MEAL planning 1.2 - On the Road
Updated: Jun 28, 2021
This post is a tangent from the Meal Planning 101 I shared earlier. (Read it HERE first if you are unfamiliar with meal planning.)
You want to travel with your family, or roommates, or grandma- but you don't want to spend a fortune on the food. I hear you! One of the biggest things I hear from friends and family about planning vacations and road trips- is that they don't want to have to eat out the whole time. It is SO pricey to eat out for every meal. And the more people in the party--- the bottom line just keeps growing.
Let me give myself some credentials here. I've been married for 16+ years at the time of this post. I have 5 kids (that number won't change ;) ) and I grew up in a family of 12. I get the crowds. I have hosted extended family gatherings from both sides of the family in my home multiple times. I understand feeding 30,40,50+ people. (In fact... I was tested on my efficiency and ability on this very subject in Culinary School.) So I KNOW how to plan for a LOT of people in a lot of different scenarios.
But what about when no kitchen is available? What about the road trips?
What about the family road trips to Disneyland or Mt Rushmore with the kids?
What about traveling with my spouse to an all-inclusive resort in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico?
Do I have to meal plan on those?
YES. Maybe not plan every meal- but DO think about the food aspect of your trip. Ask questions like:
When will you be leaving and what time will you anticipate arriving at your destination? What kind of food will you want for your activities? What is your time frame for eating going to be? Do you have a baby along? Will you need to get online and make sure there is a grocery store nearby for extra baby formula or pureed food? You don't want to miss anything- and sitting down to eat can take a long time if you have a lot of fun stuff to get to--- is there a healthy fast food place nearby? How long will you be in the car? Are there long stretches of road without food options for 3-4+ hours? What will you do? Are you traveling during the winter? Should you keep a little extra food in the car in case of a snow-in? Do you or anyone in your party have blood sugar issues? Do you need certain snacks on hand for those? Do you have little kids traveling with you? Do you need some wet wipes or individually packaged lunches to make things go smoothly?
I don't want to give you anxiety trying to know the future----- but I can tell you that just by taking a few minutes to consider your trip, and what you anticipate can help the trip have less stress, be more cost effective, and you will FEEL better mentally and physically having these things not sneak up on you.
Just by mentally preparing for food on a road trip or vacation you WILL:
remove yourself from the statistic of adults gaining 5-10 lbs while on vacation of 3+ days
experience less fatigue
experience less headaches from poor nutrition and dehydration in the car and at restaurants
have less stress due to extra expenses
have better sleep
Look better in all of your photos from great rest, great nutrition, and no excess fast food inflammation
less expenses overall on your trip
less HANGRY kids AND adult moments in the car or at the airport when searching for food places as plans inevitably change
Have an answer when the kids call "Mom? Dad? I'm hungry. What is there to eat?" Priceless.
less trash in your car from fast food packaging
less instances of drinks and crumbs spilled in the car
happier kids, ready for adventure
Do I have your attention yet?
Our family LOVES to travel. We plan 2 long vacations a year- usually road trips covering around 3000+ miles to see 3-4 different destinations over 5-7 days. My husband and I also plan 2 trips (2-5 days each) away without the kids to relax and have some fun without the kids. My husband and I travel for our jobs 2-3 times a year. We also travel closer to home 3-4 times a year going tent camping or to spend just a few days at a favorite venue. And I can tell you we do NOT eat out every time, every trip. With a party of 7- that would be a large food bill indeed.
So- How do you do it?
Road trips and vacations vary GREATLY.
So I'm not going to pretend to have an answer to all of the varieties of travel.
But start with a basic meal planning blueprint you can get right in your inbox HERE. Use the prompts on the blueprint for the dates of your trip, and fill in what you know. Look over your itinerary of your trip and what activities or events you are attending and if you are unsure what food will be available for your meals take the time to do some googling now. If you've never meal planned for a vacation... this will take a bit of a learning curve, but I'm positive the benefits will outweigh it.
What I DO have for you- are 4 scenarios to make sure you go over and consider my solutions to them. You'll notice my suggestions are always leaned toward healthy options, since we want to have high energy and look and feel our best for all the photos and memories we will make on this trip away!
Car snacks. Car snacks are a great idea, especially if you will be in the car for 2-3+ hours. Car snacks help the driver stay awake, and they keep the kids entertained and satisfied... mostly. ;) What car snacks do I suggest for less mess and bloating and more nutrition? Whole fruits, nuts, grains and veggies that can be eaten with the hands such as: baby carrots, legume chips, apples, wholesome granola bars, mandarin oranges, popcorn, seeds, nuts, whole juice drinks like Naked brand and flavored water (sparkling is fine.) I have found with kids that I like to bring ziplock baggies to distribute these kinds of snacks. Every child in the car has a water bottle with a squeezie top lid to reduce spills, and my hubby and I have regular water bottles with flip up lids.
Car meals. Sometimes you will be going for 3-4+ hours (we've done 14 hours as a family in the car in one day... I don't recommend it... but we lived! lol!) and you either don't want to stop to eat somewhere OR you are going to be traveling through an area where there isn't much choice for food- or at least good nutritious food. Sorry- service station food is NOT going to help you stay energized and trim for your trip. Energy drinks will ALWAYS lead to a crash later and are horrible for your heart and brain matter. Just don't go there. Deal? Deal. So for car meals we do something simple. I keep a storage bin, about 2x1' in the car, with loaf of bread, peanut butter and jam, plastic utensils, and individual popcorn bags or wholegrain Goldfish or occasionally a popcorners or ricecake chip of a sort in individual bags or I serve them up in my handy dandy ziplock baggies. I also serve applesauce squeezeable packs or Greek yogurt on the go packets. I also have a lunch box sized cooler that I bring string cheeses, mini oranges (already peeled if I had the time), the on the go yogurts, and some lunch meat and cheese slices with squeezable sandwich dressing. This little meal ensemble lasts 3-4 lunches on the go, or a dinner if you happen to be in the car at dinner time. It is minimally messy, way healthier than fast food or service station food, and it saves a LOT of money, (averaging $1 per person, vs $7-8 per person eating out at fast foo. For our family of 7, thats $7 vs $50. Umm. I'm not even going to feel the need to explain that reasoning to you.) We don't always eat this in the car while driving. Sometimes we eat this ensemble when stopping at a place of interest, or right before going into a venue (venue food is MORE pricey than fast food!). OR we bring this with us into the venue in the stroller if food is allowed. :) Easy peasy.
Eating out while on the road. We like to eat out while traveling on the road as an opportunity to stretch our legs, see a different environment, and relax about the food prep and clean up. We try to find somewhere local and fun if we can, but if only franchised chains are available, we choose the one that will give us variety for the kids and give my hubby and I healthy choices. We always go inside to eat vs eating take out in the car. Again- this is because we only eat out to get OUT of the car. My husband and I have found that if we stick with Salads and a protein option. We do better energetically and digestionally than if we pick breads, heavy fried foods and/or chips/fries and we always stick with water for all 7 of us. We noticed MARKED positive differences in attitudes in the car and ability to just "be" for hours on end WITHOUT sugary drinks. We have prohibited all juices, sodas, and candy from our family vacations if we can help it.
Eating at someone else's home or family event during travel. This one can be tricky, as your culture or the culture of the family takes the "cake" or decision making on foods available on this one. Here is what I've found to be effective for these events or moments. I prep my kids. I let them know that there will likely be desserts here and several choices. I let them know that juice or a sugary drink may be offered. We talk about how they want to feel after the meal, and who they will meet and possibly play with or have a chance to make memories with. I feel it is very healthy to share with my kids this mindset of forward thinking before a food moment. How do you want to feel after the event? (I will write a blog post JUST on this in the future, so watch for it!) My kids over the age of 5-6 usually then make their own decisions and I see them doing really well. They ask for water, they eat their veggies and meat first, and then ask for 1 dessert option or ask for a very small portion of a few desserts. And if they DO overeat, and they start to feel sick, I make sure and point that out to them gently. "This is sad for you that you chose to feel this way- especially since you wanted to play with so and so after that long drive. What will you different next time?" Over time, this has proven to stick, and I rarely have to help my kids NOT get overfilled and eat or drink too many sweet things. Just bringing it to their awareness has helped them realize they don't like feeling that way and it inhibits their playtime they longed so much for. Why tell you about how I guide my kids? Well- not only has this been a work in progress, but MANY of my overweight clients ALSO have overweight children. The apple just doesn't fall far from the tree. What they see, they do. So the exact same thought patterns I tell my children, about thinking ahead about how I want to feel after the meal or event at this person's home or celebration- guides my choices on the food options too. And this is the exact thought process training I go over with my emotional eating clients and their food choices. Focusing on what you want to create for your future (energy, weight, mental state), instead of what you want right now. Enjoy the treats- just enjoy them with the future in mind. (If this is sounding super new to you- and you are liking what you are learning and have weight to lose, you might be a good candidate for me to coach. I'd love to discuss it further if you'd like- schedule a time here.) And if there just aren't many good choices at the event or home, I choose to fill my place up with what IS a good choice (green salad, meat option, and LOTS of water) and then plan to pick up something later or mix up a nutrition shake packet with water on the way home. If I've been to an event like this one before and know what to expect and the outlook is bleak for my health, I will call the hostess before hand and offer to bring a green salad, or I eat before I go and just eat a few bites of something I like.
What will a meal plan look like for a trip on the road? Somedays you'll be in the car- some days you'll be at a nature park, some days you'll be at an amusement park, some days you'll be attending a family event or visiting someone with a meal involved.
If you want all of those perks mentioned above---- you get to think ahead and make a preferred plan. I say preferred, because inevitably the plan will change. But if you don't plan at all------ you WILL NOT SUCCEED AT ALL. I guarantee it. Thats the truth of it.
So we plan. :)
I mentioned earlier to go here for my basic meal planning blueprint.
Once you have that- simply fill in the days of your trip. Do the forward thinking activity suggested on the second page of that document, and start filling it in. Here is one of my meal planning sheets for our trip coming up for Spring break:
If you have specific questions or suggestions that you'd like to share that you LOVE= please share them in the comments and I'll respond as soon as I can.
Make your next trip the BEST one yet with high energy, joy filled faces, and save time, $ and brain space by making your plan.