Packing Food for Road Trips

Packing Food for Road Trips

Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandma’s House We Go — Again!

Hoooraaay!!!! It’s summer. That means exciting vacations and special trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s house! You have dreamed about it all winter long — your family, together in the car laughing, singing and playing road trip games. You stop at delicious restaurants –you know, the kind where they serve the best hamburger or pie in the world. It’s totally relaxing. You finish your meal, savoring that last cup of coffee. You climb back in the car to complete the journey. Then you arrive at Grandma’s !!!!!! (or Disneyland!!!!!) ….. Now wake up! –As I said, you were only dreaming.

Now it’s time to take your real trip. After spending several grueling hours trying to fit ten suitcases into a four suitcase carrier top, you are finally ready to leave. Let the games begin! They (the games that is) usually start before you even get out of your driveway.

Everyone drags to the car half asleep and grumpy. Then, there is the first fight of the day — Who gets to sit where? Once you get that settled, you are on your way (or so you think). Two miles out of town, you learn that someone has forgotten to turn off the iron. You have no choice but to head back home. One hour later, you are once again cruising down the highway when you get to play the second game of the day — the “bathroom game”.

Child, “I have to go to the bathroom.”

Dad “Didn’t you go before we left home?”

Child, “Yes, but I have to go again.”

Dad, “Well, you are going to have to hold it because there is no place to stop!”

Child, “But I really have to go. I can’t wait another minute.”

Dad, “Let me see if I can find a tree or a bush!” ( Good luck trying to find a tree or bush if you are traveling across Kansas!)

Once you persuade the child to go to the bathroom standing between the open car doors, you forge on. The next game takes a lot of skill and dexterity. It’s called “Baby Diaper Blow Out”. All at once, your older children start screaming “Oh! GROSS! Mommmmm!” You see them in the rear view mirror climbing on top of each other to get to the opposite side of the car from where the baby is sitting, grinning from ear to ear. You know you are in for big trouble. About the time the odor reaches you, you KNOW you are in REALLY big trouble. Of course these games can only be played when the nearest town is at least an hour away. Once again, you pull over. Who gets to hold the poopy baby? Where will you put the poopy baby while cleaning him up? You can’t use the back seat because it has diaper blow out shrapnel on it. To make it worse, mom tries to clean up the whole mess — baby, car seat and sometimes the floor of the car, with only the few baby wipes that fit in that cute little container for your diaper bag. I think you can usually get 4 or 5 wipes in them. If all else fails, you can always dig out the extra wipes you packed in the suitcase that is tied on the top of the car in the too small carrier. Look at the bright side — You could be doing all of this in a freezing snow storm instead 100 plus degree weather! Half an hour later, everyone finally piles back into the car. This is not your idea of seeing America… After an hour’s worth of driving, you hear the first “I’m hungry”. You are more then willing to stop, if for no other reason then to find a place to trash that stinky diaper.

Next Decision: Since you are so far behind on your schedule, do you get it “to go” or do you stop and go inside to eat? If you go inside, you will have a battle on your hands trying to drag your three year old away from the McDonald’s playground. That last thought scares you more then the idea of pop and ketchup stains in the car, so you start hitting the drive-thru windows. I made that plural because, of course, everyone wants something different to eat and this is, after all, everyone’s vacation. Three restaurants later, you hit the highway.

Now comes the part of the trip you like the best. Everyone is full and tired, so they lay back and take a nap. You hunker down, ready to relax and enjoy the view. In one split second, you forget the view and your eyes rivet to the rear view mirror once again. “Mommmm! I’m going to be sick!” I’ve never seen a mom move as fast as when she hears those dreaded words. The timing is impeccable. In one swift, single motion, off comes moms seat belt. At the same time, she twists, turns and flips over the seat, grabbing junior by the neck and shoving his head out the window, all the while hoping that dad was on top of the game enough to have the window down for her. Another good save by mom!

Ten hours later, you arrive at your destination 200 miles from home. You haven’t been this dirty, smelly or tired since your last vacation, but you are sure it is all worth it. (You’re sure, right???) I know a lot of you are thinking that you would love to be taking even a bad vacation right about now, but with gas prices so high you can’t imagine that’s possible. Here are some suggestions that might help you:

First, you don’t necessarily have to leave town to take a vacation. I have spent some of my best vacations just staying at home. We would get up when we wanted, eat a couple of meals out at our favorite restaurants, read or watch TV all day or go on picnics. We just did what we wanted. If you have a little money, but not enough for gas, then check into a hotel in town and swim for a day or two. That’s what most kids love to do anyway and, once you’re inside, most hotels look pretty much the same whether you are in South Dakota or Texas.

If you have some money saved for a trip but you know that the gas cost is going to eat most of your funds, try cutting your budget in another area, like your food. Consider taking your food with you. At first this may not seem to be as much fun but you might be surprised. I recently took two different trips with the grandkids. For one trip, we decided to stop for fast food meals along the way. We were getting tired and hungry. We exited off the highway and of course there was the great debate about which fast food place to stop. Once we finally decided that, we tried to find a parking place because half the population of the United States had chosen to stop at the same McDonald’s as us. We dragged ourselves out of the car, grabbing kids’ hands to keep them from becoming road kill under the tires of the cars rushing through the drive-thru. Once inside, we stood in line and stood in line and stood in line……Thirty minutes later, we had our food. The place was packed, but we finally found a booth where all of us could pack in together like we were in the car. One spilled pop and dumped order of fries later, we threw the half eaten remains of the food into the trash and hit the road again.

The next trip, we decided to pack our food. Not only did it save money, but it seemed much easier. We planned to stop at a park or rest area. While we were laying out the food the kids ran around like a bunch of wild things getting rid of much of their pent up energy. If there was a spill, it was no big deal because it was on the grass. There was very little food left over because I had packed foods that were special treats. We packed up the little food that remained and saved it for later. It was so much more fun sitting under the trees enjoying the breeze than sitting packed like sardines in a booth at a fast food place. Even on warm summer days, there is usually enough wind and shade to make it comfortable to sit outside. Going out to eat on a trip does not hold the excitement that it once did. Most families go out to eat so often at home that the novelty of it has worn off.

The next time you travel try packing your own food, not only to save money but also to experience something fun and different. You might even try half and half. Pack for one meal and eat out for another. And don’t forget breakfast — Sometimes getting on the road the first thing in the morning is such a rush that it might be easier to wait and eat breakfast after you have driven an hour or two. This works especially well if you have to start out in the wee hours of the morning.

If your budget allows it, pack foods that your family only gets for special occasions. Here are a few ideas to get you started:


. Muffins, banana or apple bread

. Don’t forget the butter or cream cheese

. Donuts, honey buns: If you think it will be easier for you, buy them individually packaged. I’m not sure why, but kids seem to love individually packaged things and it makes everything more fun.

. Bagels with cream cheese and jam. Mix the jam and cream cheese together and place in a small container before you leave.

. Individual boxes of cereal with milk. When I was young I always thought that it was so neat to be able to cut the sides of the boxes open and use the cereal box for a bowl. My mom thought it was neat because she didn’t have to bring extra bowls and could toss the boxes.

. Hard boiled eggs

. Little smoky sausages (the pre-cooked kind). These can be eaten out of the package, but if you like them hot, place them in a small thermos and pour very hot to boiling water over them. Put on the lid and by the time you are ready to eat them, the water will have heated them through.

Lunch and Dinner

. Sandwiches are always great for a trip. Use hoagie buns instead of regular sandwich bread. It makes them a little more special and they don’t crush as easily.

. Good old peanut butter is great for the kids. Pay just a few more pennies and get the peanut butter in the tube. No messy knives and it’s smaller than a jar. If you have spare packets of jelly from eating out, use those or buy jelly in the tube, too.

. If you put lettuce or tomato on your sandwiches, bag them separately and put them on just before you are ready to eat.

. Chicken or slices of ham: Fried chicken is always a good picnic stand by. See later tips on keeping it cold.

. Hot dogs: As with the little sausages, put the hot dogs in a thermos and cover with boiling water. They will be perfectly cooked when ready to eat. To me these are so much easier than sandwiches and everyone loves them.

. Potato salad or pasta salad. Keep them in a small cooler.

. Chips, crackers and cheeses. Buy chips in the cans. Slice or cut cheeses into cubes before you leave. Cheese sticks are perfect.

. Baked beans. Once again, they keep great in a thermos.

.Fruits and veggies: Apples, Oranges (already peeled) and firmer fruits. Clean and bag carrot sticks, celery, broccoli, cauliflower or other vegetables.

. Cookies, brownies, quick breads and muffins. These are the best desserts.

. Drinks. Of course pop works great, but I like to freeze bottles of lemonade. Lemonade seems more refreshing. You can also have juice or iced tea in bottles and coffee in a thermos for coffee drinkers. Be sure to freeze all your drinks to help keep your other foods cool in place of ice.

. Don’t forget the water.

General Tips

. Kids usually whine and fuss for one of two reasons. They are hungry or tired. This is especially true on trips, so bring plenty of snacks and a pillow for everyone.

. If you have room, box each family member’s meal in his own box like the box lunches they give out at activities. This is really handy if you have to eat while driving. When finished eating, each person can put his empty wrappers in his own box for easy clean up.

. Be sure to bring those extra ketchup, mustard, salt, and pepper packets you get from fast food. Don’t forget the plastic knives, forks and spoons along with napkins and a paring knife. Make sure just about everything is disposable.

. If money is tight, you don’t have to have elaborate meals. I still fondly remember the trips when we stopped and bought a bag of chips, a loaf of bread, a package of bologna and cheese. We washed it down with an icy cold Pepsi and nothing tasted better.

. If you can, buy the gadget that you plug into the lighter plug in your car to heat water. It works well for instant coffee, oatmeal and hot chocolate.

. In this day and age with so many convenience foods available, it isn’t hard to pack a lunch for the road. Even using those convenience foods, it is usually cheaper than buying food for the whole family at a fast food place.

The Author:

Jill Cooper is the author of Dining On A Dime Cookbook. For more free tips and recipes visit her web site at

Jill raised 2 teenagers on $500 a month after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Photo. Katerina Holmes

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