Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Road Trip Planning - Step 4 - Food for the Trip

Bryce Canyon 1970 - I am seated on the left.

Mom, this one is for you!  You taught me almost everything I know about successful road trips.  Thanks for all the wonderful journeys over the years.

One of the advantages of taking a road trip is being able to save money on food by bringing sustenance with you.  By staying in lodgings that provide breakfast, and packing a cooler of food for lunches and snacks, we usually only eat dinner out on the road.  I know some families even manage to make their own dinner on the road, but part of a vacation for me is a vacation from cooking!  I have found that by planning my cooler food in advance and bringing a well-stocked "picnic" bag, eating on the road is efficient and fun.

1)  The Picnic Bag Essentials  A carefully packed picnic bag that you can grab quickly and bring to the table at a rest stop or park is essential.  If you go on frequent day trips or picnics during the summer months, you may want to keep this bag "at the ready."  Here are my favorite supplies:

Packing the picnic bag
  • A re-useable grocery bag is a sturdy place to pack your supplies.
  • A flexible cutting board packs easily.
  • Bring both a sharp knife for cutting, and a butter knife for sandwich spreads.
  • A manual can-opener is great for things like tuna.
  • Bring small containers with lids for mixing tuna salad or storing leftovers.
  • A roll of paper towels is great for spills and the paper towels double as napkins.
  • Bring a supply of inexpensive paper plates.
  • Bring an assortment of plastic utensils.  If you will be traveling over many days, count how many people will be going, and estimate how many spoons or forks you will need.
  • If you will be eating breakfast on the road, bring disposable bowls or large cups for cold cereal.
  • Wet wipes are great so you can clean your hands before you prepare food or eat.
  • Bring a small bottle of dishwashing detergent so you can wash utensils at your hotel.
  • Bring a dish cloth and towel for washing utensils.
  • Bring an assortment of ziploc bags.  They are great for bagging food items, dirty utensils, wet rags or dish cloths, etc.
  • A rag is great for wiping down your picnic tablecloth before you repack it.  If you encounter a picnic area that isn't very clean, you can also quickly wet your rag from your water jug and wipe down a table or benches.
  • Bring a tablecloth.  The flannel-backed vinyl tablecloths are wonderful.  My mother always had one on our trips, and now when I sit down to eat at our nicely decked out table, I feel sorry for the people trying to prepare food on a bare table.
  • Bring some stainless steel utensils.  I like to have a fork, spoon, and serving spoon to augment the plastic utensils.  These are handy for serving salads, mixing sandwich spreads, and more.
  • Bring a few plastic grocery bags.  These are wonderful to have on hand for collecting garbage and wrappers both in your car during the drive, and for cleaning up quickly after picnic stops.
  • An apple slicer/corer is great if your family uses one.
  • Paper or plastic cups.  Great for beverages at lunch time, for cold cereal, and to hold crackers or snack mix in the car.
Our cooler, picnic bag, and tablecloth all set for lunch - Capitol Reef National Park

2)  Cooler Basics - What Food to Bring
I like to plan the food before the trip, and make a list so it is easy to pack the cooler in the morning before we leave.  If you are traveling over several days and taking quite a bit of food, put non-perishables in a separate, sturdy bag.  This bag might include things like peanut butter, canned tuna, crackers, chips, and loaves of bread.  Here are some of the road trip standbys we put in our cooler:
  • Fruit.  Wash your fruit before you go.  Apples keep better than bananas.  Before you leave, wash and cut up fruits like melon, and put the pieces in a container with a lid or a ziploc bag.  This saves time, space, and mess on the trip.  A bunch of grapes makes a great lunch addition or snack.
  • Sandwich fixings.  My husband slices pickles, tomatoes, and onion for sandwiches before we go, and puts them in bags or small containers.  You might want to slice cheese for sandwiches ahead of time as well, although with your sharp knife and cutting board, dealing with a block of cheese on the road is not a problem!  We also like pre-sliced deli cheeses for variety.
  • Bring sliced lunch meat for sandwiches.  We like to vary our sandwiches and bring lunch meat, tuna, hard-boiled eggs for egg salad, and peanut butter and jelly.
  • Bring your favorite sandwich spread (we like Miracle Whip and mustard).
  • I like to bring an assortment of yogurts.  They keep well, and are great for either lunch or breakfast.
  • If your cooler is big enough, you might want to bring a side salad or two:  green salad, pasta salad, and potato salad, are all nice on the road.  Just be sure to keep them near the ice in the cooler.
  • Lettuce for sandwiches.
  • Raw vegetables, washed and cut up (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery are all good choices).  If you like, bring something to use as a dipping sauce like hummus or a ranch dressing.
  • Milk or juice.
Plan to stop at a grocery store periodically to re-supply.  Also, drain your cooler daily, and check the ice.  You will have to purchase ice regularly to keep everything cold.  I prefer the chipped ice to the big solid block of ice.  It makes it easier to fit things in the cooler.  We invested in a better cooler a few years ago, and it does a good job of keeping things cold while we travel.  Unless it is really hot, we usually only need to change the ice every two to three days.

3)  Food Traditions
My mother always brought homemade chocolate chip cookies on road trips.  It is fun to have some food traditions when you travel.  We rarely have soda pop or chips at home, but having those things once or twice on a long road trip is part of the fun.  Letting kids choose some "special" foods for their snacks on the road is also part of the adventure.  

4)  Packing the Car
If possible, keep your cooler and picnic supplies near the edge of your car trunk.  You want to be able to get everything out and have lunch without having to unload all your suitcases or camping gear.  

5)  Water Jug
Keep an insulated jug of ice water in your car.  You can refill water bottles and fill cups at lunch.  It is easy to refill this jug using motel ice machines and water from your room.

6)  Dealing with Weather.  Once our rest stop was so windy, it was all we could do to assemble sandwiches.  We did not bother with the tablecloth or paper plates.  On a couple of other occasions, it has been raining.  Being able to assemble sandwiches quickly without unloading everything from the car was a lifesaver.  We stood at the back of the car, cooler still inside the vehicle, took requests, made sandwiches, put them on plates, took items like chips and fruit into the car, and ate inside, sheltered from the rain. Don't forget to grab a sack for easy garbage cleanup, and you are on your way!

What are your favorite road trip foods?  Happy picnicking, and we'll see you on the road!

Wagon in Fruita, Utah

Quick links to my other road trip posts:
Road Trip Planning - Step One - Routes and Accommodations
Road Trip Planning - Step 2 - Enjoying the Road
Road Trip Planning - Step 3 - Traveling with Children
Road Trip Planning - Step 4 - Food for the Trip

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