If you’re kids are like mine, they don’t have an appreciation for water like I wish they would. And if you’re like me, you don’t have an appreciation for driving 8 hours in a car with 4 kids all hopped up on sugar. So, what to do? MIO!!! Love this stuff. First off, it’s OK if you’re on a diet or low carb or whatever. Second, it’s got great taste, nothing like one of those Crystal Light things that, to me, always seemed kind of sickly sweet. And the kids will pick Mio over Gatorade any day. A few bucks will be enough for a gallon or more, depending on how much you like to put in it. And a gallon of water is under $1. To put that into perspective, I can provide drinks for a full day of driving for under $5, versus buying gatorades or sodas every two hours at gas stations, which at $2/each, comes out to $12 every two hours. Also, there is a HUGE difference in the kids’ behavior when we get into the hotel at night if they haven’t been sucking down sugary drinks all day.
Snacks: All in all, I’m against most snacking. It’s mostly unnecessary, IMO. Especially with older kids who aren’t at a stage of growth where it’s needed. But snacks are fun for a movie when you’ve finally lugged everything up to the room and are sitting down for a family movie night. Or to pass the long hours in the car. Popcorn is an easy one. Every gas station has a microwave you can use. But it’s messy, so I prefer it when we aren’t in the car. Jerky is one of the cleanest snacks. Very little crumbs and you don’t have to worry about cheesy fingers or anything. We’ve done fruit, veggies, chips, and candy. When we are on a trail, I tend to bring food that can be grazed on a bit more than if we are at a hotel/campsite, or in the car. But that’s because our bodies are working harder and it’s more necessary. On the trail, I’ll also pack sandwiches that are cut in half so we can eat as we want, a bit here and a bit there.
Breakfasts: I’ve read a lot about non-perishable cooking for being on a trail. Lots out there about making your own biscuit batter at home, or pancake mixes. You can get a box of pancake mis for $2.50 and it feeds the six of us two pancake breakfasts. Also good for making biscuits. Just add water. Hotel/microwave only breakfasts….bagels and cream cheese is a big winner. Sometimes I’ll hit Walmart and grab a few types of muffins. And flavored oatmeal packets. If I can cook, breakfast burritos are great (eggs, cheese, chorizo, green salsa, and tortillas). Costs at $1.50/person. Ham, egg, and cheese pita pockets. Sub in bacon (which comes shelf stable), sausage, leave out eggs (for my daughter who only likes them in sauces and cakes haha), change out pita for tortillas, english muffins, toast, etc. Generally speaking, I prefer pita and tortillas because they pack well. They aren’t as likely to be crushed in the process of traveling. They stay fresh well, and they also make it easy to eat by either using a pocket or rolling them up (egg salad sandwiches are less messy in a pita, from my experience). This sort of breakfast sandwich comes in around $1.25/person, depending on what you’re using.
Lunches:Salads or sandwiches of some sort are our mainstay. Pasta salads are great and super filling. Make ahead and either store dressing separately, or add a bit extra because the pasta will soak up the dressing and it won’t taste quite as strong. Use ziploc bags to store, and then afterwards, use them are your trash bag for your paper plates and napkins, or as a way to keep the dirty forks until you get into the hotel at night. I like to stop at places where there’s natural beauty (like a river) or a large area to play (some rest stops are great….but do some homework and find something the kids can really play hard on while parents rest in the shade!!!) So any lunch on the road is made the night before or the morning of, depending on how complicated it is. When we are going out to sight see, I’ll make up lunch as I make breakfast and then we will tailgate it somewhere in the city.
Green salads, especially Caesar, are great and easy. Greek salad or some other sort of vegetable salad is nice to give some variation during a long trip. We have a few different pasta salads that are a crowd pleaser, generally, so we focus mostly on those. When you’re traveling, it’s nice to know you’re not going to have to make two different meals because one of the kids doesn’t like this one. Even if that means you’re eating peanut butter and jelly…..hey, that’s super yummy! Grab some milk and have a nice lunch!
You can take any of the combinations from breakfasts and make them lunch sandwiches. Added to that, hummus, pita pizzas, quesadillas, tuna, egg salad, chicken salad, crab and avocado, turkey sandwich roll ups, and the its goes on. Almost anything can be put on pita or rolled up in a tortilla. On the other hand, if you’re low carb and you’re family isn’t, anything that is rolled up in a tortilla can be put on a bed of lettuce.
A great way to keep one meal warm, or cold, is to get a backpack cooler. If you’re like me and don’t feel the urge to spend hundreds of dollars on some backpacker’s insulated backpack, then do what I did. Go to the baby section of your local Target and find an insulated “diaper bag” that’s a backpack for $25. It fits one meal for six of us. I’m sure I could fit in another 4, but I haven’t had to yet. If it needs to be cold, put a small ziploc of ice in there with it. If it needs to be warm, get a few of those hand warmers that last 12 hours. Super easy.
Dinners: two methods that work the best are either one-pot meals, made on site, or freezer meals, made ahead at home. You can look up one-pot meals online to get about a billion different recipes. Mostly, it’s just a matter of adding enough liquids to cook everything, and knowing what order to put everything in. In an electric skillet, you can make even stews in them due to the high sides and large volume they hold. Most recipes you already have can be converted into a one pot meal. I recommend trying it at home first. Not fun being exhausted, sunburnt, tired from working on a dinner for 45 minutes, just to find out it sucks. Try it at home first!
Almost everything can be frozen. If you’re using pasta, cook to just al dente’. In the freezer, the pasta will soak up more sauce and get softer. If you have a lighter sauce, such as in pina colada shrimp, store rice separately, otherwise the rice will soak up so much sauce, you won’t be able to taste it anymore. Frozen meals are also great because they take up less space than the ingredients do prior to cutting them up and cooking them all. Plus, you have less reason to over load your cooler with ice because the food itself is acting as the ice source. Another tip is to break up some meals into smaller ziploc bags. I use this for certain meals Gabe and I like but the kids don’t, or for single serving low carb for myself so that later on I don’t have to have one more lettuce wrap, or cook two meals.
At home, I’ll freeze casseroles prior to baking them, and then bake the night we are eating it. For traveling, I bake ahead, let cool, and then dish it out into ziploc bags. There’s no need to have extra casserole dishes. You can microwave it to heat it up. Best way to defrost for the first few days when everything is still frozen is to move the dinner for that night to the top of the cooler before you leave for the day. By the time you get back it should be defrosted, but you don’t have to worry about either 1. animals or 2. spoilage from being left out all day.