Bedtime has been stretching later and later at our house, and a big reason has been our slow, relaxed dinners at the park or the neighborhood pool. It’s been so nice to pack up a no-cook dinner and eat with my husband while the kids go between food and swimming until the sun goes down. On these nights, the most important ingredient for a successful dinner has been a really good cooler that fits food for the whole gang in one container and keeps everything cold (or warm) while en route. These are our picks for the best coolers for families, with ones we love and a few we wish we had.

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Related: Outdoor dining gear and picnic recipes for easy, stylish, shatter-proof al fresco meals.

Best coolers for families: We love this vintage-looking Coleman steel cooler for summer picnic dinners

The retro look of this 54-quart Coleman steel cooler has me reminiscing about camping and hiking trips with my dad as a kid. It’s big enough to keep drinks and food for a big family cold, but might take two adults or a bunch of kids to carry it. It’s big. (And so is the discount on this cooler at our affiliate Amazon right now — 43% off, whoa! Go ahead and splurge on the Coleman high stand while you’re at it.)

Best coolers for families: The lightweight Kelty Pocket Picnic bag is perfect for summer picnic dinners.

If you’re looking for something a little more lightweight — like if you’re walking a few blocks to your neighborhood park for dinner — you might prefer the Kelty Pocket Picnic bag. This soft-sided bag is watertight, so a spilled water bottle won’t ruin dinner. And, even though it’s compact, it’s big enough to hold 20 drink cans (or dinner for a whole family). But the neatest part of this cooler is the way it pulls out to create a small table, so you can keep your food away from the ants or play a quick game of cards while the kids run around. Or, go ahead and deal them in on Texas Hold’em too.


Best coolers for families: The YETI Hopper is the top-of-the-line cooler for summer picnics at the pool.

My pick for top-of-the-line, luxury coolers are made by the Yeti brand. They will keep ice frozen for an impressive 24-48 hours, and have even withstood smashing, tossing, and biting by grizzly bears. (Seriously, watch the video.) The leakproof, 20-quart YETI Hopper Cooler (also at top) is the perfect model for dinners by the pool, especially if you’re going to be there all day. Its closed-cell foam insulation will keep your drinks and food cold literally for days. Warning: it’s not cheap, but it will live up to the price. And in case it doesn’t, the 3-year warranty will have your back.

Related: 6 cool picnic essentials.


How awesome is the Coolest Cooler for summer picnic dinners? Yes, that's a blender on top.

Tech geeks, we’ve found the cooler for you. The Coolest Cooler on Kickstarter has a whopping 60 quarts of space (that’s huge), but the bells and whistles are what make this one so fun. The lid has a blender attachment, and there is a waterproof, bluetooth speaker on front. If your phone battery dies while you’re eating, you can recharge it using the USB port. And it even has LED lights inside the lid, because with a cooler this fun you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay out past bedtime. (Note: the Kickstarter campaign has ended, but you can get on the waiting list to be alerted when they start production.)

Editor’s Note: The team behind the Coolest Cooler has announced that, due to unexpected production costs, they have run out of money from their Kickstarter campaign. Looks like it may have been too good to be true. We’d hold off on pre-ordering this until the future of the company is more clear. Read more at Food & Wine.

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