Real Food on the Road

This week, since we are in the middle of our 4 week break between camp and school, hubby decided to take some long overdue vacation time to do some fun trips with the girls.  Given that they are only 3.5 and 1.5 and are not particularly flexible about sleeping away from home, we planned carefully with only one overnight to the beach, and then a separate day trip to Sesame Place (which, for those of you who may not know, is a Sesame Street themed amusement/water park in PA for the toddler/preschool set).  Sleep stress aside, for me one of the toughest parts of going anywhere with my family is how to find the right balance between allowing us to relax and enjoy the experience while not consuming so much unhealthy food that we all start to feel crappy and I feel guilty about what my kids are putting into their bodies.  Feeding my kids wholesome food at home is a manageable challenge, but taking that philosophy on the road seriously ups the anty!  Which is why I’m pretty proud of how this week went.  I might not be as organized as some of the other fabulous bloggers out there (check out this and this post for some great ideas), but I think I managed to do some planning this year that made hubby and me feel pretty good about our food situation.  I’m hoping that sharing my process will inspire some of you to do a little extra cooking and packing before your next big trip too!

Step 1: Prepare!
A few days before we left, I came up with a list of snacks that would feel indulgent, hold up well in the car, and also give us some much needed nutrients in between meals out and boardwalk snacks.  I settled on nut bars, oatmeal flax cookies, fudgy snack balls, and chocolate chip zucchini muffins.  We don’t usually eat all of these foods in a single day, but I thought it was important to have things that the kids would happily eat quickly and that did not need a lot of prep before serving.  I made big batches which went straight into the freezer until it was time to pack.

Step 2: Pack!
Ok, so generally when you think about packing for a trip, you probably think about clothing, right?  Or maybe toys and other gear if you have little kids like me?  Well, for me that’s the easy part…the bulk of my time is in figuring out how to pack up the food!  For this week, I did really well fitting in our small cooler, which is good because we also needed to fit suitcases, a pack ‘n play, blow up mattress, double stroller…you get the idea!  Take the time to think through what food will serve you best, and don’t forget a large bottle of ice water, a small multi-purpose knife (in a sheath or wrapped well in a thick towel), and a small cutting board.

Step 3: Enjoy your healthy food!
Here’s how we did on our 2 mini-trips:

For our overnight to the beach, I included all of the snacks listed above, a block of organic cheddar, apples, water, a knife, and a cutting board.  This got us through snacks when we got to our hotel mid-morning and in the afternoon when we got back from the beach, a pre-breakfast snack (since my kids are up at 6am, long before any real breakfast place opens!), and as a supplement to a lunch in a bagel place, where we bought whole wheat bagels, an organic green juice (such an exciting find!) and water.  We topped the bagels with some of the cheese from our cooler.

For our day trip to Sesame Place, our plan was to do the character breakfast where the kids would get to be up close and personal with Elmo and a bunch of his friends.  This had the advantage of getting us into the park early, but the disadvantage of starting our day with a decent amount of really crappy food (donuts, french toast sicks, tater tots, etc.), so I wanted to make sure we had some good snacks and a healthy lunch to keep us going!  We had zucchini muffins before leaving the house at 7am, and I packed our cooler with some of the same baked goods (nut bars and brownie bites) as the beach trip.  I also included apples, cheddar cheese, peanut butter, whole grain crackers, cut up cantaloupe, grapes, and freeze-dried mangoes, plus water and my cutting board and knife of course!  As it turned out, park security wasn’t so excited about bringing in a knife, so we ended up having to leave that in the car and make do with a plastic knife.  But after our so-so breakfast, we had a lovely lunch at a picnic table of cheese, crackers, peanut butter, apples, grapes, and melon.  I saved the mangoes, nut bars, and fudgy snack balls for a snack later in the afternoon which we ended up not staying long enough to eat, but it was really nice knowing that we could completely ignore all of the food vendors and just focus on taking the girls to the great rides, and also knowing that any weird tummy feelings were the result of spinning around and around, not what we were eating 🙂

On both trips, my kids seemed really happy to have familiar foods around.  For better or worse, kids tend to like what they’re used to, which I use to my advantage while on the road.  Neither one got really excited about the crappy food at the Elmo breakfast, and especially since they are so young, they had no expectations for junk in the park or on the boardwalk at the beach.  If anything, they were excited to get to have cheese and crackers for lunch!  So keep this in mind as you go places with your little ones – sometimes it is the parents who think junk food are part of the experience, but kids aren’t born with this expectation and might even be relieved to have some foods that make them feel good while going to unfamiliar places.

Do any of you have other suggestions for eating good quality food on the road?  I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

One Response to Real Food on the Road

  1. Guitar Man says:

    For our road trip last spring, we had to fly to our starting point so preparing a lot of the food and packing a cooler wasn’t an option. But we decided that investing $20 or $25 to buy a cooler at our first stop was a great investment, and we were right. We kept it packed with reasonably healthy foods and snacks, and although we weren’t adverse to restaurant meals, we wound up picnicking in or near the car for lunch a number of times. Plus, we were able to buy some fruits and veggies and keep them for a few days rather than have to find them anew each day (and waste a lot for spoilage). The cooler, ice packs (recharged in the motel each night), condiments and some other supplies were abandoned at our last stop.

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