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Eating Healthy on a Road Trip

Hi there! I’m coming to you from out of town. We decided to take a bit of a trip, half work for my hubby, half fun for the family since its spring break for our kiddos.

As a mom, vacations can definitely be stressful. I mean, you’re still mom on vacation, right? Still have to take care of the kids, probably pack for them, break up the fights, feed them, etc. I get this. So you might think I’m crazy for adding to my own list. For our vacations though, particularly road trips just because there’s much more freedom in what can be brought, I make food a priority. Seriously- a priority. It’s become something non-negotiable for me as far as feeding my family goes.

Here’s why:

It saves money! A lot! Have you ever calculated what it costs to feed a family at least three times a day every day with some sort of prepared-for-you food? It’s not cheap!

It calms everyone’s stress level. Eating junk for several days in a row really takes a toll on how I feel both physically and emotionally so I’d really prefer not to. Loading up on quality nutrients helps us all handle any stressors thrown our way much better. It took a while to realize the differences but once I did, I knew to start making choices and changes deliberately and mindfully. I have noticed the same changes in my children and husband, so again…healthy food for us is a priority on a trip.

It’s healthier. This one is kind of obvious. Living on good quality food, at least partially, rather than foods full of damaged fats and oils and artificial ingredients and loads of sugar is always better.

So how do you make it work?

Plan on bringing a cooler and other food bags. I bring a big soft cooler bag, another canvas bag for dry food, and even a small cooler bag (about the size of a lunch bag) that can fit in my bigger bag I end up carrying when we are out for the day (because moms always carry everything). I make sure the big cooler bag and the canvas bag are well within my reach while in the car so I can hand out healthy snacks to anyone who needs it. The small cooler bag is used for plenty of fresh food snacks throughout the day wherever we are out exploring.

Refillable water bottles for everyone. No sodas or juice from gas stations for us. We don’t drink these anyway, but the last thing I’d want is to have a kid with a sugar rush in a car for hours on end. My husband and I both have glass water bottles from Lifefactory and our kiddos have stainless steel ones from Klean Kanteen. We will often restock some Smart Waters or Fiji water during gas stops and pour into our water bottles or stash in the cooler until needed. I will also buy extra bottles of water ahead of time and freeze them to play double duty as ice packs in the cooler until they thaw.

Shop your fridge first. How many times have you gone away only to come back to rotten produce? Moldy cucumbers, shriveled bell peppers, mushy tomatoes. What a waste, right? Well if you bring a cooler, take those with you! Chop them up for a ready to eat snack, or even grab a mason jar or Tupperware and make a salad. Trust me, it will feel much better than snacking on greasy chips or fries. Fruit is really easy to bring too…plus citrus fruits will make your car smell divine! I love chopping up carrots, celery, and cucumbers to bring. Sometimes I’ll bring some hummus too if I have it. Also we love clementines, apples, grapes, and bananas. These snacks are easy to toss in my small cooler when we go out for the day.

  • Also, if you have some eggs, for example, you can scramble those and keep them in a small thermos container where they’ll stay hot for several hours. Or reheat some leftovers from that homemade dinner two nights ago. Of course this won’t be something that lasts all day, but it can be eaten in the car at the next meal time for a healthier option and save money.
  • You can go a step further and premake smoothies and freeze them in small mason jars or silicone popsicle molds. (For mason jars, a special straw lid and straw would be helpful to bring separately for when it’s thawed enough to drink. Until then, keep regular lid on.)

Shop your pantry. This isn’t as crucial as the perishables in the fridge, but you don’t always need to go out and buy special individually wrapped (ie. more expensive) snacks if you’ve got plenty in your pantry already. Toss that box of cereal and bag of pretzels into the bag for the car, along with some Ziploc bags or bowls for easy serving in the car, and it will serve its purpose. Are these perfectly healthy snacks? Nope…but they’re still better than something like chips or cheese doodles. Some dry snacks we love to include are Trek mix from Trader Joe’s (particularly the almonds, cashews, and chocolate mix for when sweet cravings hit), Epic jerky, Kind bars, individual coconut oil packets, almond butter packets (perfect for pairing with the apples and bananas), organic unsweetened dried fruit, coconut chips, Paleokrunch granola, and organic unsweetened applesauce squeeze packs.

Find a hotel with a mini fridge and microwave at the least. Even better if you can find one with a full kitchen. We are a military family so we try to take advantage of staying on base whenever possible, which gives us access to a full kitchen. For other times, though, we seek out hotels like Homewood Suites that have rooms with a kitchen. Having access to a full kitchen can allow us to have breakfasts like this..

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…instead of something like a sugar filled muffin or a bagel. I have to admit I used to love free hotel breakfasts, because, you know, free. However, I learned how much better I feel when I’m still able to have a healthy breakfast. When I know we will have a kitchen, I bring a jar of ghee and sea salt for cooking too.

  • If the most you’ll have access to is a mini fridge and a microwave, it is still possible for plenty of healthy eating. For trips like this, I like to bring homemade egg bacon muffins, made with just egg, bacon, cheddar cheese, spinach, and a couple spices. They travel well in the cooler, and reheat nicely in the microwave.
  • Other recipes I like to make and take are energy bites (I always freeze these before the trip to help act as another ice pack, even though they never get too solid to eat) and carrot applesauce muffins. Salads are easy to make ahead of time too. As I mentioned before, bring them in mason jars or Tupperware containers, or even little Ziploc bags or reusable bags can hold individual portions.

Find a decent grocery store nearby upon arrival. All grocery stores are not created equal when it comes to healthy options. Just do the best you can with what’s around. Stock whatever kind of fridge you have with whatever real food fits and makes sense for your situation. If you have a fridge but no type of cooking method, it probably wouldn’t make sense to go for the grass fed ground beef. Just remember to unpack your cooler first so you know how much space you have left in the fridge.

Don’t forget the other food essentials. My list always includes plastic cutlery (yes forks, spoons, AND knives because you just never know), paper or plastic bowls, plastic or paper plates, Ziploc or reusable sandwich size bags, plenty of plastic grocery bags for collecting trash in the car as it accumulates, a pack of baby wipes (always. Maybe two packs), and napkins or paper towels. I actually prefer the plastic bowls and plates on a trip because it’s a lot less waste and they’re easy to just wipe out after each use.

Don’t forget to give yourself some grace too. You are on vacation which means you don’t have access to everything you have at home in terms of food prep, and some vacations are easier than others when it comes to finding healthy food. However, if you can constantly think in terms of “better than” when faced with choices, it could end up being not so bad. For example, if fast food is legitimately your only option, a salad or grilled sandwich would of course be better than a fried sandwich with a side of fries. Or a hot rotisserie chicken from a grocery store deli with some raw veggies would be better than pizza and wings. Sometimes you just have to make do with the options available and that’s ok.  That said, one thing I personally don’t do anymore is to use the vacation excuse to eat poorly. You know the one…”Well I AM on vacation. I’ll have the double trouble chocolate fudge brownie covered in a triple scoop of chocolate ice cream and a sugar cookie on the side.” This is simply because of having learned how it affects the way I feel. It’s just not worth it to me. 

Another thing to note is that my kids are not magical unicorns and specifically ask for cucumbers over something like chocolate or chips. However, they (like most other kids) WILL eat what I have available if they’re hungry. So if all I have are healthy options for them and refuse to buy anything else, they will eat what I’m offering. And guess what, once they’re eating, I hear zero complaints.

Healthy eating on a road trip is absolutely possible. Yes, even with kids. Happy traveling!

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