Next week my family and I are heading out of town for our biggest road trip to date. Lots of miles to be covered, several hotels to check-in to and a couple of nights tent-camping promise to make for challenging meal planning.
While it’s tempting to just leave meals up to fate (there’s always a restaurant around…), there are several important reasons for packing your own food.
First and foremost, after a few hours in the car, kids cannot be expected to be on their best dinner-time behavior. They need to move, not sit and subjecting them to a restaurant meal can be an exercise in frustration (for both them and you). We try to time our meals around outdoor destinations; a park, a playground, a nature trail. First they move, then they eat. We save the dining out for a non-travel day and try to find an interesting, local restaurant (not a chain) to make it an event.
Secondly, we all know how difficult it is to find acceptable clean options when eating out. Typically, restaurant meals (in particular those served by the restaurants your kids want to eat at…) are high in carbs and fats. Portion sizes tend to be out of control. Wine and dessert tempt you. One meal at a restaurant and you’ve blown you calorie count for the day and used up a week’s worth of splurges. Do this every day and you’ll come back from your holidays bloated, ill-tempered and out of shape.
And last, but not at all least, it’s expensive! Do you know how much it costs for a family of five to eat at a not-at-all fancy restaurant? Somewhere in the ballpark of $40-50 for lunch and $70 plus for dinner. Multiply that by 8 to 10 days and you’ve eaten up (pun intended) a significant portion of your holiday finances. Personally, I’d rather spend the money on museums, outdoor adventures and souvenir yarn (you don’t buy souvenir yarn?!?!).
While I do allow some road trip treats (my sons and I love red licorice; my husband and daughter enjoy a bit of chocolate for an afternoon pick-me-up), I try to pack high quality, nutrient dense finger foods. Foods that can be eaten in the car or assembled into a meal on the fly.
- Fresh fruit and veggies. I aim for fruit that can withstand abuse on the road (think apples, oranges, blueberries and grapes rather than bananas, pears, strawberries or peaches) and veggies that can be used to scoop up hummus, greek yogurt dip and my famous salmon and avocado mash (take a can of sockeye salmon, drain it and mash it up with half an avocado and a bit of lemon juice; yummy!). I pre-wash and cut peppers, cucumbers, baby carrots and cherry tomatoes before we leave home.
- Dried fruit, cereal and nut mixes. I let each child make a bag of their own trail mix. If they make it themselves, they’re more likely to eat it. A few chocolate chips or mini-marshmallows have been known to sneak into the bags too.
- Portable protein. A dozen hard-boiled eggs, some string cheese, single serving yogurt containers, roasted and sliced chicken breast. You can eat them a la carte, or combine them with your veggies to make a wrap or sandwich with;
- whole wheat flour tortilla wraps, multigrain rice cakes and bagels; way better than pre-made sandwiches, which often end up soggy or smashed.
I’ll be doing some baking before we leave. Clean eating muffins, cookies and protein bars to tide us over between meals. I like several of Tosca Reno’s recipes. Check out The Gracious Pantry for more.
What do I avoid packing?
- Pre-made, boil-in-a bag dinners. Too much fat, salt and sugar. Not enough protein and veggies.
- Canned soups or stews. Expensive (for what you’re getting) and usually high in salt.
- Noode/rice/bean mixes. Typically made of white flour or rice, high in salt and sometimes fat, low in protein and veggies.
- Hot dogs, pre-made hamburger patties and processed meats. Possible links between deli meats and colon cancer have scared me right away from these sources of protein.
- Juice boxes. Too much sugar (the last thing kids need when confined to a car). I pack a water bottle for everybody and tuck them in their cup holders for easy access while traveling. Remember to fill them up every time you stop for a rest or a bathroom break!
For breakfast, I’ll whip up some pancakes; I make my own mix ahead of time by combining pre-made pancake mix with flax seed, wheat germ, wheat bran, cinnamon and quinoa flakes (have you tried quinoa flakes? They’re fabulous. They cook super quick and make a nice variation on oatmeal with a lot more protein to boot). All I need to do is add eggs and a bit of oil before cooking them up tent-side. I’ll also have oats on hand to make some overnight oatmeal for my breakfast.
I don’t plan on bringing everything we need with us. There will be local farmer’s markets and farm stands where we’re headed and sometimes grocery shopping as an out-of-towner can be fun. You never know what new delicacies you might stumble across! And since we’ll be traveling through wine country, you can bet I’ll be saving some of my splurges for vino!
Do you stick to clean eating on your holidays?
What tricks have you learned to keep from over-indulging on vacation?
Where are you going this summer?