Eating Real Food on (Really Long) Road Trips

Real Food on the Road | Day2day Joys

Written by Jenn @ A Simple Haven, Contributing Writer

This summer, my little family and I took a two and a half week road trip through Canada and Maine. We made several stops along the way; either in a hotel or a friend’s house for a night or for several days in a rental house.

We travel pretty regularly as a family but this was by far the longest we’ve been away from home and all of the conveniences home affords–especially in the kids and food departments.

Adventures in traveling with kids is a story for another day. Today’s topic is attempting to feed your family real food on the road.

Having spent a week in a beach house last year, I had learned a little about how to feed my fam decent stuff away from home. This year’s trip was way more challenging:

I had a kitchen to do some meal prep in, but not until about week into the trip. A few days were spent entirely on the road in rural Canada with few convenience meal prospects (the words “can we at least find a Taco Bell?” actually escaped my mouth). Other days were spent in cities eating out for every meal, the cost of which I was trying to offset with homemade stuff where I could.

The bottom line? Pack strategically and (outside of food sensitivities) lower your standards. And enjoy the ride.

Eating Real Food on the Road

1. Plan Ahead

I’m pretty plan-oriented in general, but trips and Christmastime are where my MBTI “J” comes out most. Make some lists, friend.

A month or two before your trip, start writing down all the food you think you’ll want to bring, buy, or make for the road.

My lists were divided into stuff for the car, perishables I’d want to cook with I had a kitchen, and non-perishables.

2. Buy Ahead

For me, one of the unforeseen costs of travel is always the snacky stuff for kids that I don’t usually buy. My kids’ fav are those organic baby food pouches. I know. They’re two and four and way beyond baby food. But they suck them down and I’m happy because they’re getting a modicum of veggies.

Downside? They ain’t cheap. So I hit up Costco before our trip and bought a bunch in bulk.

3. Pack Strategically

Depending on the length of your trip and the grocery situation at your destination, you’ll want to bring basics that might be hard to find (or crazy expensive) when you arrive.

For me, these were quality meats, cheese, milk/milk alternatives, good oils, and random favorites like real maple syrup and Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread. I also packed stuff that would be annoying to have to buy/find at our destinations: a few spices and good coffee & tea.

The non-perishables all fit in a large canvas bag, no problem. The perishables required more attention; if I wanted the beef to last through our first week in hotels, I had to be diligent about keeping the cooler full of ice.

4. Make Ahead

One of the best ways to cut costs on the road–and eat decent stuff–is to make your own snacks. Some of my favorite road trip snacks to make are granola bars, homemade Larabars, muffins, and popcorn. Throw in some fruit or veggie sticks and a loaf of bread, a favorite nut butter, and raw honey to make sandwiches and you’re set.

5. Lower Your Standards

If you’re not the Type A type, forget I said anything. If the thought of feeding your kids Taco Bell makes you spasm, read on.

Barring food allergies or sensitivities, just relax. Yes, you want to feed your kids real food. But you also want to enjoy your vacation–so compromises will be necessary.

Over the course of our trip, my usually easy-going toddler started (publicly) screaming “yucky!!” to old stand-bys. In light of his sleep-deprivation and car-seat imprisonment, I decided not to die on the hill of food: he ate at least two meals consisting of little more than fries and ice cream.

I cringed, gave him an extra dose of cod liver oil, and reminded myself that we were in survival mode, not creating childhood habits.

What are your best tips for cooking/eating well while on vacation?

About Jenn

Jenn is the mommy of two children and two obese cats and wife to the Hubs. She loves finding beauty and grace in the midst of daily life, gets excited about natural remedies, and thinks her home isn't complete without guests. Moving 11 times in 8 years has prompted her to embrace and find joy wherever she lays her head.
Jenn blogs at A Simple Haven.


  1. I definitely agree with you about cutting loose a little and relaxing your whole food standards while in extreme situations (2.5 weeks on the road with little ones is definitely my idea of extreme). We just spent 11 days in Maine. I had full access to all kinds of kitchen stuff and grocery and farm stands, but it was V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. I didn’t stress when the older ones slept through breakfast every day, or the time we had ice cream for lunch, or the night we roasted 3 kinds of pro-GMO, loaded-with-nitrates hot dogs. None of this is normal for us, and my latent Type A needed to calm down ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. What great tips! We’ve tried the packing ahead with the non-perishables for our longer trips. I haven’t tried things like milk or meat. I guess that’s where I take it a little easy since we are technically on vacation ๐Ÿ™‚


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