride home, ice cream is a real threat for anyone behind the wheel. Cones drip incessantly and need constant care, and all that sticky runoff is prone to cause control buttons to become stuck. Cups don’t help much either since they require two hands for proper consumption. For anyone craving a sweet treat after work, we highly recommend opting for a shake or a malt instead of something that could cause a collision.

5. Terrible tacos

taco with chili con carne
Whether they’re crunchy or soft-shelled, you’ll want to avoid eating tacos in your car | iStock.com

Wrapping things up is the Mexican taco, one of those foods that is prone to instant disintegration at any moment. While a soft-shell version may be slightly less messy, the crunchy king of Tex-Mex is a disaster waiting to happen. If the shell doesn’t shatter into a thousand pieces at first bite, all of the cheese and tomatoes are sure to slide out the moment a distracted driver needs to have his or her eyes on the road and not their lap.

But if you absolutely need to have a hard-shell taco, we recommend going with something like Taco Bell’s Double Decker option, which has a soft outer section that encases the crispy shell and prevents the whole thing from falling apart.