Family Fare on the Road

coolerA reader of this site wrote that she and her husband will be traveling quite far by car for their family vacation, and that they are tired of, as she put it, “soggy salads… and tasteless veggie subs…plus we don’t like supporting fast food.” What are weary (and hungry) travelers to do?

Since many of you may be in the same boat, if not now, then sometime in the near future, I thought this was an excellent topic to ponder. Winter travel by car is different from doing so in warmer months; in some ways easier because food taken along keeps better, but in some ways harder-where do you actually eat? Eating while crammed in a car is not a pleasant prospect.

I’m with this reader. When my family took a long road trip by car last summer, we packed a cooler filled with fresh fruits and beverages, and one containing healthy snacks. We can’t stand fast food and refuse to eat the horrible stuff at rest stops. We went through lovely areas that had good vegetarian restaurants, and made sure to enjoy good meals when we had the opportunity. We restocked our coolers at natural foods stores and food co-ops on the road. It made the trip less stressful, and we never had to frantically search for food when we were hungry which is the worst time to do so. Here are some tips for easy, durable food to take on road trips:

  • Before you leave home, stock a cooler with apples, bananas, baby carrots, fresh bread, soy-based deli slices, and condiments for making simple sandwiches, and, if desired, some beverages, such as natural juices and teas in aseptic boxes
  • Stock another cooler (or even just a box) with compact, high-density non-perishable healthy foods like trail mix, granola bars, cereal bars, whole grain crackers, a jar each of natural peanut or other nut butter and all-fruit preserves, dried fruits, and fruit leathers. If you think you’ll have difficulty finding an acceptable breakfast, you can also bring your own cereal or granola (or packets of instant hot cereal) and some bowls and spoons. Bring along your own utensils, too, for spreading and cutting.
  • If you crave warm food, you can pack some of those soups-in-a-cup, noodles-in-a-cup, or coucous-in-a-cup products from natural foods stores. You can get hot water almost anywhere on the road-gas stations, rest stops, etc. to reconstitute them
  • Emergency food boxIf it’s cold out, and you can’t picnic, where do you actually eat all these goodies if you don’t want to do so in the car? There’s no rule against bringing your own food into highway rest stops. OK, so the atmosphere isn’t great, but at least you can spread out and eat your food at a table. You can ask for hot water for your soup-in-a-cup, make a nut butter and jam or soy deli sandwich, and have some fresh fruit. Sure beats greasy fried food and bleached-flour baked goods.
  • If you do want to eat out in unfamiliar places, check your map before you leave and see if you’ll be passing any college towns. These are more likely to have the kind of restaurants or little cafes that health conscious eaters will enjoy. Be wary of salad bars. They may look healthier, but they are notorious for harboring bacteria. You don’t want to greet the holidays with food borne illness. I have found that if all else fails, ordering a salad and a baked potato will do (but don’t eat the skin), in those kinds of places that have never heard of vegetarians. Pasta, too, seems a good bet-it may make for a starchy meal, but it’s safe and satisfying.
  • Hotel and restaurant breakfasts can be a challenge, if not impossible, especially for vegans. Besides, I really don’t like having to get all dressed and ready before having anything to eat or drink. So in one large, lidded plastic box I’ve been known to pack a basic “breakfast kit,” which includes:
    • Aseptic containers of rice milk and chocolate soy milk
    • Our favorite healthy cold cereals
    • A couple of Fantastic Foods instant oatmeal-in-a-cup
    • A small container of organic instant coffee
    • Two types of tea
    • A small container of organic raw sugar
    • Two small jars of all-fruit preserves
    • Peanut butter
    • A small loaf of whole grain bread
    • Natural cereal bars (not the supermarket kind)
    • A few bananas

    On a couple of road trips, we took such a kit up to our hotel room and it was more than enough for my husband, myself, and our two sons until we got to our destination, where we try to stay in a hotel with a fully equipped kitchen (or kitchenette).

  • If you do stay in a place where you can do a little cooking, you won’t want to do too much; after all, you are on vacation. But for those times when you want to stay in for meals, you can shop for a little fresh produce, plus ingredients for making convenient quick dinners, such as veggie burgers and ready-made healthy soups. It’s nice to have ingredients for picnic lunches. It’s nice to have a few of your favorite foods on hand. You know how it is when you’re traveling and can’t find a decent place to eat-a good day can go down the tubes, with everyone getting crabby on an empty stomach.

You may be surprised where you’ll find vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants. Before you leave home, see if any of these places might possibly be on your route. Go to VegKitchen’s Links section and scroll down to Vegetarian Dining and Travel for some good search options. Healthy Highways by the Goldbecks is also a good resource for eating well on the road (in the U.S., at least).

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2 comments on “Family Fare on the Road

  1. Brenda

    A breakfast case is a great idea. I really like Right Foods Instant Oatmeal in a cup – they’re vegan & just add water or non-diary milk. They also have light sugar options available; though those are packets and not in a cup.

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