this thing's incredible

I Can Comfortably Eat Four-Course Meals in My Car With This Kids’ Crafting Tray

The tray in action. Photo: Chloe Anello

[Editor’s note: Since this story was first published, the exact trays Chloe bought at Michaels have gone out of stock. But the near-identical tray from Walmart that she linked to below is still in stock in various colors.]

As I’ve said before, I’ve always been more of an indoor kid. But when restaurants closed down during the pandemic, my boyfriend and I were left with few options if we wanted to eat away from home and away from strangers without resorting to outdoor dining. So we started eating in our car.

We’d grab take-out and go somewhere scenic, like our favorite park overlooking the Hudson River. Once parked, we’d enjoy the view with a burger, a slice of pizza, or pad Thai, playing the exact music we wanted to listen to and adjusting the air or heat to our preference. We were able to spend an hour or so away from home — no small thing when you’re sheltering in place — without unnecessary interactions with others. And while it sure beat eating outside on a cramped sidewalk with a continuous stream of passersby (especially if you prefer the great indoors, as I do), there was one obvious downside: Eating on your lap in a car — especially when you’re eating a plate of pad Thai — is no easy feat.

My boyfriend and I are both relatively neat adults, but preventing crumbs and spills was nearly impossible. The car got messy, and, oftentimes, so did my pants. No matter how scenic the view was, hunching over my food never felt wholly enjoyable. Then I came across a TikTok on my For You Page of a couple buying plastic kids craft trays from Michael’s for their car meals. Inspired, my boyfriend and I immediately went to the craft store to buy plastic kids craft trays for our car meals.

These $7 trays, which come in everything from black to teal to hot pink, have a flat surface perfect for eating and feature three sizable side compartments that seem as though they were made for holding ketchup packets, extra napkins, and a drink (rather than the crayons and markers they were technically designed for). The tray fits comfortably over my lap, even though it’s marketed to children, and and it lifts my meal up to an ideal height. If you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, you do have to slide the chair back all the way in order to fit it in front of the steering wheel (which might be a pain if there’s a long-legged person sitting in your backseat but is otherwise a nonissue). When we’re done eating, we open the door to shake the crumbs off it, then clean it with an alcohol wipe. We stack the trays up and slide them back in the trunk, where they take up minimal room.

So far, we’ve used our trays for lunch in the Brooklyn Museum parking lot, for breakfast in Kingston, before and after hikes, and numerous times at the riverfront in Beacon, where we live. We’re already talking about taking them to the drive-in theater once it opens for the season and using them for a future road trip to the South. And even though indoor dining has resumed at restaurants, our trays won’t be going anywhere. Not only does neither of us feel comfortable eating indoors just yet, but we’ve actually begun to prefer our little car meals, where both the scenery and the soundtrack are unbeatable.

If you’d like to bulk-buy.

Not the same brand as the one I own, but nearly identical.

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I Eat Elaborate Meals in My Car With This Kids Crafting Tray