Just (Don’t) Do ItI’m pretty stubbornly committed to never buying expensive food on a day trip excursion. We don’t buy zoo food, ever. We have water bottles in the car for baseball games. We picnic when we go to the beach.And we even pack our own lunch when we go to Disney. Last time we were there, we spent less than $40 on food for 5 people for the entire day, including the requisite ice cream bars during a scorching midday parade. It’s possible!
BYOLWe went to the Toledo Zoo recently (gorgeous zoo, even in a torrential downpour the entire day!! Hence the ugly cell phone photos…) and put our regular “Bring Your Own Lunch” habits to the test. I know you can’t read the prices on that photo above, but it was $4.75 for a single hamburger, no fries, and well over $7 for a combo meal that did not include a beverage. We could have paid upwards of $50 on food to feed our hungry family, as much as the cost of admission! Plus, the power went out right at lunchtime, so everyone was looking at our spread with envy. We were feeling so fortunate that we took the time to pack real lunches, and it didn’t even take that long.
The Secret to SpeedI’ve packed a LOT of school lunches, so I’m actually pretty good at making individual servings, but when we’re going out as a family, I don’t bother.I pack “family style” and grab paper plates to use while we’re there, and I find it saves a ton of time on the front end when you just want to get out on your excursion and go! It’s super fast to grab a few dishes of food, bags of veggies and whole fruits from the fridge and toss them into a small cooler with ice packs. I add napkins and Seventh Generation baby wipes for the sticky faces and fingers, and all the utensils are just tossed in a reusable sandwich bag – I typically use real utensils so I’m not throwing away plastic. In just minutes, we’re ready to go.
Traveling as a family with real food in real life is a lot of work, but it’s so worth it. Learn from my experience packing a family of 6 up in a van for a two-month road trip. See what we brought with us, what we left home, how we ate healthy for cheap while we were away from home, and most impressively how we fit everything we needed for two months in the van with all 6 of us!
The Bring-Your-Own-Lunch Food List – without a sandwich in sight!Did I mention that another reason I hate buying food out – beyond the jacked-up cost and the incredibly poor nutrition – is the gluten issue? We eat “gluten-lite” and try to avoid gluten whenever we can, and that’s rarely possible at kiosks on vacation unless you want to survive on popcorn and cotton candy exclusively. We don’t do bread. So no sandwiches. Here’s what we generally pack for something like a day outing at the zoo (adapted to be more disposable for big trips like Disney), and we’ve done the same at museums and aquariums (just eat in the café area and no one will yell at you):
- egg salad
- guacamole or homemade ranch dressing
- cut veggies: carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes
- Blue Diamond Nut Thins – gluten-free crackers (The ingredients aren’t perfect, but they’re a fun treat when we’re already forgoing all the fun treats we’re surrounded by. If you want to go totally grain-free, just use cucumbers and large pieces of red pepper or a huge lettuce leaf as the delivery system for the egg salad. Also, a fork will do just fine too.)
- sliced cheese or string cheese, depending on how much time I have to pack
- whole or cut fruit
- leftover potato wedges
- individual cups of organic unsweetened applesauce – they’re an “emergency packing item” we keep on hand, and my kids feel like it’s a big treat when I finally let them have one! We would usually pack homemade yogurt in individual servings.
Doesn’t That Take Too Much Time?Honestly? No. The only thing I make special for the meal is the egg salad, which I have down to a science. Everything else is stuff we have in our fridge that we’d eat for lunch or dinner at home, so it’s no big deal to just grab them and go, maybe prepping a few cut raw veggies, but I do that all day every day anyway. Just like I wash kids up all day, every day. Getting to just throw away the wipes IS my idea of a vacation!! (And since they’re made of plant-derived ingredients, I don’t feel so badly about filling the landfill with harmful chemicals.)
Other Snacks we PackThis summer has been a cycle of packing, traveling, unpacking and packing again (sometimes unpacking from one trip at the same time as packing for the next!). We’ve had so many instances during which most families would have been grabbing food on the road, but we’ve largely avoided eating out (and chose Thai or Mexican when we had to, with pretty clean, whole foods components).
Paleovalley Meat Sticks
It can be hard to find healthy snacks that you can take with you on the go. When I want the convenience of a jerky stick, but want a healthy, protein packed snack option, I grab Paleovalley meat sticks. Paleovalley ingredients have these high standards that you can feel good about:
- 100% Grass Fed Beef & 100% Pasture Raised Turkey
- Never given antibiotics or hormones
- Gluten free, soy free, dairy free
- 0 grams of sugar*
- Contains no artificial nitrates or nitrites
- Naturally fermented and contain gut-friendly probiotics!
*With the exception of Teriyaki, which contains 2 grams of sugar from Organic Honey.
These beef sticks and turkey sticks taste delicious! My favorite is the Jalapeño but my kids love Summer Sausage.
Use this link to get 15% off your order at Paleovalley. Read my Paleovalley Review to learn more!
- homemade beef jerky
- crispy nuts and dried fruit
- organic tortilla chips and salsa for the really long trips
- a few Larabars for emergencies
- chocolate chips – for when the kids get whiny in the car. Really helps to block them out!