Family road trip food tips

Our family loves taking road trips.   We especially love hiking and traveling to National and State Parks.   We usually try to pack our meals when we travel, saving our restaurant meals for a few local places when we get to our travel destination.   We really enjoy finding parks along the way for picnics.  Because we are thinking about a ” social distancing” road trip for This winter   Planning out our food and meals has been on my mind.   Here are some of my favorite items to pack for road trip picnics, meals to eat in your hotel room, and tips for picnicking with your family while traveling.  

We go on long and short road trips a few times a year.  I like to save money by packing food instead of visiting the drive-thru, even if we drive the three hours to my parents’ house in Chicagoland.   We are a family of five, so even going too inexpensive restaurants can add up.   Plus, restaurant food can be hefty, and it’s just not the food that makes me feel great when I am sitting in the car all day.  I also like to bring a few basic items on longer cooking trips, especially if we stay at an Air b and b with a kitchen.  Here are my tips for packing food and eating healthy on your trip!

Packing your own food is especially important this year.  I have several friends who have gone on road trips with outdoor activities and isolation in mind.  Bringing your own food on these road trips can make traveling a whole lot safer for your family.

Invest in an iceless cooker– We have a cooler that plugs into our car’s power adapter.  It also has a cord that plugs into an outlet when you get to your hotel.  It is like traveling with your own mini-refrigerator.  I love this cooler because your food will stay fresh in the cooler for several days when driving long distances.

Things I like to pack in the cooler include

1 quart of milk ( I like to have this on hand in case anyone wants a bowl of cereal)

string cheese

mayonnaise, and other condiments, we like to travel with horseradish

hard-boiled eggs ( to eat for breakfast or to make egg salad)

lunch meat

baby carrots

other cut fresh veggies such as cucumbers, bell peppers, and broccoli.

cooked pasta Have you tried Barilla ready pasta? ( to make a quick pasta salad or to heat up for a meal at the hotel)

cooked pulled pork or chicken ( see below for ideas on this)

Map out picnic stops before you travel- We have three small boys, so expecting the kids to stay still in the car for 10 hours a day isn’t realistic.  My husband started mapping out possible parks on google on our routes during long road trips.   We always try to find unique playgrounds with picnic areas.  You’d be surprised how many cool parks you will find, even in places that seem to be in the middle of nowhere.

Invest in plastic burger baskets– I like to bring these reusable plastic burger baskets on road trips.   I stick a napkin in each one and use it instead of a plate.  I try to avoid paper plates when I can.  You can buy these on Amazon, but I found mine at the dollar tree last summer.

Take advantage of the hotel breakfast- If we stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast, we will grab a few extra pieces of fruit or cereal for a snack later on in the day- It’s usually something different, and the kids look forward to it.

Bring some Starbucks Via or your own tea- My husband and I are coffee snobs.  We don’t like to count on gas station coffee.  I like to bring our own Starbucks via and our own teabags when we road trip.  We will also bring some one-use coffee cups to make a hot drink, saving money.

Have an assortment of breakfast, lunch items, and snacks- You probably don’t want to eat the same thing every single day.  Bring a nice assortment of items.  Items I like to pack include

  • Cereal
  • String Cheese
  • Apples
  • clementines
  • Fun-sized chips
  • tuna pouches
  • peanut butter
  • dried fruit
  • peanuts
  • fruit leather
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • bread
  • crackers
  • Instant oatmeal
  • microwave popcorn

Don’t forget Cutlery and Bowls- We always travel with a few butter knives, spoons, forks, and bowls.  This will help you expand your picnic options.  We’ve been known to make bowls of cereal for our kids when they get sick of sandwiches, mix up tuna salad, and of course, you need a butter knife so you can whip up peanut butter and jelly sandwich on demand!

Bring some items you can make in your hotel microwave- We like to travel with cooked pasta, oatmeal, mac, and cheese.  I always throw in a few microwave popcorn bags to make when we get to our hotel/ air, and b.

Don’t Forget Condiments- When you’re eating sandwiches for lunch for a week straight, you may want to think about bringing some different condiments to switch up your sandwiches.  We like to travel with some horseradish sauce, mayo, mustard, and maybe some relish.  You can buy ( or pick up at restaurants) those little packets, or you can buy a small bottle of your favorite condiment and keep it in the cooler.

Pack some frozen pre-cooked meat- I am talking about pre-cooked pulled pork or chicken that you store in your freezer in a freezer bag. You can also throw in pre-cooked hamburgers.  The reason why I suggest you store it at home in a freezer bag before your trip is so it will stay fresh in your cooler for multiple days.   You still will want to eat it in the first half of your trip.  You can make sandwiches or salad with it while you picnic on your road trip.  Or you can cook it with pasta or make nachos out of it when you get to your hotel.

You can pack:

shredded greek chicken

salsa pulled pork

root beer pulled pork

cider barbecue pulled chicken

applesauce pulled chicken

Rotisserie chicken- taken off the chicken and stored in a plastic bag.

Bring a package of bottled water- As much as I try to avoid buying bottled water- I always will keep a package in the back of the trunk on long road trips- especially in the summer.  We also keep water bottles in the car for everyone and buy water by the gallon when we travel, but water is something I don’t want to run out of.

Use Wal-mart pick up to replenish groceries when you get to your travel destination- You. may want to replenish some items when you get to your travel destination or get some items to cook if you are staying in accommodations with an oven.  I like to search for local Walmarts and order things in advance.

Meals that are easy to cook at your air b and b, or condo. 

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • frozen pizza
  • salad kits
  • burgers
  • frozen vegetables

Pack your own booze- I am not a huge drinker, but if you like to have a glass of wine before bed or a beer, pack your own! It’s a lot cheaper than ordering something from the hotel lobby!


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