Packing the entire family into a car for an adventurous road trip is a time-honored summer tradition. Heading out on the open road without a plan for sustenance, though, is practically a guarantee for chaos. Relying on a gas station rest stop to cure the family's hunger pangs with chips or candy will ensure everyone is cranky after the inevitable sugar crash. And depending on fast food to save the day is an even worse bet.
One alternative is preparing some healthy treats in the home kitchen before the big trip. But let's be real—these days, most families are scrambling to find time to clean the house, do laundry and get an oil change before hitting the road.
With just a little advance planning and a quick stop at the grocery store for provisions, you can pack snacks that both parents and kids will enjoy. You'll just need to think ahead in order to keep everything fresh, clean and organized while cruising in the car.
It'll also be a whole lot easier on the wallet when you bypass overpriced convenience store treats and non-stop restaurant meals. Most importantly, packing food for your road trip will also keep everyone happy, healthy and even-keeled for the duration of the drive. Just follow these suggestions to thoroughly enjoy the journey before arriving at the destination.
1. Assemble the Supplies.
Packing food for a road trip does indeed require some special equipment. A cooler is practically non-negotiable for a long trip. Pick a size depending on how long you'll be gone—a standard cooler is a great size for a family of four. Double check that it has a drain at the bottom to dispense with of any water produced by melted ice.
There are also a few guidelines you can follow to keep the interior of the cooler cold. After it's packed, place the most popular food items on top and resist the urge to open it unless it's absolutely necessary. Also, pre-chill any cans or bottles in the refrigerator before placing them inside. Finally, keep the cooler in a dark place if possible. The trunk is ideal but inaccessible and therefore inconvenient. Consider leaving it within arm's reach but throwing a blanket over it instead to block out heat from exposure to sun light.
Stock up on disposable plastic containers or ziplock bags for storing food. This will keep snacks dry while they're staying chilled on the ice. Of course, not all of your snacks will need to be stored in the cooler, so throw anything non-perishable in a cloth tote bag. Then every evening you can easily grab it and then reorganize, restock and toss out any trash.
Be prepared for a mess whenever you spend several days in the car. Don't pull out of the driveway without paper towels, wet wipes and maybe even a box of small trash bags. Also use hand sanitizer to keep things hygienic before eating.
2. Stay Hydrated.
Hot summer days and powerful air conditioning can dry you out quickly, so stay hydrated with lots of drinks. Stocking the cooler with your pre-chilled beverages also has an added benefit. The drinks will act as additional ice packs and keep everything inside colder for a longer period of time. Bottles of cold water are perhaps the best thirst quencher, but consider mixing it up with boxes of coconut water, fruit juices or cans of fruit-flavored sparkling water. You might also want to throw in some cans of soda or bottled coffee drinks in case you need a caffeine boast while on the road.
3. Pick Some Produce.
You can't go wrong with lots and lots of fruits and vegetables for road trip snacking, especially when you find yourself just munching out of sheer boredom. Think cauliflower or broccoli florets, baby carrots, mini cucumbers, celery sticks and bell pepper strips. Consider buying them pre-sliced at the grocery store if time is at a premium. Both kids and adults will appreciate a condiment for dipping like hummus, yogurt dip or pre-packaged containers of ranch dressing.
Fruit is fantastic for quelling a sweet tooth. Blueberries and grapes can be backed in ziplock bags, and apples and pears won't make the car messy. Or you could also buy some containers of pre-sliced containers of pineapple or watermelon at the store. Don't overlook the vast selection of dried fruit (kids particularly love sour cherries) out there, either.
4. Think Protein.
It's all too easy to rely on carbohydrates to get you through a long drive. But thanks to the cooler, you can keep protein packed foods like string cheese, Greek yogurt and even hard boiled eggs on hand. There are also plenty of such foods that require no refrigeration like beef jerky, dry-roasted chickpeas, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) and even those individual packets of nut butter to enjoy with apple slices or on whole-grain crackers..
5. Remember to Have Some Fun.
Road trips are supposed to be fun and festive, so make sure to pack a few items you might not eat at home as often. Kid-friendly energy bars and popcorn are nutritious foods that also feel like treats, but be sure to take along a bag of the family's favorite chips or candy, too.