Road trips can be really fun and bring families together. But if you don't budget properly, you will end up spending more than you planned on food. In addition, if you end up eating food purchased on the road it could mean empty calories. Snack food at the gas station and burgers from the drive-through will leave any car driver weary and kids cranky from too much sugar.
What should we do? Well, here are some healthier options to grab, prepare (even if quickly), and pack before you head out on your trip.
Easy Road Trip Foods
Section A: No Cooking Involved
Here are my recommendations for foods that are healthy and require nothing major from you as far as preparing the day before.
If you have a garden or shop at your local farmers market, don't be afraid to pick up some extra goodies for the road. Shop seasonally. Here are some ideas:
For this next section, the main thing you are going to need is ziplock bags, that way you can just reach for them as you need them.
I tend to be the person that has a sweet tooth on our trip. Every time we stop, I could go for gummies or chocolate. On the way from our home to my in-laws, I always make my last stop an ice cream place about an hour and fifteen minutes away that makes coffee shakes with their ice cream. Sweet tooths unite!
In order to avoid the sweet tooth trap every time I stop, here are some fruits that my family reaches for.
Apples – this one is a popular one with my daughters. They keep well no matter if in a cooler or not which is an added benefit. Our little one needs hers cut up. If you decide to cut them up, don't forget to add a little bit of lemon juice because you'll want the insides to stay a pretty color.
Berries – from strawberries to blueberries, blackberries and everything in between. I like apples but find them harder to eat on the road. Especially if I decide I want to dip them in peanut butter. That is why having a blueberry or blackberry I can pop into my mouth without thinking about it is always a win-win for me. There is no need for a dip and if I am driving, I can reach down and grab one, putting it in my mouth and don't even have to take my eyes off the road.
Cherries – I recommend getting ones with no seeds or pitting them the day before. My kids enjoy doing that so I let them have that fun. Bing Cherries are one of the few things that my family can all agree on. Cherries, like so many other of these on the list, can be kept cold or not. If you have a small cooler, I recommend really thinking about what you are adding in and what you can take in a separate tote.
Grapes – if you can keep them cold, that extra crunch combined with the sweetness is something I really enjoy when I am eating grapes. I like them cold but, again, if you are short on space then grapes do not have to be cold.
Dried fruit – when you purchase dried fruit (if not making your own) make sure it does not have extra sugar or added ingredients. Dried fruit has the same advantage as apples- that they can be stored in just about any environment and kids typically love them. Just make sure you get it as close to nature as possible.
Vegetables can be good if you are wanting something more savory and less sweet. It is always a good idea to bring dip with you as well for the vegetables. I am going to add this on the end of this section but dips are good for a lot of things, don't just associate dips with vegetables!
Here are some great vegetable ideas to bring along for your trip:
Carrots – I have to buy the super baby carrots. If I purchase bigger ones from the farmers market I will shred them down, using my food processor on the larger whole setting. This way I can eat them and enjoy it. My girls, on the other hand, can eat them any size. It all depends on your preference. Carrots can be kept either way.
Broccoli florets – I still break these down to fairly small but broccoli is another one of the (few) things my family can agree on. We like them in just about any shape or form, except (ironically) with cheese over them. Anyways, broccoli is a great item to pop in your mouth and just keep on riding. Broccoli, also, can be kept in a cooler or in a room temperature car.
Snap peas – you can find these dried now, just as with the dried fruit. The extra crunch makes it really good and almost sounds like your biting into a chip which the little ones will enjoy (adults do too, I promise). I would not recommend putting the dried snap peas in the cooler.
Celery – this is the one thing I will recommend having peanut butter with and raisins if you can, that way the ones in the back seat can make ants on a log. Or have Ranch to go with. It's a personal preference but I seem to enjoy it better with a companion to eat it with.
Radishes – this one would not be something that I would choose but if you like them, they are a good one to cut up and bring with. If you add dip to it, it might be good!
In addition to vegetables, here is a list of dips to bring with:
Hummus – I love hummus but it would just be me dipping in. If it is the same way for you, make a small amount and put it in a dip container. Dip containers are life savers for on the road trips and school lunch trips.
Avocado – I like to make my own by adding guacamole and limes together along with a little salt and pepper. If you like yours with a kick, grab some chopped up jalapenos to add to the mix!
Ranch – you can buy these pre-packaged but you should already guess that I am going to recommend you make your own and put them in a dip container or two.
Section B: Miscellaneous Foods
This group is dedicated to things that you can purchase and make super easy at home if you need to at all. They do not need their own categories though, so I grouped them here for you.
Popcorn – a great alternative to chips, I recommend making it at home, putting it in a big bowl or container and then letting your riders decide what seasonings they want to add. My new, personal favorite is nutritional yeast. It gives it a cheesy flavor and adds health benefits!
Cheese sticks – there is one that you just need to pick up and add to a cooler. Coolers are a must for these babies. Combine it with the apple in the fruit section and you have something that will keep you full for a while. This means healthy protein and healthy carbohydrates.
Jerky – this can be from home (if you make your own) or it can be store bought. Make sure the store bought version doesn't have too much salt. The added benefit of using this for your trip is that it won't make insulin levels spike which means you don't have to worry about the kids being super rowdy and the inevitable “MOOOOM! DAAAAD!” that comes along with that. For the driver, it means no crash after the spike either. Very good option, needless to say! I wouldn't add the jerky to the cooler, as it is already dry.
Greek Yogurt – since you are in the car, I recommend getting the drinking kind. If you make your own, you can always add just a hint of milk and mix it really well. Add to a drinkable container and place in your cooler. Simply grab the container and get a drink as you need it. Again, this treat needs to be in the cooler in order for it not to go sour.
Peanut Butter Sandwiches – Skip the jelly on this one, for a number of reasons. The first reason is that jelly typically provides nothing but sugar. As we've talked about, this brings the same insulin spike that the candy does and we are trying to avoid that for everyone's sake. The second reason is that peanut butter sandwiches don't have to be refrigerated. Lastly, peanut butter gives you protein to keep you going! I feel I need to add, if purchasing your bread from the grocery store, I recommend whole wheat flour.
Sunflower Seeds or nuts – this gives you a good dose of healthy fats.
Section C: Healthy Sweet Treats
Dark Chocolate – this has recently become my go-to when I need a sweet treat. I can eat just a small portion and then walk away feeling satisfied. If you are going somewhere and you know the car is going to get hot, just stick it in the cooler before you go.
Annie's Homegrown Snacks – Sometimes I just get too busy to make food before a trip. You know how it is: there are clothes to pack, cars that need tuned, etc… if I feel we need something that is more “junkie” I will always reach for Annie's snacks because it is a company I can trust, knowing their food is up to my kids standards and I can feel a little easier with them. These treats do not need to be in a cooler.
Flavored water – I absolutely love flavored water and in order to make the girls feel like they are getting a special treat, I will add carbonation to the water. It sure beats the high fructose loaded (or sugar, or worse yet- sugar alternative) sodas from the gas station. Drinks will be a big portion of your cooler I am sure. If you opt to carbonate the water, I especially recommend the cooler and cold carbonated water tastes best.
Fruit Juices – I am adding this here because you can purchase a juice in the box and combine half fruit juice and half water in order to have control of how much sugar your child, or you, are getting.
Combine some of the goodies – If you don't want to bring all of these things, I recommend lining up the different items, handing the riders a baggie and letting them pick their own “trail mix”. You could have any combination: Annie's goldfish, popcorn, beef jerky, and dried cranberries… or Annie's graham crakers, dark chocolate, and fruit of choice. You get the idea.
Section D: Don't Forget
Don't forget when you purchase items to keep in the car, you will need other supplies as well. Supplies such as:
Napkins – If you don't use disposable napkins at home, bring some of your homemade napkins. You never know when there will be a spill or a child will need a cleanup.
Wipes – Wet napkins are better for child clean ups and are good for if you need to wipe anything off such as silverware.
Plates – paper plates will be important if you plan to bring meals along with you, otherwise, you can stick to the individual baggies.
Having a road trip is an adventure that so many people enjoy and sometimes the trip to or from the destination is just as wonderful as the destination itself. So crank the music, sing along like there is no tomorrow and have a great time.
Then when you get hungry from singing in your best Whitney Houston voice, grab a treat that you brought and smile as you know that means you have a few extra bucks in your pocket for the trip and a few extra calories for that pizza you know you are going to splurge on!