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Ask the Readers: Food ideas for a road trip?

Cherilyn emailed and asked:

We are planning a 16+ hour road trip in December with three
adults, two kids, and two dogs – yikes! The decreasing gas prices are a
blessing but we would like to save even more by taking most of our own
food. We don't want to have to stop for every meal. Can you give me
some ideas for inexpensive ideas for eating on the road? Ideas beyond
bottled water, beef jerky, and muffins are appreciated since that is
all I can come up with. Thank you! -Cherilyn

I know many of you will probably be doing some traveling to visit family and friends over the next two months so I'd love to hear any and all ideas for road-tripping on the cheap–especially when it comes to food. What are some of your favorite frugal foods to pack and eat on the road? What ideas do you have for keeping food fresh and tasty while traveling? I'm anxious to hear!

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  • Monica says:

    A box of cereal makes a good snack. It easy to eat and not to messy.

  • Chelsey says:

    We always used to have little pocket sandwiches. My mom would make up a wheat bread mix, then instead of doing loaves she would put small bits of lunch meat and cheese inside them, roll them into a ball and bake them. You can freeze them, so at the beginning of a road trip she would bring the frozen bag of pocket sandwiches. By the time it was time for lunch, they’d be thawed out. I wish I could remember more details, but it was at least 10 years ago when I was much younger.

  • Robin says:

    We have found these foods to work well:

    In cooler:
    Drinks, cheese, grapes, mayo, mustard (you could put sliced meat, we don’t eat it though)

    And in a box:
    Bottle water, boxed crackers, granola bars, apples, chips, sliced bread.

  • Michelle Hughes says:

    We always take a small cooler and have string cheese, sliced cheese, lunch meats, carrots, celery, and juices in it. Fresh fruit is always good too – apples and oranges (the satsuma mandarins this time of year are great – easy peel and seedless!) Crackers to go with the cheese. We also take a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly along with some paper plates and plastic knifes – you can stop and make sandwiches at a rest stop and eat while taking a break. Trail mix – make your own or buy in bulk at Winco – I let my kids pick the kind they want to take. Make sure you have a box of wipes for easy cleanup and enjoy the trip.

  • Brenda says:

    Growing up my family of 4 used to take 2 week roadtrips in a 4 door sedan. Things were tight, but we made it work.

    Before the trips mom would always hit Sam’s Club for non-perishables, like cookies and chips. We would eat these with meals or as our snacks during the day.

    She would also pack a small with lunchmeat so we could make sandwiches for lunch and to keep some drinks cold. We would fill the cooler with ice each morning at the hotel and stop at rest stops or state parks to eat our picnic.

  • Holle says:

    Depending on the age of the children, I’ve found that finger-foods work really well. We pack our own home-made “lunchables” consisting of diced chicken/turkey/ham, crackers, and small slices of cheese. One time I was able to find neat little re-useable containers that had compartments. The kids thought it was cool.
    Other ideas: Grilled cheese sandwiches chilled and cut into “fingers,” cheese quesadillas chilled and cut into wedges (can also add lunchmeat), fruit chunks (use toothpicks for eating).
    We sometimes use a soft-sided cooler for food when we travel. It fits into tight spaces much easier than a hard cooler. You could also pack several small insulated lunch bags with different foods, as these would fit easier into various small spaces.

  • “Car Picnics” is what I like to call them! I had several readers share their ideas about this very topic! Come by to see their answers in the comments section!

    Happy Roadtripping and Happy Holidays!

  • Letty says:

    We make a 23 hour drive at least once a year with two adults and 3 small children- so I feel your pain! We often eat one meal out (a fast food dinner or lunch), and cereal, muffins, and fruit at a rest stop for breaksfast. We always bring a cooler filled with juice boxes and string cheese and grocery bag full of crackers, bars, and other snacks. Sometimes I make sandwiches and pack those in the cooler as well. We spend very little money on food on the road this way. Another idea is to visit a grocery store along the way to get deli fresh sandwiches. The kids love exploring a new grocery store and it is a good way to stretch your legs (and use coupons for products your local store may not carry!).

  • Candi says:

    In my area local bakeries make thier own pizza which is served cold. SO SO yummy, they are a standard treat for us when travelling.

  • Catherine says:

    Here are some of my favorite road-trip foods! Make sure you bring a cooler for anything that might be perishable.

    – Sandwiches (peanut butter travels the best, but any kind will do, bring a squeeze bottle of mustard or mayo and add that just before you eat it)
    – Bottled water & Juice boxes/soda
    – Pretzels, ChexMix, chips (bring the whole bag and some small snack cups – yogurt containers or small margarine tubs work wonderfully – so you can portion snacks out as you go)
    – Crackers and cheese (slice the cheese before you leave and you won’t need to bring a knife along)
    – Fresh fruits like apples, bananas, grapes, and oranges (might want to peel them ahead of time)
    – Dried fruits like raisins, apricots, or dried cranberries
    – Snack cereals like fruit loops, cheerios, and other finger-food cereals. These are great for munching on without milk.

  • Alyssa says:

    Make your own trail mixes. Mix cheerios, raisins, m&m’s, and mixed nuts together in a gallon ziploc bag. Either eat right out of the bag, or take small cups for scooping out a serving( a better option if you don’t want all the m&m’s to get eaten before everything else! lol!)
    You can vary this to suit your tastes, or you might want to take a few different mixes. Try chex cereal, chocolate chips, peanuts, almonds, other dried fruits, small pretzels, etc. Use any combo you like! Happy snacking!

  • Carolyn says:

    You can start now by freezing any leftovers that can be eaten cold or at room temperature. If you have chicken, turkey (Thanksgiving leftover idea!) or roast beef between now and your trip, make up sandwiches with the leftovers and put in the freezer. If you have single-serving containers available, pack individual pieces of pumpkin pie. My kids think of it as a dessert, but it is so high in vitamin A, I silently consider it an occasional vegetable serving! Carrot cake would also be an idea to bake ahead of time, cut into individual pieces and serve on the road. Most fruits and vegetables can be served raw and are easy to snack on, and cereal is easy to pop into snack bags and either eat dry as a snack or empty into a small bowl and add milk. You can make vegetable soup or a stew ahead of time, freeze it and then quickly heat it up the morning you leave, putting it in thermos jugs to keep the heat until lunch, saving cooler foods for later in the day. Potato soup can be eaten warm or cold, and while it does not freeze well, it could be made a day or 2 ahead of time. Hope these ideas help, and have a good trip!

  • Heather says:

    excellent suggestions already, and I would also add hard boiled eggs to the list of cooler items. You could even peel them before you leave to reduce the mess. If you don’t want to take a cooler, sandwiches like cucumber & cream cheese would be ok for a few hours.

  • Audra says:

    I have heard of using a crock pot in a car, using an electric adapter, but that could be very messy. I guess if it is very cold, warm food would be tasty. Or you could try warm soup in a thermos.
    I would think about fruit(peeled and chopped or not), pasta salad(kept in cooler), or tortilla wraps. Just get a large flour tortilla and layer what you like, such as mayo, turkey, lettuce and cheese. Then roll it up and you have a wonderful sandwich.
    Fresh veggies and dip would be good. I love Hummus, but my kids don’t. Homemade salsa and baked chips are healthy and give veggies into the diet.
    Have a great trip!

  • kp says:

    We found eating while we drive helpful so our stops were spent running around and moving our legs and not sitting again to eat. It was also helpful to leave super early (like 2 or 3 am) so 1/3 to 1/2 the trip is over by the time the kids wake up.

  • Chelssya says:

    We’re used to making 18 hour car trips with a family of 4 and a large dog twice a year. In the summer, it’s easier because you can have picnics at rest stops. The winter is more difficult because we travel through areas with lots of snow and very cold weather, so roadside stops are out. usually make at least one stop at a McDonald’s that bridges over the interstate with an indoor playland so we can all stretch our legs and the kids can play. And my oldest loves to watch the semis zoom underneath him! For winter trips, I make a batch of muffins, cookies, and chicken salad. I pack the chicken salad in individual-sized plastic bowls with lids so we can eat it in the car, as making sandwiches in the car gets messy. I also pack crackers, sliced cheese and summer sausage. Fruits that don’t require peeling like grapes, raisins, orange slices or cut up melon make clean-up easier. I’ll often throw in some granola bars, mini-carrots, and trail mix. We bring along water, juice boxes, and milk boxes. I also make sure to bring several bottles of breastmilk so I can bottle feed rather than having to make emergency roadside stops to feed a crying baby. (I know in some states it’s legal to nurse a baby in a moving car, though I’m not sure why. Recently where I live a mother was nursing her 5 month old in the backseat while another adult was driving. They were struck by another car, and the baby was thrown from the car and died. Sorry, that’s off topic. I just want people to be safe instead of convenient!)

  • I love to cook hotdogs, and store them in a thermos. You could fill up the thermos with hot water to help keep them warm. You could do the same with meatballs, and make meatball subs. (minus the water of course) A good thermos will keep this warm for quite some time!

    I also stop at rest stops to eat. We make it more exciting by collecting rocks from each stop, and writing on the rock with a sharpie to identify where it was collected. I find that the kids look forward to finding the next treasure, and aren’t so bother by the fact that they are eating PB&J AGAIN! Then at the end of the trip, we have a great discussion on why the rocks are so different from stop to stop.

  • jc says:

    We take long car trips too with 3 kids. One thing that makes a nice first meal is to fill a water tight thermos with boiling water right before you leave, put in warmed up hot dogs and they will still be nice and hot when you stop for lunch that day.
    We do sandwiches, but make them as we go, they were not that appetizing already made to us.
    Don’t bring bananas with unless you like all of your other food banana flavored.
    One thing I do that saves money and just makes the trip more enjoyable is to make sure you have some yummy treats packed. If you try to be super healthy, all those things you see at the gas stations seem too tasty to pass up, especially for little ones.
    Even though you may spend more at the grocery store to get some more treat or special type of food, it is much cheaper than buying meals on the road!

  • Sheila says:

    For long trips we pack a cooler with sandwich fixings: turkey, cheese, mustard, mayo, etc. Lots of snacks & drinks too. We plan a place to stop along the way and have a little picnic to stretch our legs.

  • Becky says:

    Thanks for all these great ideas! We have a huge roadtrip coming up next week. (we are moving from South Carolina to Utah) so I am taking notes!

  • Melanie says:

    I have 5 kids ages 10-3. We make several 13 hour trips a year. My husband and I have gotten pretty creative lately. I usually pack a couple sippy cups of milk (it helps use up the last of the milk so it doesn’t go bad while we are gone) and then some water bottles and juice/Gatorade. Also if we are traveling at night I usually pack some caffeinated beverages for my husband and I. 😉

    As far as food goes…we always have some standard foods and then we try to take whatever else is in the fridge to use up.

    -Snack size ziploc bags with grapes and cheese cubes
    -Bananas, apples, strawberries, and oranges
    -Baby carrots, broccoli pieces, and cauliflower pieces
    -Granola bars
    -Pretzels already in snack size ziploc
    -Oatmeal breakfast cookies and Special K Meal Bars
    -Orange juice boxes for breakfast

    This year we are going to be traveling after Thanksgiving. I’ve already decided that we will have ham for Thanksgiving and then I can make ham sandwiches to eat on the way. Peeled hard boiled eggs work well too. I usually always pack some fun surprise item for the kids—when the trip starts to get long it’s always nice to pull out something special to help.

    We usually have a soft cooler that I pack and try to fit everything in…whatever I can’t fit in I put in a second cooler. The biggest thing for me though is not buying a whole bunch of special things at the store, but using most of what I already have in the fridge and cabinets.

    I hope that helps some. =)

  • Gina Cocking says:

    We always take our food on long trips,
    For breakast, I pack yougert, bagles and cream cheese, and fruit.
    For Lunch, I pack lunch meat, bread cheese ect. and a loft of bread.
    I always take a cooler and fill it with what we are taking, also pack things like cheese sticks and drinks.
    For a treat I pack chips and home made cookies.

  • Rebecca says:

    Peanut butter and crackers, juice boxes, ants on a log, meat and cheese sandwiches without mayo. Mayo doesn’t travel well. Fruit such as bananas and apples. Plastic grocery sacks for the trash. Pudding packs depending on how old your children are. I’d get water bottles with the sports caps to minimize spills.

  • Teresa says:

    I just did a post on this on Friday, October 30! We, fortunately, live in an area that doesn’t get very cold weather. We pack lots of food and stop frequently at the rest stops. If the weather is bad outside, I have the malls mapped out, and I know which ones have great play areas!

    We always pack popcorn, homemade goodies (cookies, muffins, waffles), and goldfish (it’s fun to play with and eat).

  • Mandi says:

    Breakfast- Granola bars, croissants, peanut butter on english muffins, trail mix
    Lunch- sandwiches (peanut butter), fruit (bananas, pears, apples, oranges), crackers, cookies, trail mix, chips
    Dinner- We usually stop at McDonalds or Subway. These places are cheap and you can find some healthy menu items.

    We avoid taking a cooler because it takes up a lot of room, and you have to buy ice to keep it cold. It’s also not very accessible in a car because you have to stop to get to it.

  • Daina says:

    One of my favorites, growing up, was cucumbers! My mom would cut them into slices, lay the whole sliced-up cuke on a piece of tin foil, and wrap it up. We’d have salt and pepper with us and I always loved salting and peppering my cucumber slices at the rest stop! It always felt so special.

  • Margery says:

    Our standard fare is peanut butter sandwiches, apples, and baby carrots, with refillable water bottles. Nothing really can spoil. Pretzels work better than chips, too, because they are not greasy. Sometimes we bring raisins, graham crackers, or cookies, too.

  • Mich says:

    I know you asked for convenient foods to take with you, but what we do as a family is use car trips as the only time we eat fast food. We don’t ever eat it any other time. So when we go on a car trip, McDonald’s is a big treat, and the kids actually look forward to the ride! We like to find ones with play areas so the kids can run around and stretch their legs. We order off the dollar menu and supplement with food we have brought – such as our own drinks, string cheese, and baby carrots.

    We bring our snacks as well for times in the car other than lunch or dinner. Peanut butter crackers, cheese, cut-up fruit, drinks, dried fruit, and cookies. No need to do anything elaborate. Have a safe trip!


  • Kristen says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all comments, so forgive me if I duplicate any ideas. We just trekked from the DC area to south TX and back, and I was also concerned about food prices. Here is what we did: the day before we left I made a large batch of scones (in 2 varieties) for breakfast in the car, plus cut up fruit (sprinkled w/ lemon juice to prevent browning). For lunch I made, and pre-sliced, homemade bread, had a container of egg salad, along w/ peanut butter and homemade apple butter, so that everyone could choose which type of sandwich to eat. For snacks I had a container of boiled (and peeled) eggs for quick protein for drivers, plus a large batch of granola bars w/ craisins mixed in, and our snack splurge was a bulk-pack of string cheese. we had a few caffeinated sodas for drivers, plus coffee thermoses, but stuck to only water for kids (not only cheaper, but cuts down on bathroom stops, as they only drink what they need instead of guzzling soda or juice constantly). This kept all 3 adults and 7 kiddos happy for both trips. good luck!

  • Tara says:

    My mother usually fed our family of 6 on road trips with Egg Salad Sandwiches. Hers were delicious (just boiled eggs, mayo and salt, but she always made it in just the right proportions.) Egg salad is great because it gives alot more protien at a lower cost than a roast beef or ham sandwich. There were also PBJs for my picky brother, some fruit, maybe some chips or cookies. The only time we usually stopped for a meal is if we found a McDonalds with a playground so that the kids could run around and burn some energy.

  • Amanda says:

    I second all the food ideas listed. Grapes, chesse, crackers, sandwiches, etc are all great car snacks. Be sure to pack some sandwich baggies to pass out the food. I portion out food into sandwich baggies and then pass it out to my kids. The bags are small to pack and then we throw them away. It’s more convinent then plastic containers and the kids don’t spill the baggies. Also, small portions means less waste so that helps your food to go further. I would encourage you to buy some candy at the grocery store or on sale at CVS before the trip to pack with you. My husband and I are always prone to buy candy at the gas station. What a waste of money! Thinking ahead saves us money (even though we don’t need the candy at all!).

  • Gabrielle Blake says:

    We’ve used the following–
    carrot sticks and other veggies, grapes and other fruits that are easily contained, homemade crackers and cookies, granola bars (the granola tends to be too messy), cheese sticks, bacon and sliced ham/turkey, the usual sandwhich ideas are also good. If you think you’ll stop at a picnic or rest area to eat, boiled eggs travel pretty well. If your trip is more than one day and you might be staying at a place with a microwave, we often will freeze things like chili and soup, use the frozen food as an extra way to keep the drinks cooled, and eat them the next night. I like bringing things like tea bags, instant oatmeal, and ready mac to have as “just in case” items. We usually bring our own milk, prepared tea, and juice too.

  • Amy says:

    We took a trip that was about 12 hours long when my daughter was almost 3 years old. We had a DVD player in the car and we borrowed some DVDs from friends that she had not seen.

    We packed a small suitcase (I think it was one of the “Going to Grandma’s” suitcases) and filled it with coloring books, crayons, stickers, paper, paper dolls, small dolls, matchbox cars, and other small toys.

    We stopped a couple of times along the way at Wal-Mart. For my daughter just to get to look at the toys and press all the buttons was almost like having a new toy. It was a great place to walk around. We usually let her pick out a small toy to play with in the car. It was new so it kept her entertained for a little while.

    I packed a few bags of treats (candy or snacks we didn’t eat very often) and pulled them out during the times my daughter started to get tired of sitting in the car. The treat kept her distracted for a little bit.

    I wish you luck in your trip. I guess with 3 adults, you might was a few distractions for them also. I might suggest word finds, crossword puzzles, or puzzle books. My husband also enjoys trivia, so I found a trivia book and read the questions to him while he was driving. It kept the trip interesting.

  • I grew up traveling alot, and when we were first married we lived in MN and traveled at least once a year or more to see my family 24 hours away. We were really poor so we did not stop for food usually.
    Homemade cookies that do not crumble easily
    Dried fruit and nuts
    A favorite was carrot sticks and celery sticks with homemade onion dip. This was really easy and the crunchy vegetables were not sticky and were wonderful
    A soft sided cooler with frozen bottle of water to keep it cold and then you could drink the water when it defrosted.
    in there i remember one time making a pasta salad which we ate for our first lunch and it was so good. Cooked cubed chicken is nice, you can freeze it and when it defrosts serve it with a green salad which a bag of salad with small thing of dressing and grated cheese makes a nice meal that is easy to shake up in the car.
    Make a batch of roll dough and put slivers of meat and cheese to bake inside. This is much less messy than a sandwich or making sandiwches.
    Pretzels- much less messy than chips
    I do not every allow children to have dip in the car of ay kind as from past experience the spills happen. Sippy cups even for children past the age or non spilling cups are great.
    Bring a thermos along. Gas stations will let you fill it up for cheap or free with coffee or hot water and if you bring tea bags along, hot drinks.
    We loved something hot once on the trip so we would allow ourselves to stop once for something. Make it fun to pick what you are going to do!
    Cheese sticks are great snack too, crackers.

  • Diane says:

    I love some of the comments I’ve seen so far. Especially the hot dogs in a thermos. Sounds great for kids.

    But there is one thing I’m surprised no one has mentioned yet. Road trips are a great time to use up all those small food samples we’ve been getting in the mail through out the year.

    I keep a plastic tub in the kitchen where I throw all the sample granola bars, fruit roll-ups, Kashi Cookies, mini-Cereal boxes, etc. Then when we are going to be on a road trip or spending the night in a hotel, I’ll throw the tub in the car along with the sandwiches, cheese sticks, etc others have mentioned.

  • Amiyrah says:

    we travel a 6+ hour trip to Ohio every holiday(including our boy’s birthday and labor day). Out of necessity, I’ve had to come up with food stuffs to keep in the car. They biggest money saver has been fried chicken. Maybe not the healthiest, but it does satisfy and is a great “hand food” for the car. I even make tenders for my son. Grapes are a great one as well and so are homemade rice krispy treats and granola bars. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a bit on the kid side, but made on whole wheat bread, they can do the trick of filling up all. Anything that is left over when we arrive, is nibbled on in our room during our stay.

  • Shayleen says:

    My mom always used to pack all the fixings for sandwiches (or tortilla wraps) in a cooler and we’d usually just stop at a rest stop or park (GPS’s make it so easy to find great parks along the way) and make sandwiches. We always stay at hotels with continental breakfasts and so dinner is the only meal to buy on the road!

  • Lara says:

    I always pack food for our family car-trips, and I try to make it meal-food (not just snacks) so we can avoid the temptation to stop at a drive-thru! Everyone has already posted some great food ideas, so I won’t chime in there, but one product I TOTALLY recommend is the Fridge-to-Go
    I have the “mini-fridge 12” and it is just a lifesaver. It folds up and I just pop it in the freezer the night before we leave. Then in the morning, load up with sandwiches, grapes, cheese — whatever! (We just have one child — so far — so if you have a bigger family you may want to get a bigger fridge-to-go so you have more space.) It’s got a convenient shoulder-strap to carry it, and the compact soft-side design lets you squish it into your car anywhere there’s space.
    I also bring along cases of water bottles, soda, etc. when we travel. It’s so much cheaper than buying drinks on the road. Once we’ve used up our cold drinks, I just open the cases I brought and pop more drinks into the fridge-to-go to chill them.

  • Diane says:

    TIP#1 : BE CAREFULL WHAT DRINKS YOU PACK – Crumbs can be vacuumed but colored/sugary drinks can cause more permanent damage to the upholstery. When we travel I try to only pack things for drinking in the car that I’m OK with being spilled in the car.

    Even milk is a big NO NO. We had that spill in our car once and despite much effort put into cleaning it our car smelled like rotten milk for months. YUCK!!

    Tip #2: DRY ICE – If you are going to be driving in either very hot weather or for more than a day I reccommend using dry ice. A small amount of dry ice will keep your food colder for a longer time while taking up considerably less space.

  • Holly in OK says:

    Rice krispie treats, carrot sticks, and celery were staples when we traveled during my childhood, along with other things. But I distinctly remember helping my mom cut the veggies and making the rice krispie treats the evening before we left, while my dad took a nap after work so that we could leave at o-dark-thirty. Too bad we have to use seatbelts these days! (necessary, but less convenient than our childhood.)

  • CHRIS says:

    A friend of mine got me hooked on this one…it’s a Cereal Mix-Up…not particularly healthy, but the kids love it!! Her recipe consists of Cocoa Puffs, Chocolate Chip Grips, Teddy Grahams (Honey & Chocolate) and Reese’s Pieces/M & M’s or Chocolate Chips…Yummmmyyyy!!! Like I said, not the best for you, but certainly a kid pleaser!

  • Tiffany says:

    We used to travel a lot. We would usually only eat out 1 meal a day. I have just a few additional things that always made it easier.

    Cooler: We have a cooler that plugs into the car or into a regular outlet, eliminating having to get ice. (just don’t leave it plugged into your car too long while it’s not running :))
    Breakfast: We would take instant oatmeal and a hot water pot, heat the water pour it on the oatmeal and let it sit about a minute. works great. Yogurt & granola. OR stay at a hotel that serves breakfast for free!!
    Snacks: We would usually take bean dip and corn chips, easy, healthy, and a good source of protein.

    I think that’s all I had to add.

  • Tracy says:

    When we travel from MI to Florida we always take a cooler with the following:

    Gogurt (food coloring free ones), Cheese sticks, apples, banana’s.
    We also take along a loaf of bread and PB&J for sandwiches. Plus chips, pretzels whatever we have of the like in the pantry that’s already open. Works great for us we do stop for breakfast but at least all other meals are covered.

  • Becky says:

    If I decide to make sandwiches ahead of time due to lack of space to pack lunch meat and everything else separately, I love using bagels with veggie cream cheese, or thick hoagie rolls; this way, the sandwiches don’t get soggy and gross. If we need to eat breakfast and lunch on the road and I do have the space for condiments and everything, I still love to use bagels, because then I’ll pack strawberry cream cheese for breakfast and veggie cream cheese for the lunch sandwiches – double duty! Individual sized milks and juices are a must for us also.

  • Kristin says:

    We have been going to OC since I was born and each year my mom would make peperonie rolls and Broccolie puffs. I am grown now and take my own family but each year this is what we take. They keep well in a cooler and fill you up. Plus you can make them ahead of time and freez them.

  • trisha says:

    if you have access to a microwave, you can heat up already made biscuits, scrambled eggs and sausage (on tortillas). You can do a LOT of reheating with a small microwave or even a toaster oven, just make handy stuff ahead….If you do have a microwave, those mac-n-cheese microwavables can be handy, could even toss in some cooked chopped ham in them.

    Sandwiches, fruit, cheese, carrot sticks, nuts, raisins, cereal. Make-your-own “lunchables.” Cold fried chicken. As far as the fruit, I like to have them in individual serving-size bags. My kids love my “roll-whiches”..I take bread dough and roll out small rectangles and place sandwhich meats and cheese then roll up (kinda like a burrito) and then bake. Can even do pizza pockets like this too, but mix the sauce w/cheese and be sure to seal really well (otherwise sauce runs out while baking).

    We have even been known to go to a grocery store that has a deli (super walmart would work too) and pick up a rotisserie chicken already cooked. They are reasonably priced (certainly cheaper than eating out!). Could pick up some sides too or grab your ready to go fruit. Then have a picnic. I’d pack a knife, fork or something that would be handy to have for these situations.

    If you eat out, generally lunch is cheaper than dinner.

  • Melanie says:

    We just went on a long trip and I packed little snack sized bags of treats for munchies. We had Baby Goldfish (as they don’t crumble like the regular sized ones do), cereal such as Cheerios – the yogurt or Multi-Grain ones work well as snacks, crackers, chips, grapes, raisins, dried fruit, lots of varieties of granola bars… Snack size ziploc bags are awesome! I really didn’t see much point in them until I had my son!

  • Davonne says:

    Davonne’s Travel Food Tips (in no particular order):

    1)Make sandwiches in advance. If kept in a cooler, they don’t get too soggy, and trying to put together sandwiches in a moving vehicle, for a starving family, is extremely difficult.

    2) Look around the house for food. We empty our cupboards and fridge (especially if the items will go bad before we arrive home) before ever stopping at the store.

    3) Use flavor! We purchase individual packets of drink mixes (Aldi’s has these for pretty cheap), so we can just put them in a bottle of water for a little excitement in our mouths. This stops us from driving through somewhere for a pop just because we’re tired of plain water.

    4) Everyone gets a bag! On a family night the week we leave, we’ll all put together goody bags for each person. We even include little Dollar store non food items in the bags. Our daughter feels so grown up to be allowed to have an entire bag all to herself, and she’ll literally stay occupied with this for hours. We don’t use goody bags for a trip that’s under four hours, so these are a real treat, which makes them more special. When using goody bags, we put all snacks in them, so we don’t have extra snacks all over the car.

    5) Never underestimate the power of a small cooler. Our small cooler holds several drinks and all of our sandwiches, plus some fresh fruit and such. Even on large trips, we have no need for large coolers!

    6) Use the trunk. We keep all extra drinks in our trunk and refill the cooler when we stop.

    7) Keep the cooler in reach of the passenger! Young hungry children, a tired driver, and a passenger who can’t reach the food is a recipe for disaster. Being able to reach the cooler is a lifesaver, and diminishes the need for unnecessary stops.

    8) Use zip-lock baggies. It is much, much cheaper to buy a large bag of chips and divide it up for goody bags than to buy individual bags.

    9) Include something homemade. No matter what we buy, the homemade items are always the biggest hit. One time we made cotton candy, but usually we make a batch of cookies and divide them up among goody bags. We make the mix right before we begin putting bags together, and by the time we’re finished with the rest of the bags, the cookies are ready to go in.

    10) Shop at Aldi’s! This saves so much money, and when I’m busy getting ready for a big trip, the last thing I have time for is coupon clipping.

    11) Make one big stop for a meal. Try to save this for the evening so the kids will wear out and go to sleep when they get back in the car. If children are young enough, the restaurant should have a play-place. This stop gives everyone a chance to stretch their legs, and also helps the food in the car to last longer since one entire meal is taken care of at the restaurant. We also make sure to fill up our gas tank and have everyone use the restroom before we get back on the road. If we need anything from the store, we’ll also do that at this time, but we try to avoid shopping while driving if at all possible.

    12) If eating breakfast in the car, buy a box of donuts when you’re shopping for everything else. $3.00 and no hassle the morning of the trip. Plus, if you’re a health freak like me, your family will be excited to get in the car so they can have their special treat. Trust me, it’s worth the money.

    14) Pre-make EVERYTHING. Slice apples in advance, peel oranges, etc. This is very difficult to do while driving!

    13) Bad food ideas: Anything sticky (suckers), anything that melts (popsickles), or anything that requires utensils

    14) Good food ideas: Grapes, fruit snacks, cheese (we buy a block and slice it in advance), chips, beef jerky, trail mix, candy (we keep extra holiday candy in a cupboard to pull out for stuff like this), pre-made sandwiches, and raw veggies.

    15) Keep caffeine away from the kids! Cramped vehicle, kids hyped up on caffeine… Need I say more?

    16) If the driver likes caffeine while driving, put it in the cooler to avoid last minute drive throughs. Cans (or bottles) of pop, frappiccuno, or tea are great choices.

    17) If the driver gets something fun to drink, make sure to have something besides water for everyone else too, such as 100% fruit juice boxes or Sprite.

    18) Don’t over pack food. Over packing food encourages overeating, and takes up unneeded space in the car. Remember that you can always stop at a grocery during the trip if need-be.

    Some of these tips may be unnecessary or unneeded for some families, but I hope some of them are helpful!

  • Rachael says:

    We haven’t done a lot of road trips, but we have flown for that length of time (or at least from leaving the house to getting to our next destination its been that long of a trip!) and here are some foods that have worked well even without a cooler:
    veggie burgers
    Bean & Cheese burritoes -wrapped tightly
    veggie sticks
    whole fruit
    pb &honey
    crackers and cheese
    lots of granola or granola bars
    pre-frozen water bottles or juices

    You can do it and keep it cheap…good job thinking ahead!

  • Suz says:

    We enjoy taking the typical snack foods along like many have mentioned. We also did something a little different last time we traveled. We took along lunchmeats and food stuff to make wraps. It was a refreshing change, since we usually do a sandwich of some kind, and we could each make it up as we liked.
    We had packed enough food for the week & I just made sure that the cooler on top was the one with all of the cold items in it for our meal -we had lunchmeat, shredded cheese, lettuce, and even mustard and mayo available. We did stop to eat at a rest stop which allowed us to assemble them the way we like, but they could be predone as well.
    One item Hubby & I always take on trips is peanuts and red hots… mix them together for a nice salty/sweet treat. You might get the low sodium nuts so you aren’t tempted to drink too much though 🙂
    Safe travels!

  • Robin says:

    My husband is a college pastor, and for years, we would take 12-20 students on an 18 hour drive to Florida for Spring Break. Meals were provided by ME!

    The best thing I ever made on the road was a crockpot roast beef. I used an adapter to plug in the crockpot to the lighter, and simmered the roast as we drove down the road. By dinner time, we found a rest area where we could the roast eat outside with salad and rolls. We got many questions and comments from passersby! Just make sure you don’t crock pot something with a lot of liquid that might spill!

  • Kristine says:

    All the ideas mentioned are great! I know this isn’t packable, but we also start collecting restaurant coupons before we leave. We usually eat at least lunch or dinner out of the car and this way we get it cheaper. McD, BK, Subway, IHOP, KFC, Friendly’s are coupons we get regularly in the mail. And for those that have the Entertainment book, there are lots of restaurant coupons in there too!

  • Laura says:

    When we drove to Colorado with my in-laws several years back, my MIL made fried chicken and put it in the cooler for us to eat along the way, served alongside chips/crackers/etc. I recall that it was very tasty cold, and she used dry ice so it stayed cold – never got warm enough to be dangerous.

    Also, instead of packing stuff for sandwhiches – why not plan to stop at a grocery store every few hours in a new town to buy bread, lunchmeat, cheese, etc… so you can stretch your legs and get supplies, that would otherwise take up space in the car?

    And take bottled water for in between stops, then at the store each person can get a drink of their choice for the meal… will help keep kids from drinking (or at least begging for) tons of juice all the way there and back.

    Simple snacks can be packed for the road – granola, nuts, cereal, sliced apples, bananas, granola bars. Just be sure to avoid fruit snacks and other sugary things that will rev up the kids and make them hyper when they are supposed to be sitting still!!!

    When we moved my in-laws to Colorado earlier this year, it took us 2 nights/3 days (from Central Texas)… and we took very few snacks with us. The kids were able to forget about eating because we made sure they had lots of activities – Color Wonder stuff is amazing! – that kept their minds off of food.

    Good luck – and enjoy the trip!

  • Ellen says:

    When we travel we eat breakfast before we go and then have cereal in bags for snacking. We put milk in water bottles so it is less likely to spill. If we stay in a hotel, we are sure to do one with breakfast. Then we packs healthy snacks, sides and beverages. For lunch, we will go through mcdonalds and get .99 cent cheeseburgers for something warm. Then we put our own apples, veggies or what not with it along with beverages. Often for supper,we will do the same thing with something we can grab cheap. That is if we don’t want to deal with a cooler with sandwiches and what not.

  • Cherilyn says:

    Thank you, thank you! Such great ideas – I’ll be jotting down ideas later today and starting my planning.

  • cara says:

    I make pb&j sandwiches, cut them in half and fill a lg zip lock bag of those. Then I make good sandwiches or wraps for my husband and I (I’m not a big fan ofthe sandwich so it has to be something good!) we do grapes inthe cooler with the sandwiches and drinks and then I have a basket we keep in the back with zip lock bags full of popcorn, cereals, chips and a few suckers and junk food they like to keep from being asked for something at everystop we make. When we drove from Texas to Disney world my niece made up big envelopes for each kid with a smaller invelope inside to open each time we crossed into a new state. Some with activities, reading, markers, etc… they LOVED it, having something to look forward to was keeping them busy!

  • A cooler is a necessity for a road trip in our family. We usually pack sandwiches, beef jerky, granola bars, fruit, chopped veggies (carrotts, cucumbers, etc.), water, trail mix, pretzels and gum. We’ll eat a sandwich, fruit and veggies at “meal time”, and we eat the rest as “munchy food” for the rest of the trip.

    Our family has done many, many 12+ hour rides. This summer, we did 31 in a straight shot to South Dakota! (YIKES!) But it goes great and the cost of food is very minimal when you pack it yourself.

    Hope you have a great trip!

  • Michelle says:

    Ugh! There’s nothing worse than a cooler filled with soggy food from half-melted ice. We learned a long time ago to forego ice altogether. Instead, we freeze about 2/3 of the water bottles and juice boxes we’re taking beforehand. These become the “coolpacks” for the cooler, keeping the other stuff cold. By the time the other 1/3 of the beverages have been consumed, the frozen ones are beginning to thaw.

    This spares us the mess of a soggy cooler, and allows us to pack more food and drinks, since we’re not wasting space on ice or cold packs.

  • Ramie says:

    Having done 2 cross country treks with 3 kids age 5 & under this summer, I’m a pro at this! We spent 2 nights in hotels en route, so ate dinner out both nights, but we did breakfast, lunch and snacks in the car! Breakfast was cereal bars, bananas, milk (boxes from Horizon for single servings), and dry cereal in ziplock baggies. Lunch was PB&J sandwiches, fruit (apples, pears and oranges that we cut/peeled before we left), carrot & celery sticks, juice boxes or water, and graham cracker sticks. Snacks consisted of raisins, goldfish, graham cracker sticks, fruit snacks and fruit. We prepacked it all before leaving..either in ziplock or small bowls with lids. We kept lots of water on hand, and had access to/room for a cooler. It was super easy, and kept us from buying junk food and fast food. HTH and good luck with your trip!

  • Jewel Cyr says:

    We like tortilla roll-ups (tortillas with ham and cheese rolled up), and tortilla rolls (mix picante sauce and cream cheese together and spread onto tortillas, chill and serve). Croissants with ham and cheese.

  • Kasey says:

    My comment is not so much about food but about planning the trip in general- some things I’ve found work great when traveling with my kids is to divide the trip into 10 equal parts, then instead of the constant “Are we there yet?” I can update them as to what number we’re on. For example, a 1-hour trip would be divided into 6-minute segments, so after six minutes we’d be at 1, at 12 minutes 2, and so on. It gives younger kids a better grasp of distance and time, so they don’t feel like they’ll be stuck in the car forever.

    Another thing I’ve found helpful is to keep the same schedule as you do at home. On my last long trip (6 hours) I planned the times for every meal and snack, and mapped out locations for rest breaks. I also designated an hour for “quiet time” right after we stopped for lunch, just like we have at home after lunch. I told the kids it was quiet time, and my 2-year-old promptly fell sound asleep while my 4-year-old played with a quiet electronic laptop learning game. I popped in a book on cd to listen to, and I enjoyed the “break” even though I was still driving. When the little one woke up, we were close to our next rest break, which was a fun stop at McDonald’s for milkshakes- a great treat to boost our spirits till the end of the trip.

    A little advance planning and preparation can make your trip fun, and help you to feel in control even when tired and frazzled from a long drive!

  • Amy Flanegan says:

    We did a 40 hour road trip with a 18 month old and 3 year old this summer. They did great! Besides the portable DVD player, the best thing I did was wrap up their snacks (and some other surprises) as “presents”. An individual snack package of anything becomes more exciting when you have to unwrap it before you eat it!

  • Kim says:

    In case you didn’t get enough ideas here, I did a giveaway asking a similar question and got hundreds of responses! Maybe some of them will help too. You can click on the link to read all the comments. 🙂

  • Helen says:

    When we travel

    In a bag: bread, pretzels, apples, trail mix/granola
    In a cooler: bananas, other fruit, lunch meat & cheese

    We both get one water bottle and then we buy a couple gallons of water and bring our little funnel and fill up as we go… less plastic waste!

  • A.D. says:

    Great ideas. May I add some of my mom’s classics she used back in the 60’s before all this prepackaged junk food was available: hard cooked eggs which she pre-peeled (I think); steak which she marinated, grilled, cubed, and chilled ahead of time; grapes; dried fruits of all sorts; cherry tomatoes; cucumber spears; canned asparagus spears; cheese cubes; canned bread; jar cheese. Once she made meat pastries, but they turned out to be too crumbly. Yummy, but too messy to repeat.
    These are the ones I remember. We took several cross country trips, driving NONSTOP (except for gas) from the left coast to the right coast and back again. Way back when, it took 52 hours to make the trip. No restaurants, no motels, no parks; just gas stations. And everything we ate was in the car before we left the driveway. We ate the fresher stuff first, then moved to the canned and packaged as the trip went on.

  • I can see that most of my ideas have been used!
    We love to freeze Gogurts, which you can buy at Costco. I also bring cheese sticks & lots of fruit like grapes, apples, strawberries, etc. Sometimes you can buy prepackaged and pre-cut apples at Costco or Publix, and those are a nice luxury when traveling. Raisins work well. I also buy a big container of goldfish & make individual bags for each child. Wheat thins, cheerios, fruit loops, Pirates booty, etc also work well in individual bags. I fill a water bottle for each child but also pack milk, bottled water, and juice boxes. Have fun!

  • Katharine says:

    for road trips, my biggest issue is no-mess, so these are my favorites:
    -baby carrotts
    -sugar snap peas (not so cheap, but a fun healthy snack that doesn’t make a mess)
    -celery sticks
    -quesadillas (we slice them up like a pizza and put them in a big tupperware)
    -make your own granola bars!! here’s a good recipe:(

  • Melissa says:

    PB&J works great! You could either take jelly in a cooler, or use leftover jelly packets from restaurants.
    Depending on how messy your family is, you also might be able to have chicken or tuna from a can or pouch. If you get really ambitious, you could make your own chicken/tuna salad on the road with mayo from the cooler.
    And if you do stop and eat out, another good option we have found is Little Caesar’s. A lot of the stores have large “hot & ready” pizzas (usually cheese, pepperoni, or sausage) for just $5.

  • Vanessa says:

    My husband and I went on a trip to Colorado for our one year anniversary. While we were gone we paid for one meal out – a dinner on our anniversary. While we were on the road we munched on popcorn popper popcorn, crackers, pretzels, rolls, muffins, etc that I had made ahead of time and put in large ziploc bags. We also packed a cooler with frozen water bottles and all the makings for sandwiches: meats, cheese, bread, etc. I also packed fruit, veggies, and cookies.

    While we were traveling we simply pulled off at a rest stop and assembled our lunches. Sometimes we turned it into a picnic and sometimes we jumped right back on the road.

    While we were in Colorado we ate casseroles that I had prepared, frozen, and packed in the cooler. We saved sooooo much money traveling that way!

  • Rochelle Wilkerson says:

    I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the awesome suggestions! I always pack coolers for road trips now I have alot more suggestions.

    And an amen to the person who said be safe rather than convenient. A crockpot may be a good idea but I would hate to get into a wreck with it.

  • Donna says:

    We often eat in the van, even around town. We have 6 children and one that we babysit. Being a homeschooling family, that makes for 7 children on our weekly PT/OT/Speech days.

    I had a large picnic basket that I kept stocked with various chips, crackers, and jerky, but recently switched to a Rubbermaid box. This is working much better! The cooler can sit on top of the box of food in between the driver and passenger (food and drink server). I don’t worry about healthy food, I think more about ease and what the children like. We often turn our therapy days into errand, library, and park days, so I try to keep the troops happy foodwise.

    That said, I’ve also tried other foods on longer trips. There’s the standard chips and crackers. I’ve also taken rice krispie treats (just made some this morning to have on hand tomorrow!), various muffins (you can use your biscuit dough and add lots of real bacon bits – my family really likes these since they’re bacon lovers), egg salad rollups made with flour tortillas, Pizza Rolls (bought on sale with a coupon! I cook them before leaving, wrap them in foil, and store them on the dash in the sun to keep slightly warm), pigs in a blanket (little sausages rolled in crescent rolls -bought on sale with a coupon!- (I cut each crescent roll into thirds and wrap one third around each sausage), and fried chicken. I keep candy (bought on sale at CVS or WG) around to pass out for good shoppers or travelers. We often buy doughnuts to eat for breakfast when starting on a roadtrip.

    My children (ages 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 13) each pack their own backpack of toys and books they want for entertainment and I pack things to listen to like the newest Adventures in Odyssey, Down Gilead Lane, or something I’ve downloaded from

    For drinks, we use canned drinks bought on a deal at CVS or WG. Each person drinks from some kind of a cup with a lid. Carbonated drinks and sippy cups don’t work well together, but do when you take off the valve. The down side to that is you have to remind the child that if they turn the cup over, it WILL spill out. That’s why I have non-carbonated drinks available for people ages 3 and under.

    We have a couple of frisbees that we use as plates – great for the smallest people. We also have some brightly colored plastic trays (think of lunchroom trays) that I found at the Dollar Tree a few years back that we use. We carry along a roll of paper towels. Someone recommended to me a few months ago to carry along a hand towel for each person to lay across their lap to catch crumbs and the edges can double as a napkin. Great idea when I remember!

    The passenger (server) just tells what’s available and the children say what they want. We serve the youngest first and work our way up.

    I try to remember to have light sticks around for night trips. If we’re traveling and will get home around bedtime or later, we stop along the way and change the little ones into pajamas, then pass out the lightsticks. The children really enjoy them as this is the only time they have them.

    For people with small children, you might like this idea. I keep an old diaper box in the back of our van. It contains extra diapers/pullups, wipes, emergency change of clothes for small people, a very simple potty (Bjorn, I think), a roll of toliet paper, and plastic bags (saved from CVS and WG, of course!) This way, I can avoid using a dirty public restroom with little people. I don’t mind cleaning out the potty (pour out the urine on nearby grass, then wipe clean with the TP, followed by the baby wipes, placing the used paper and wipes into a plastic bag which is then thrown into the nearest trash) and the back of the van provides plenty of space for changing diapers. (We drive a 15 passenger size van, so this won’t work for everyone.)

  • Wendy Johnson says:

    This is a hint for how to serve the food. Buy some rectangular or square reusable containers. I especially like the 5×8 size. Don’t store the food in them–just use them for plates. You can fit a sandwich and chips in them. Since it is a container with sides, food can’t slide off like it would a paper plate.

    They work great for my toddler and preschooler. This also works well for serving fast food too. We tend to buy the 20 piece chicken nuggets and a large fry and that feeds our family of 4. We just divvy it up in the containers that I bring.

    I also bring along some of the smaller 1 cup size containers–they are great for divvying up snacks and are easier for little ones to eat out of (for my kids, ziploc bags usually mean big messes). Also, a side note on breastfeeding. I pump while riding in the passenger side. I simply cover myself with a blanket. Then I can crawl back in the backseat and give her a bottle while she is strapped in her car seat.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I love to make Sausage Balls (my kids love them!). They are super easy, can be made a month in advance if you freeze them, & travel well! Here’s the recipe:

    1 lb. sausage
    1 package shredded cheddar cheese
    3 cups Bisquick

    With the sausage at room temperature, add the cheese & Bisquick in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix together well. And yes, your hands are the easiest, fastest way of doing it. Form 1 inch balls & place on an ungreased cookie sheet (I love to use my silicon mat for these!). Bake at 350 degrees until browned (usually about 30 minutes. You can immediately eat, freeze, or refridgerate them.

  • Amyshopper says:

    smuckers makes uncrustables and those are great for a quick lunch! You can have them frozen ahead of time before you leave and they should be thawed and ready to go when you need them. They come in PB and honey, PB and grape jelly, PB and strawberry, and Grilled cheese. It’s a quick easy lunch on the go!

  • You can get the plug in coolers now that will keep items cold. I like using vacuum bags (the heavier kind, not the ziploc ones) and making a meal, then freezing it and laying it flat in the cooler. Stack them with many other frozen meals that way, and they’ll keep themselves cold. You can reheat them in the microwave in the bag or even boil them that way in the bag. (Just not in the oven.) So your pre-make list can be almost endless–fajitas are good, as is spaghetti or pasta, meatloaf, chicken, stews, almost anything you can freeze, you can do this with! Put those on the bottom, cover with a layer of ice or of cold packs (I’ve found freezer cold packs stay cold longer than ice) and then put drinks and snacks on top. BTW, a full cooler stays cold longer than one that’s half full. If you’ll be staying in a place with a freezer, one trick is to take half gallon jugs offrozen milk and as you drink them, empty them, fill with water and freeze overnight, putting it back into the cooler during the day. It will keep the cooler colder longer!

    Oh, I also put all the ingredients for a meal into one ziploc bag. So for a fajita meal, I’ll have the meat and veggies cooked and frozen in one vaccuum bag, then slide it into a gallon ziploc with a package of tortillas, maybe a bag of shredded cheese and a ziploc full of salsa for an extra topping. I love to use black beans on the road–not as gassy as refried beans, lower fat and a heck of a lot more protein! They’re also much more flavorful and very easy to mash!

  • Tara says:

    We just did the 16+ hour road trip thing last month. We drove straight from Minnesota to Ohio, only stopping to gas up and a 2-hour car nap! I would say we saved money by not utilizing a hotel but we were pulling a U-Haul trailer which made our gas economy 12 miles to the gallon! Yeah. Thank the Lord for lower prices or I don’t know what we would have done!

    Anyway, we weren’t super cheap-o about food. $5 footlongs from Subway: eat half for lunch, half for dinner), some Walmart snacky stuff (since we didn’t want to buy expensive gas station snacks!), and drank out of our large reusable water bottles.

    Although, growing up we took a LOT of road trips. We drove (from Minnesota) to Texas, to Florida, to Maine even! All I remember is the big cooler in between my brother and myself (to keep us from picking on each other) full of not much more than cheap white bread and and a big jar of peanut butter! I can’t believe I love PB as much as I still do because we ate SO MANY PB sandwiches on road trips! Quite the extreme frugal way to do travel food, but certainly not very nutritious! That’s the 80s and early 90s for you! I also remember my parents packing an electric griddle so we could cook canned stews and veggies (again, not very nutritious, but at least vacation was a couple weeks out of the year at most. And we never graduated beyond Motel 6 or Super 8 but if there was a pool, we kids couldn’t have cared!

    Needless to say, I’m sure there are better ways to feed a road-tripping family than PB sandwiches and Dinty Moore!

    One more thing, if eating out is the option of the day and you have young children, choose Cracker Barrel! The food is cheap and the service is quick. I used to nanny for a couple who had a VERY busy 1 year old, and we kept driving between their temp house in Maryland and their permanent house in North Carolina so we had to pick something where the little one could run around and stretch her legs. Cracker Barrel was perfect because we’d hook the baby harness onto her and she loved walking around the gift shop while we waited for our food. In and out!

  • Karen M says:

    Edamames are super easy and fun to eat (put the pod in your mouth and slide it out between your upper and lower teeth). They’re yummy cold, hot, or room temp… just cook ahead of time (or buy already cooked ones), sprinkle with coarse salt, and go.

    I try to package things per person and per meal. In other words, I have ziplocks inside ziplocks so all I have to do is grab one big bag out for each meal (then each persons things are portioned out in smaller baggies with their names on them). I don’t typically make sandwiches ahead (unless we’re eating them at the next meal) only b/c don’t like “soggy” anything.

    My kids love those little individual water flavoring packets…so we’ll pack jugs of water, cups, and some of those flavorings. One “individual” packet is enough for all 6 of us (strong stuff).

    I also pack a plastic tablecloth b/c invariably there is bird ick on picnic tables in parks and rest areas. Just be sure to fold it so the underside never touches the top of the tablecloth.

    I like to make a pasta dish (wheat penne, pesto, sundried tomatoes, white beans, and asparagus or whatever veggie you like). It’s good cold, hot, or room temp and packs easily into a big ziplock.

    Have a great trip!

  • Fruits and vegetable are excellent for snacking. I have also taken a cooler and put things like pasta salad, cold cuts, tuna salad and macaroni and cheese in. As long as you have a large cooler you should be able to take anything!

  • Nicole says:

    I never bring anything with kids that can turn into a crummy mess (i.e. muffins). A large soft-side cooler has been our best friend on roadtrips. I usually pack all the food ahead of time in baggies (worth the expense) so we don’t have to pass around large bags or fight over who gets to hold something. Cheese, crackers, and summer sausage is great because you don’t have to refrigerate the meat. I always make home-mixed trail mix from whatever cereals I have on hand, a few chocolate chips, pretzels, and nuts (if I found them cheap). Another great standby are apples and carrot sticks (bananas can get squashed too easily). I usually pack store-bought cookies like Oreos (love the Aldi brand) because they, again, are less crummy than homemade varieties. God speed in your travels!

  • Rachel says:

    Pack instant oatmeal packets, and a several thermos’ of hot water- you can add all sorts of dried fruits and nuts to basic instant oatmeal- making it a nice portable hot meal any time of the day- plenty of fiber, protein in nuts.

    Or- we are a PB&J family- you don’t really need it cold and the kids love it! Fresh fruit along side it makes it a healthy fast food alternative.

    Instant soup packets work well with the above mentioned hot water trick too.

  • Rina says:

    A slightly different take on things, and maybe a different way of looking at things. Check out the ideas encompassed in bento boxes. These two websites give you lots of ideas that you could adapt to 5 people. Checkout and There’s a lot of possibility here.

    Another consideration for this when travelling in December, depending on where you are, is the possible to need to plan where you stop. Certainly in many areas of the country, just pulling over for a picnic, will not be as pleasant as it would have been in PA today.

    Good luck!

  • Tara says:

    I TOTALLY second poster Rachel’s idea about oatmeal packets and a thermos of hot water. We didn’t plan on this, but last winter when I found out my dad had cancer we flew home and kept a stash of packets in the backpack I carried. The waiting room on my dad’s floor had paper cups and a microwave, and that’s all we really needed! Got to spend a lot more quantity time with my dad because I didn’t have to leave his room every few hours to find something to eat!

  • LANA says:

    Yogos are a good snack for the kids. We also bring sliced strawberries and blueberries as they are easy to eat and not too messy,and, of course, sammys! NO DRINKING BOXES…I have learned this the hard way:)

  • DeeDee says:

    I would recommend purchasing a lunchbox cooker, they plug into your cigarette adapter and hold a container the size of a small bread pan. Here is a link to see them and also a variety of other 12 volt items you can cook with in your car including a microwave, crock pot, sandwich maker, and many more. The lunchbox cookers work extremely well in holding stew, then wedge rolls, on top, that have been wrapped in foil (inside the lid portion is hollow). I have also cooked meatloaf and reheated lasagna using these.

    These are great as we get tired of cold food, and who doesn’t like something warm to eat in the middle of winter! I always carry a small bag with paper plates, utensils, cups, napkins, can opener and condiments.
    We also do the traditional car food such as sandwiches, snack type items, drinks, and we love the boxed donuts as one pack will last us several days. We frequently bring a thermos and packs of cocoa and apple cider. I find that most rest stops will not charge you for hot water.

    Pets do well on road trips, besides feeding them there treats and dog food we also share some human food. They are ok to eat veggies such as carrots, celery, cabbage, and fruits like apples, bananas, and berries.


  • Saver Queen says:

    Toasted almonds. Toast the almonds in a pan (ungreased) for a minute or two on medium-high, until they become medium dark brown. Remove the almonds. Then add a couple tablespoons of sugar and some oil in the pan and then add the almonds back into the pain and let it caramelize. (Again, it only takes seconds, so just watch it closely). Stir constantly. After, mix with sugar, cumin, cinnamon, salt (you can also add cayenne) and grated ginger (or do a variation). The nuts are delicious and a reasonably healthy snack, depending on how much sugar you add! They keep for about a week. And much cheaper than filling up on chips or store bought toasted almonds or even peanuts. You can also make your own trail mix with toasted almonds, pretzels, raisins/dried cranberries, etc.

  • Sharyn says:

    I also like the mix-ins for the water bottles. I get a box 10 sugar-free lemonade packets for $1.00 at the Dollar Tree. I also take Liptons “Cold Brew” tea bags and artificial sweetner to make tea in a Nalgene water bottle. I also like the single-serve pudding mixes (just add milk.) I use empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers as bowls/food containers.

    I also take hand wipes for when soap and water aren’t available. Also take grocery bags to use as trash bags.

  • Michelle Z. says:

    The only thing I can think of (that I didn’t see mentioned already) is to get little packets of ketchup, mayo, mustard, etc. I just go to my local deli and ask if I can buy some. They either give me a bunch for free or charge me $1 for a handful. It is soooo much easier than packing entire jars of condiments.

  • Anne-Marie says:

    We take tortillas and a jar of peanutbutter, slap together peanutbutter wraps as needed. Also, quartered oranges/apples in a ziploc. String cheese. Granola bars. We try to keep healthier snacks on hand while traveling.

  • Kerry says:

    I love to “be on the road” with the family. There are some great food tips already, so I’ll tell you what works well for me in terms of planning.

    We always travel with a 5 gallon jug of ice water and cups from home. Other than the coffee (see below) it’s all we have to drink.

    I make out a rough outline of a menu, and then I run through it completely in my head. For example, PB and J sandwiches will need the P and the J, and two disposable knives (with back ups) plus the bread, and sturdy plates, napkins and wipes, a flat surface, a trashbag, etc.

    I find that running everything through in my head in advance leaves us very well prepared.

    One more thing. We have a bit of an iced coffee adiction, and surprisingly it isn’t available all over the country. We discovered that we could stop at a gas station or truck stop and buy one small hot coffee and ask for a very large cup filled with ice to pour it over. The ice coffee is far less expensive this way, and the gas station coffee is usually strong enough that it turns out just perfect.

    Have a great road trip!

  • Sarah says:

    In September we made an 18-hour trip. Here is what we did: We took a cooler with us. For breakfast we had: Homemade Breakfast Hot Pockets. (we stopped at a gas station to heat them up) For lunch, we had Sub Sandwiches. We also had lots of snacks: fruit, vegies, chips, crackers, cheese sticks and gallon size bottles of water. Everyone of us (4-in-all) had our own water bottles, so if we needed more water when we stopped to fill up with gas, we just filled up our water bottles. Hope this helps 🙂

  • Naomi says:

    One thing we always did for the second day in the car, since sandwiches and things were always soggy –

    we filled a gallon-size ziplock bag with whole hard boiled eggs, salt, and a pile of mayonnaise. We could keep the bag sealed and dry in the cooler and then for the second day’s lunch, pull it out, snip the corner off with a scissors and squirt it onto bread. It was low mess and could be thrown away immediately after. This saves knives and mixing trouble and gives you fresh food the second day.

    For the second day’s dinner, we would bring cooked chicken, a big bag of lettuce, croutons and stuff and make giant chicken salads, coupled with banana bread or something.

    Delicious and nutritious, even the second day of a trip.

  • katie says:

    a couple things we did growing up (imagine those 20 hour road trips with 12 kids!) we would bring a block of cheese and a knife and my mom would either make rolls ahead of time or we would stop and pick up a couple of those cheap french bread loaves on markdown at walmart. we would have plain cheese sandwiches–on homemade rolls its amazing how good those are!

    for a special treat she would make biscuits in 9×13 pans just before we left with cinnamon and raisins and glaze over the top (like the ones at hardees!) and we would have those for breakfast in the car. Yum!

  • Kim N says:

    A friend of mine always fries a bunch of chicken (especially drumsticks for the kids) and sticks it in baggies in a cooler. I am not a huge fan of fried chicken, but her family loves it. We always take string cheese, almonds and peanuts, apples, rolls or wraps and lunch meat, carrot sticks, celery, and cucumbers.

  • Paula says:

    I know this is a bit late, but I wanted to say that we do the opposite of most people here. I agree with stopping for one meal, but unless you are stopping at a place where kids eat dinner for free, lunch is the cheaper than dinner. The kids are thankful for the stop to stretch their legs and run around and it does wear them out. When we get to the hotel, which is ALWAYS exciting for the kids, beloved drives to the nearest grocery store and picks up ingredients for dinner. The kids have fun running around the room (always ask for the FIRST floor when you have kids) watching the Food Network or Discovery Channel (we do not get cable at home so this is a treat for them). They wear themselves out so by the time Daddy gets back, dinner is heated in the microwave and eaten, they are ready for BED. 🙂
    We get a room which has a fridge, so the extras hubby bought for the next day can be kept cold till the next day. We also get a hotel with continental breakfast and we fill up. We eat RIGHT before we leave (and after bathroom breaks of course).
    We also do the goodie bag (mentioned above) with $1 store non-food items as well as snacks (I totally agree with the plastic ziploc baggies – SO worth it for trips).
    Also, while staying in the hotel room for the week, we will use the coffee pot a LOT for meals. There is a book out there which talks about it. 🙂 Things like spaghetti!!

  • Paula says:

    In the comments, Lara mentioned Fridge-to-go and I have been researching it and it looks WONDERFUL!!! I am curious where she got hers (as it seems that they are only sold in NY). Could you ask her or put her in contact with me about how I can get one?!?! It looks PERFECT for our needs as we have a son who is on a VERY strict diet. Thanks, Paula

  • Tabetha says:

    I see many good suggestions up above. Here are mine:

    1. Hard boiled eggs are a great suggestion and, if not peeled, can last 4 hours (and sometimes more) if it is not too hot in your vehicle.

    2. Fruit

    3. Keep several trash cans/bags available to prevent too much mess. You could even have a contest to see which child keeps their seat cleanest. That always works with mine.

    4. Driving overnight works for us if there will be opportunity to rest up when we get to our destination. We like to leave a little before the kids’ bedtime for the kids. This limits the need for food and pottying (a big issue for our 5 children between the ages of 10 months and 8 years) for the kids and may prevent restlessness. Of course, the drivers may need caffeine or music to stay awake. Some children do not sleep well in the car, and some drivers are better at getting up early than staying up late, so this idea is not for everyone.

    5. If you plan to stop for meals, drive a car, and it is cold enough outside, you can keep your main meals in the trunk. Keep snacks at hand while the meals stay nice and cold.

    6. Sunflower seeds, M&Ms, and raisins are good for keeping the driver awake if you eat them one by one and savor them instead of eating them by the handful. If your sunflower seeds have shells, removing the shells with your teeth help keep you awake. We usually make a homemade chex mix or muddy buddies (see chex site) for our trips.

    7. I 2nd the homemade food idea!

    8. Other non-perishable ideas are kool-aid (in a plastic juice jar with lid), dry cereal, peanut butter crackers/sanwiches, homemade biscuits with bacon or jerky, fruit strips, carrots, nuts, and granola bars.

    Hope this is helpful and not totally redundant, as I read about a third of the comments and then just skimmed from there. 🙂

  • Tabetha says:

    I posted here and the comment did not show up. Maybe I did something wrong, or maybe I didn’t wait long enough for it to appear. Fortunately I copied it before posting! I hope this is not a repeat comment b/c it was a long one. 😐 Please forgive me if so. Here goes!

    I see many good suggestions up above. Here are mine:

    1. Hard boiled eggs are a great suggestion and, if not peeled, can last 4 hours (and sometimes more) if it is not too hot in your vehicle.

    2. Fruit

    3. Keep several trash cans/bags available to prevent too much mess. You could even have a contest to see which child keeps their seat cleanest. That always works with mine.

    4. Driving overnight works for us if there will be opportunity to rest up when we get to our destination. We like to leave a little before the kids’ bedtime for the kids. This limits the need for food and pottying (a big issue for our 5 children between the ages of 10 months and 8 years) for the kids and may prevent restlessness. Of course, the drivers may need caffeine or music to stay awake. Some children do not sleep well in the car, and some drivers are better at getting up early than staying up late, so this idea is not for everyone.

    5. If you plan to stop for meals, drive a car, and it is cold enough outside, you can keep your main meals in the trunk. Keep snacks at hand while the meals stay nice and cold.

    6. Sunflower seeds, M&Ms, and raisins are good for keeping the driver awake if you eat them one by one and savor them instead of eating them by the handful. If your sunflower seeds have shells, removing the shells with your teeth help keep you awake. We usually make a homemade chex mix or muddy buddies (see chex site) for our trips.

    7. I 2nd the homemade food idea!

    8. Other non-perishable ideas are kool-aid (in a plastic juice jar with lid), dry cereal, peanut butter crackers/sanwiches, homemade biscuits with bacon or jerky, fruit strips, carrots, nuts, and granola bars.

    Hope this is helpful and not totally redundant, as I read about a third of the comments and then just skimmed from there. 🙂

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