One of my absolute favorite parts of summer in the city? Gathering up a group of friends and hitting up the food truck party down the street for some twilight tacos, fantastic falafel, and (of course) a waffle or two under the twinkle lights and stars. Inspired by summer evenings downtown and their fantastic melting pots of food, this cute cardboard food truck art invitation will have your kids creatively building away until the dinner bell rings!
Way back in the day, one of my early art jobs was designing signs (the BIG kind you find on buildings!) so I knew right away we’d have to incorporate some mini versions and cool metal textures. It’s so easy to get caught up in creating the little features that bring these to life, this project can easily stretch from a solid 40-minute craft into a 4-hour art fest.
Another direction to take this project? Use it to talk about WHERE the food we eat comes from – the cultures and people behind the dishes. In my own experience, *actual* food truck visits have always opened my eyes to the communities that make up my city. The cultural melting pots that food truck pods provide in real life are a great way for kids to learn – this project can help them continue that learning through play.
To make your own DIY cardboard food truck you’ll need:
- Cardboard, a cereal box, watercolor paper or heavy cardstock
- A utility knife or scissors
- A glue stick
- Scrap paper
- Odds & ends from the recycling bin
- A glue gun or craft glue
- Our Printable City Landscape Paper Cut Cars & Trucks Template Set
- A hole punch
- Markers or other coloring supplies
- Wrapping paper or origami paper
- Washi tape or similar
- Other decorative craft supplies to add flair (ribbon, yarn, small pom poms, stickers, beads, etc.)
DIY Cardboard Food Truck Instructions:
- Draw or trace a simple truck shape onto cardboard
You can use our truck template to trace your food truck onto cardboard, or freehand draw your own.
Want to make yours a little larger? Just trace around the traced outline *again* about an inch or two from the line as we did for our bigger truck. I’ve found a larger scale works especially well for younger kids.
- Cut out
Carefully cut the shape out using a utility knife or strong pair of scissors. I wanted to give one of our trucks the look and texture of corrugated metal (a classic food truck finish!) so I carefully peeled up the paper from the top of the cardboard. If you’d like to do the same, I’ve found it’s easiest to slide a sharpened pencil into the grooves of the cardboard and pull up the paper slowly, tearing away sections at a time.
We wanted to cut an actual window into one of our food trucks, so we used our utility knife to cut 3 sides, then score the end. This makes a flap that can be bent and pulled up to become an awning!
Use acrylic or tempera paint to cover your cardboard. Let dry completely, or use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. We used shiny silver acrylic paint for our corrugated metal food truck.
- Begin adding basic truck elements with recycled bits & pieces
You can use items saved from the recycling bin to begin building the basic elements of your food truck.
We used black washi tape to create a “bumper,” then hot glued old tennis ball canister lids on for wheels – with pink rims and some k-cup filter finishes. We also added stripes to our owning with scrap paper strips.
- Use scrap paper or other decorative craft supplies to add details.
Once you’ve finished the basics of your food truck, it’s time to start decorating it.
This is the fun part because it REALLY begins to look like the real thing and takes on a personality of its own. What does your food truck sell? What colors would you like to use? Will there be patterns or illustrations on your truck?
What other details can you add to your food trucks? Does your food truck have a name? Lights? Signage? Menus?
TIP: We used a hole punch to make the little circles for our sign lights, but a q-tip dipped in paint also makes perfect dots (and is a bit faster and easier for small hands!)
- Add supports to back and stand
Finish the whole thing up by hot-gluing one or two cardboard strips or tubes (or similar) to the back of your truck behind each wheel – this will create a stable way for your food truck to stand upright.
Our little pod of tiny food trucks has everyone positively drooling over the adorably colorful designs – welcome to Flavortown, indeed!
When it comes to general build and stand-up construction, we tried two different techniques. For our green taco truck, we decided to keep things fairly simple with a 2D front. Because you can’t see through to the back, we hot-glued simple cardboard legs to the back.
If you want to take your food truck into the THIRD dimension and build in a little spot where you can actually put Lego people or mini-chefs working the truck, you can use our pic below for construction inspiration. We attached a smallish box lid to the back (behind the window) with hot-glue, then hot-glued on the larger supports. Two cardboard tubes (lined up behind each wheel so they’re a bit hidden) work well to give this the stability it needs to stand and withhold hands-on play.
So, are these the cutest darn food trucks you’ve ever seen, or what?!? Adding the details is key to interesting art and material exploration for kids. Whether you have bins and bins of little loose parts, or a small ream of construction paper and markers, the creativity shines through in all the tiny features!
More food truck-themed play and learning ideas…
- Books like Food Truck Fest (see a little preview here over at Avery & Augustine!) or one of these culturally-rich food picture books (from Books for Diversity)
- Food truck dramatic play – make a set of play food together, set up a BIG cardboard food truck (we love this inspiration from Estéfi Machado) then serve & play!
- A kid-organized taco bar
- A new & unique homemade meal – find a yummy recipe to cook and try together
In addition to some clever reuses of scraps and fun collaging, this process gives kids an entertaining prompt for imaginative storytelling and can be used over and over for imaginative play. These have become the perfect accessories to our new cardboard city landscape books and cardboard box city neighborhood.