Going on a family road trip over the summer? Boy, do I have some great tips for you for keeping your food budget under control! Family road trip food doesn’t have to be a pile of mushy mayo-and-baloney sandwiches!
A long road trip, a couple thousand miles in our case, really takes a lot out of you. I’ll never understand what is so exhausting about sitting for hours at a time in a rolling vehicle, but it is. Tasty and healthy foods save time, money, and frustration when you plan ahead.
To save money on a trip a few years back, I was determined to eat as many meals as possible from food that I had packed. Now that our kids are bigger with appetites to match, restaurant bills loom in the $40-50 range at even budget-friendly restaurants. So, like any good Survival Mom, I searched the internet for ideas of foods and meals that would be easy to pack, easy to prepare, and easy to clean up.
Quick tips for sandwich meals
First on the menu, sandwiches. These turned out to be not so cheap since I splurged on Boar’s Head sandwich meat, but I figured that if the sandwich tasted really good, we’d be more willing to eat them a couple of times a day. Instead of a loaf of bread, I bought sandwich rolls, which turned out to be a much better choice, mostly because they didn’t get squished among all the luggage in the back of the Tahoe.
Thinking that mayo in a squeeze bottle would be a good idea, that’s the route I went, but it turned out to be not so smart. I still had to spread the mayo around with a plastic knife, which we quickly lost, and then had to shake, shake, shake the bottle to get the mayo down to the bottom of the container.
Here’s a better idea. Before you leave, spoon enough mayo into a zip-loc bag for the number of sandwiches you’ll make for one meal. Put the mayo-filled bags into a water-proof container so water in the ice chest doesn’t seep in. When it’s time to make your sandwiches, snip off, or in my case, bite off one corner of the zip-lock and use it as a decorator bag to swirl mayo over the bread. You won’t need a knife, and the emptied zip-loc can be thrown away.
If you like the crunch of lettuce in your sandwiches, pile a stack of lettuce leaves in a plastic food storage container, fold a paper towel over the top to absorb moisture, and then store it upside down in your cooler. That paper towel hack works like a charm for keeping the lettuce crispy.
More road-trip food ideas
To add variety to our sandwich diet, I packed cans of ravioli and spaghetti-o’s for the kids. I know, I know. Sugar, preservatives, and additives, but they were quick meals I could warm up in no time using either the microwave in the hotel room, when there was one, or the coffee pot in the coffee maker. I discovered that our favorite Hebrew National hot dogs stay frozen for a long time, and one night we had those on our sandwich buns. At another meal, I sliced them up and added them to the spaghetti-o’s.
Packets of chicken and tuna salad mixes were handy for both sandwiches and for snacking with crackers.
Cooking it up in the car
More recently, I discovered my favorite new obsession — the HotLogic! Oh, my. A friend told me about this miracle invention, so when I spotted them online, I bought two of them, the Mini and the Family Size. These portable food warmers produce hot meals right in your car, and on a recent road trip from Houston to Phoenix and back (2300 miles, round trip), we enjoyed store-bought tamales, homemade macaroni-and-cheese, and Sam’s Club chicken enchiladas.
I simply plugged the HotLogic into the outlet in the back of our vehicle, gave it a few hours to completely warm, and the food was just perfect. We kept our meals for the HotLogic in a cooler to keep them fresh but also bought some ready-to-heat meals from places like Sam’s Club and grocery stores.
HotLogic has raving fans who have told me about using it to heat up pizza, cook entire meals that include uncooked chicken or meat (even steaks!), frozen dinners, veggies and chicken — just so many options! We discovered that these meals, even when eaten in the backseat using a disposable plate and fork, taste so much better than fast food, and nowadays with prices rising, much cheaper.
Road-trip snacking can help cure boredom!
I think I gained a couple of pounds on many road trips because we were constantly snacking. Apparently, food is a good cure for boredom, because we were never bored! Here’s what I packed for those snacks:
- dry cereal in zip-locs
- dehydrated peaches (Read this for instructions to make your own.)
- cubed cheese and crackers
- baby carrots
- apples, oranges, bananas
- applesauce and pudding cups
- energy and granola bars
- Pringles brand chips (Those handy tubular cans keep the chips from being crushed and are handy as small trash receptacles later.)
Every once in a while, during those long, long hours of highway travel, I pulled out a special snack as a surprise. Just outside Gallop, New Mexico, it was Oreos. Upon reaching Abilene, it was M&M’s. I hadn’t packed any sugary treats in our snack bag, so these were more than welcomed by hubby and the kids.
Once we got to our hotel, I heated up water in the coffee maker and we had instant oatmeal in the mornings, along with the cereal and milk I had packed in the ice chest and fresh fruit. We had breakfast pretty well covered and delighted in free hotel breakfasts whenever they were available.
Now, I feel a little sheepish at this point because this is where my helpful road trip food ideas end. Once we reached Texas, my husband’s aunt and uncle treated us to very nice restaurant meals during our entire stay! Chinese! Italian! Mexican! Texan! Oh, how we gloried in each meal!
On the trip home, we resumed our diet of sandwiches, Pringles, and hotel breakfasts, but we added occasional stops at Starbucks (the free wifi was very handy), Costco for their cheap soda-and-hot-dog meal, and Trader Joe’s for their packaged salads.
I did stock up on more fresh fruit since, as my Nana said, “You need it to stay regular.” My 8-year-old son began calling it poop fruit. Charming.
So, there you have it. We survived our family road trip by keeping ourselves entertained in various ways that you can read about here, keeping our budget down by eating meals we prepared ourselves, and maintaining a sense of humor, no matter what speedbumps we hit.