Real Food Road Trip {Eat Well, Spend Less}

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real food road trip ideas

No, I’m not hiring Guy Fieri to take us on a tour of restaurants that serve real food across the nation…although maybe that should go on my bucket list! Winking smile

When we traveled for a long drive over Memorial Day weekend this year, I posted something on Facebook about what foods we were packing for the trip. The response was really positive and people shared their own ideas for what they like to pack for traveling, and I realize it’s the perfect topic for the Eat Well, Spend Less summertime traveling theme this week.

5 Reasons to Pack a Meal When Traveling

  1. Eat Well – The only way to really be in charge of your family’s nutrition is to make your own food. Fast food makes it particularly tough to find anything nourishing, and when traveling, it’s likely that you’re entering into a time of more compromising foods anyway, I choose to eat well on the road and have fun when we’re with family, at an event, or visiting others.
  2. Spend Less – Similarly, the best way to save money on food is to make your own. Buying a meal for our family, with an 8-year-old boy, 5-year-old girl, and almost-2-year-old carnivorous male, runs $20 pretty quickly. I can pack for in the single digits, and we waste less, too.
  3. Flexibility of Time – Our fondest desire when in the car is for our littlest to fall asleep. It’s much less stressful for everyone. If we have our own food, the big kids can eat when they’re hungry without running the risk of having to stop somewhere 20 minutes after John finally gives up to the sandman.
    healthy road trip food ideas
  4. Occupying Time – The sec`ond most-wanted reality in the car is content kiddos, ones who aren’t saying, “When will we get there?” or “I’m bored!” For our slow eaters, a meal can take a glorious 30-60 minutes, during which time they’re completely happy, and we get home faster because we didn’t have to stop for food, just for potty, gas, and wiggle worms.
  5. Less Waste – It’s a minor thing, but I’m always happy to avoid throwing away a bunch of trash, and we pack no-waste lunches, so I feel good about  the environment, too.

Strategies for Making Car Food Work

adult road trip lunch

It takes a little more prep to pack our own grub, but I’m happy to do it for my kids’ good health.

I used to pack everything together, family style, like a picnic, but recently I started packing individual lunchboxes for the big kids, and I really like that system.

The kids can have some responsibility for their own food, and if the littlest is sleeping (finally), it’s so easy to just pass back a lunchbox (or already have it next to them at the start of the trip). I pack in a Lunchbot or Ecolunchbox and include the napkin, stainless steel water bottle, and utensils, just as I would for a school lunch.

To save on dishes, my husband and I and John, who shouldn’t feed himself in the car, pack family style. For this last long trip, I sat next to John so I could play with him, read books, and feed him. I kid you not, eating took 90 minutes on the way down! It’s by far his favorite diversion, and we don’t mind one bit. Winking smile

Beyond the individual lunchboxes, I always pack extra little snacks that are non-perishable, and we just throw back a reusable sandwich bag with something in it to the big kids in the back row of the van.

What We Packed

Our travels over Memorial Day weekend took us 6 hours one direction, so we had to pack dinner on the way down and lunch on the way back.


  • egg salad made with homemade mayo and plenty of mustard
  • homemade whole wheat crackers and/or /Blue Diamond Nut Thins (pricey, but compared to fast food, it’s a far better compromise, and some in our family need to be gluten-free)
  • cut raw veggies: carrots, cucumbers, pea pods (cukes in particular also work great for dipping egg salad)
  • sliced cheese
  • sliced apples
  • power “balls” from Healthy Snacks to Go – like a homemade Larabar, but more bite-sized and easy to eat for kids. My personal favorites are Cinnamix and Cocoshew, so I make those most often!
  • individual water bottles

Lunch on the way home

We were visiting family and I brought a lot of food for meals because our hosts had just had a baby, so I knew what options we’d likely have for packing on the return trip.

  • cold grilled chicken with mustard for dipping (our family eats mustard like most American children go through ketchup!)
  • homemade potato salad
  • string cheese
  • cubed melon
  • carrot sticks with homemade guacamole for dipping
  • The adults also had homemade yogurt with fresh fruit and grain-free granola topping, but I don’t trust the children with anything that liquid-y.

car Snacks

What’s a car trip without an abundance of snacks? We packed a seriously ridiculous amount of food overall, including:

  • grain-free coconut muffins from Healthy Snacks to Go (with dried mixed berries in them, a special sugared-up treat!)
  • plenty of power balls
  • homemade granola (soaked) for munching
  • dried strawberry fruit rolls
  • Snapeas (a terrible indulgence from Costco…)
  • trail mix
  • leftover buckwheat pancakes made into sandwiches with a little peanut butter and honey

Let’s just say we did not go hungry. Winking smile

Healthy Travel Food Resources

grain free coconut muffins small

Did you know I have a whole book of snacks “to go?” Healthy Snacks to Go is my first eBook, and since spring 2010, it’s been helping real food families everywhere conquer the temptation of convenience foods when the days get busy.

I’d love you to have this resource for your summer travel plans. If you’ve already got it on your computer somewhere but you haven’t opened it much, consider this your reminder to get on with it! You won’t be sorry.

If you’d love to take a peek, you can get a 22-page excerpt for free right HERE by entering your name in the form a little way down the page. If you like what you see, I’m happy to share a summery coupon for all my eating well, spending less readers: Use “EWSL-Car-Trip” to get Healthy Snacks to Go for 50% off through the end of June.

MOre free stuff

In the spirit of summer travels, I’m also offering the new printables that come with The Family Camping Handbook (coming on Kindle THIS WEEK!) for free to anyone who signs up for the KS monthly newsletter – click HERE to enter your name and download two gluten-free weekend menu plans, one grain-free camping menu, and 10 printable recipe cards to go along with them. You don’t have to camp to enjoy these resources!

If you are an Amazon Prime member, HERE is the camping handbook as part of the Lending Library on Kindle, and for 24 hours on Saturday, June 22nd, it’s totally FREE! Grab it now. (If you miss the freebie, it’s still 99 cents for a few days before it goes to the regular $5 price.)

More Healthy Travel Food Ideas

The community on Facebook shared plenty of other ideas for healthy car snacks and meals, and I’ve got a few more up my own sleeve as well:

Cool tip from a reader: For hotel stays, use a crockpot to warm up taco meat for taco salads and homemade muffins for breakfast. Wow!

Your turn! Let’s fill the comments with drool-worthy goodies…What do you like to pack when you’re on the road?

One Last Way to Save Buckeroos

I use Swagbucks to earn gift cards for Amazon, which I do sometimes spend on food…or diapers, exciting stuff like that. I’ve got a neat dealie for you this month:

Any Swagbucks user (new or old!) who signed up under me (but I have no idea how you can find that out) who earns at least 50 Swag Bucks in total from any combination of Shop, Search, Watch, Play Answer or Discover is automatically entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card of their choice from the Swag store (Amazon included).

New to Swagbucks? Sign up here and use the code STEWARDSHIP70 for 70 bonus Swagbucks at signup (thru July 12).

What’s the best way to get 50 points? Just do a search every time you want to go to any website instead of typing the URL directly. You get around 10 swagbucks ever 6-10 searches or so, so it really wouldn’t take very long to get 50. Any “bucks” you’ve earned from June 1 until now ALSO automatically count, as long as you signed up under me. Have fun with that!

See how the other EWSL ladies are traveling with real food:


I’d love to see more of you!  Sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed. You can also follow me on Twitter, get KS for Kindle, or see my Facebook Fan Page.

If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.

Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon and Ecolunchboxes from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. Your Swagbucks signups also help me earn bucks. See my full disclosure statement here.

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25 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. Nina says

    Thank you! I was just laying awake last night thinking “ack! Three days in the car (one way!)” and vacillating between “I can do this! We just need a big cooler!” And “oh we’ll be on the road, let it go.” But I know it will be much more tolerable if we feel healthy and nourished!

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  2. says

    Thanks for mentioning that toddlers should not feed themselves (that is, not without someone watching) in the car. When my son was 2, we drove 2,800 miles round-trip over the course of a week, including a visit to my parents who had snow peas in the garden; my son loves them, so my mom sent us off with a big bag of peas to eat (pods and all) in the car. Next day, I was driving and toddler was munching snow peas while Daddy sat next to him in the back…and the kid suddenly drowsed off with his mouth very full! His head flopping forward caused his dad to glance over–and see that he was turning purple as he silently choked on pea pods! By the time I pulled over, he had the peas scooped out and the kid breathing again, but it was very very scary and caused us to wait another two years before we let him eat while alone in the back seat, and to watch him more closely when he was eating to prevent him from putting too much in his mouth at once.

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    Rebecca Reply:

    My four year old choked on an apple slice a few months ago while i was driving on the interstate . Luckily she cleared it herself by the time i pulled over and got out to get to her, but scary! My kids also get much more motion sick while nibbling in the car so we far prefer to stop ad eat a big meal.

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    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Oh, my goodness…I always hope that any kid choking would make some noise – sometimes I ask my two bigger kids, “Does John look okay?” or make him talk to me if he’s eating in the back. Ack! Scary! So glad your little one’s Daddy was riding in the back that day, my, my…

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    Peggy Reply:

    My mother choked on an orange slice during a car ride as an adult! If someone is truly choking, they make very little sound because air is not traveling past their vocal chords. Plus, in a car, someone hitting the side of their car seat or window might go unnoticed with car noise, conversation and radio. We try to make sure we are “two-by-two” for eating and that no one is outside the vision of another person.

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  3. Beth says

    We do the 2-3 days in the car thing at least once a year to visit family, and I would love to hear what people do when you need to keep food fresh for more than a few hours. After opening the cooler several times, I usually end up with a big soggy mess in the cooler and a lot of food that needs to be tossed on day 2. I have tried multiple coolers but we really don’t have enough room in the car for that. I wonder if packing enough for one day and then stopping to replenish the cooler at the grocery store in the morning would work better? I love the crockpot idea! It solves the problem of only having a microwave in the hotel room. Maybe I could plug a small one into the converter in the car . . .

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    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I wonder if Carrie’s ideas in her travel post this week will give you some inspiration:

    Stopping at a grocery store sounds smart, too! Although, when we camp for 3 days, we manage to cooler pack all our food – so part of the issue is probably packing, like never using zippered sandwich bags, only freezer bags, and maybe you need more ice and take a minute to drain water here and there? You can pack plastic containers filled with water-made-into-ice which last a while, and then you have the water to drink after it melts.

    Hope that helps!
    :) Katie

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  4. says

    That’s awesome Rachael A. Rose!! I’m amazed people even bothered to look. ;) Last time we were at Disney, we packed our whole lunch – hard-boiled eggs, cheese, our own water, the works! I bet we got looks too but I didn’t even notice. Then we bought ice cream for a treat later when they were already mostly through their day. :)

    [Reply to this comment]

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