Pack Your Own Satisfying and Healthy Road Trip Food!
Eat Right on the Road
My mother is an expert at packing delicious, healthy, and satisfying food for road trips. Everything I know about road trip food I learned from her. She's got an innate sense of what's good for the body. Her formula for good nutrition is very simple: a breakfast of cereal, fruit, and dairy; a lunch of protein, bread, greens, and dairy; and a dinner of protein, carbs, and two or more vegetables. Snacks in between or at bedtime? Fruit or cereal. In case you are wondering, there were never sweets, processed foods, or sodas in our house unless it was a special occasion like a birthday or holiday. I believe my mother actually invented the Food Pyramid, the right one, the one that works. I’m not allowed to tell you how old my mother is (she'd kill me), but I can say that she's her hometown's senior center member who helps other seniors 25 years her junior. Something is right with her food plan.
You can guess that Mom is also thrifty. As many who grew up during the Great Depression, Mom believes an extra dollar spent on something done for you that you could do easily for yourself is money down the drain. It costs very little to provide your own road trip food, so get to it!
Mom's Road Trip Foods
Mom's road trip food choices will help keep you energized even when you travel alone, when the monotony of a long drive is most likely to take its toll. You won't be hungry and you won't be overly full.
These ingredient amounts are for one adult and provide satisfying, healthy, road food for up to 12 hours of driving time in one day. These foods are easy to handle in the car and require no mixing or preparation except what needs to be done before the road trip begins.
- 1 Hardboiled egg, peeled
- 1 Container yogurt, 8 ounces
- 1 Piece of whole grain bread spread with the nut butter of your choice, cut in half, and arranged into a half-sandwich
- 1 Sandwich made with whole grain bread, lettuce and cucumbers, and whatever protein and bread spread you like, sliced in half
- 1 Orange, peeled and sectioned
- 1 Serving of grapes, washed and removed from their stems
- 1 Cup of berries in season
- 1 Sweet pepper, small, green or red or whatever color you like, cleaned, seeded, and cut into narrow strips
- 1 Carrot, sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 1 Celery stalk, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 Ounces of cheese, cut into pieces
- 8 Crackers
- 2 Ounces of the trail mix of your choice
- 2 Cookies–oatmeal, chocolate chip, or whatever you like
- 1 Small chocolate bar
- 3 Bottles of water, 16 ounces each
Prep Your Food the Night Before
Prepare road trip food items the night before you start out on the road.
- Wrap the half-sandwiches individually in waxed paper and then seal them together in one plastic bag.
- Pack the fruits, vegetables, cheese, trail mix, and crackers in individual plastic bags or containers.
- Store all but the cookies, trail mix, and crackers in your refrigerator overnight.
In the morning, load a large cooler with bagged ice and add the refrigerated food. Fill a small tote or boat bag with the non-refrigerated items. To the tote, add these items for convenience:
- Plastic spoon for the yogurt
- Small disposable bag for trash
- Roll of paper towels or package of paper napkins
- Hand sanitizer, wet-wipes, or a spray bottle of plain water for rinsing hands and cleaning up
Keep Your Food Safe While on the Road
A good rule of thumb for keeping perishable food safe on the road is to add ice to a cooler so that the ice takes up about one-third of the cooler's volume. The night before a road trip, I fill three one-gallon zipper-lock bags with ice and store them in my refrigerator's freezer. When it comes time to load my 30-quart cooler, I distribute the ice bags among the food and bottled water to avoid creating a warmer zone at the top of the cooler.
If you are packing food for more than one day on the road, you will need to replenish your ice supply at the end of each day. Ice is cheap or even free in most hotels and motels, and it's a simple task to empty the zipper-lock gallon bags and refill them.
The Colorado State University Extension has more great tips for keeping your road trip food safe.
Eating Food When Driving Alone
When I travel with friends or family, we munch on road food any time the urge hits. As I'm almost always the driver, I get spoiled by my companions who hand me bite-sized pieces of food any time I ask, so I'm never distracted from my focus on the road. But when I'm traveling alone, opening a plastic bag or even peeling a banana poses a safety risk.
Instead of keeping the cooler and tote next to me, I leave them in the back of the car and raid them only when I make a stop to gas up, use a rest room, or take a break, although I always keep a cold opened bottle of water within easy reach in the console's cup holder. If you really want to eat while you drive alone, lay out the food items you want on the passenger seat, making sure bags and containers are already open.
About Our Road Trip Food Choices
Not everyone can or wants to eat what Mom and I do, and so you may want to make changes. If you do, keep her good sense in mind. Choose carbs, proteins, dairy, fats, fruits, and vegetables in reasonable amounts and proportions, prepare and package them all in advance, and drink plenty of water along the way. When your car is loaded with smart food choices, you won't be tempted to splurge on expensive roadside eateries or chow down on high-calorie fast foods. Should that tempting coffee shop with fresh cinnamon buns just happen to be located where you pull over for a rest, you won't feel a bit guilty for indulging–just this once.