Healthy & Frugal Travel Meals

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This post is brought to you by Passionate Homemaking’s monthly contributor, Michele Augur.

Amy asked: “My children are older (11,13,14,15), but many tips will apply to all ages. We are heading out on a 16 day summer road trip in August. I have filled our trip full of parks, factory tours and many many other free or low cost activities. I am planning on preparing home cooked food throughout the entire trip. Normally, I can manage this, but our trips are usually a week or less at a time and we aren’t continuously moving. On this trip, we won’t be in any one place longer than two nights. I would love any tips from you and your readers on food ideas, entertainment in the vehicle, etc. I am spending 5 months planning!

P.S….we are taking a small travel grill, a cooler and in most rooms we will have a fridge and microwave only. I also plan on taking my large electric griddle for pancakes, etc. That is a about all I have to work with!”

I am so excited for you, Amy! Our family loves adventures like these.

Preparing home-cooked food while traveling is usually the most frugal and healthy option for meals on the road. Some advance planning certainly helps, though! Here are some tips to make the trip go a bit smoother for you (and feel free to jump in with your own suggestions!).

Before a long road trip, I usually write out a flexible meal plan to work from as I make my preparations. You can adjust this as you travel, but it helps to make sure you don’t forget anything. Plan for plenty of finger food picnics!


Right before our departure, I schedule a baking day. I prepare items such as cookies, granolagranola bars, breads, and muffins for snacks & meals. (These likely won’t last two weeks, but it gives you a head start.)


When packing your cooler, use “leak-proof” containers; otherwise your food will get soggy when the ice melts! Here are some staple items we like to pack:

  • Dried & Fresh Fruit
  • Containers of Veggies (already cut into finger food pieces)
  • Homemade Trail Mix (When traveling in hot weather, be wary of carrying chocolate, which can melt!)
  • Shelf-staple treats, such as Peanut Brittle
  • Jars of Peanut Butter
  • Eggs (Hard-boil some ahead of time, and pack raw ones in an egg holder; cardboard egg cartons dissolve in a cooler full of ice!)
  • Nitrate-free Hot Dogs, Pepperoni SticksSmoked Salmon, Jerky, etc. from a local meat market
  • Cheese (already sliced, and stored in a container in the cooler, or containers of Feta)
  • Quick-Cooking Grains (such as oats, quinoa, or millet) for hearty “one pot” meals boiled on a camp stove (or you can microwave quick-cooking oats).
  • Beans (You can cook some ahead of time, or pack dry or canned beans. Lentils and Split Peas are especially quick-cooking.)
  • Tortillas (These are your space-saving foods for the end of your trip, when the baked goods run out, and are a lightweight option for packing on a day hike.)
  • Canned Fish (Choose a healthy & sustainable option, such as wild Alaskan salmon.)
  • Lots of Pancake Mix (Prepare your own homemade “mix” ahead of time! When your bread runs out, make a big batch of pancakes at breakfast, and make sandwiches out of them for lunch.)
  • Jars of Homemade Yogurt (You can use this in salads, dips, or for breakfasts with fruit & granola.)
  • Popcorn (Pop a big batch to take with you, or pop some over a campfire/camp stove.)
  • Water (Make sure everyone has their own water bottle for the car, and fills them up before heading out for the day.)

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Meal Ideas:
  • Grilled Meats & Veggies (You can take along Shish Kebab sticks for a great “finger food” meal! Try eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, or onions)
  • Campfire Roasted Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes (Wrap in foil, and tuck into the coals. Stuff with beans, cheese, & veggies after roasting)
  • Wraps (Our favorites are a combination of Salad Greens, Pear Slices, Feta, and Dried Cranberries in Whole-Grain Tortillas, or Black Bean Wraps.)
  • Veggie & Cheese Omelets (You can even do “breakfast for dinner.”)
  • Fish Cakes (on the griddle)
  • Grilled Fish or Chicken at dinner can be transformed into salad sandwiches for lunch the next day.
When packing your kitchen supplies, take the bare minimum you need to prepare and wash up quickly, so that you can get back out on the road!
Kitchen Staples/Utensils:
  • Knives (Find ones with their own cover, so they can travel safely.)
  • Can Opener
  • Cutting Board
  • Biodegradable “All-Purpose” Soap (such as castile soap) & a scrubber for washing your utensils
  • A set of dishes for each person (Wash immediately after use, so you’re not carrying dirty dishes!)
  • A few favorite spices: Cinnamon, an Herb Blend, and Salt & Pepper are usually sufficient
  • I like to take a heat-resistant silicone spatula/scraper/spreader, which works for almost everything!
  • While you’re at hotels, remember to restock your cooler with ice (so you aren’t buying ice as often).
  • A cooking pot and/or frying pan
  • A small jar of oil, container of butter, and a container of sugar/honey
  • Leak-proof containers for restaurant leftovers (to put in your cooler)
Shopping:
Before you head out, check Local Harvest (or area tourism information) to see if there are any Farmer’s Markets or produce markets near your destination. It is a delicious treat to pick up local produce for your meals, instead of eating something that has been sitting in your car for a week! Doesn’t a fresh cucumber, vine-ripened tomato, basket of berries, bag of salad greens, or a juicy peach sound nice?


So, what are your favorite travel tips? Did I forget anything?

Stay tuned for part 2 as Michele shares frugal and fun travel activities!

About Michele

Michele and her husband Calvin live a simple & sustainable life in rural Washington with their two- going on three- (busy!) little ones at Hampton Creek Inn. She takes joy in the daily ministry of delving into creativity, traditional homemaking & hospitality, homeschooling in everyday moments, and smooching her husband in the woods. Michele loves encouraging women and equipping them for frugal, natural living through her blog, Frugal Granola.

27 Responses to Healthy & Frugal Travel Meals

  1. Amanda K October 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    A very helpful tip: When using a cooler, freeze water bottles to use in place of ice. Helps to cut down on the soggy mess part!

  2. Natasha Rattu October 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    I loved your article and the information provided. There are plenty of recommendations out there that are both savvy and not good. If you know of any more ideas concerning natural health or related topics, that would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the quality writing!

  3. Gigi June 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Wonderful Post!

    If staying in a hotel, another thing I have done is to use the hotel single-serve coffee maker and heat-safe coffee cups to make individual servings of plain instant oatmeal.

    Remove the coffee filter tray, put oats in a cup, fill a second cup with water and pour it into the top of the coffee maker and turn it on. Boiling hot water will pour into the oatmeal cup and will reconstitute/cook them up in several minutes. Give them some stirring and you’re good to go.

    This can be done in the morning before leaving the hotel and makes having to deal with breakfast a bit easier.

    If you’re organized, you can use soaked oats in the same manner!

    I usually do not use instant oats at home, but when traveling, it can be helpful.

    HTH

  4. krissi June 11, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    WOW! I was overwhelmed with the idea of packing meals for a 3 day and 5 day vacation coming up. I am now inspired! I was afraid we were going to blow our food budget because I didn’t think eating out could be avoided. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I love when mom’s can help each other out and keep each other on track!
    This post is going on my fridge :-)

  5. Lacey June 9, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Great tips, thanks :)

  6. Holly June 8, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    What a great post!! And timely, too ;) We have 2 camping trips coming up this month and with 5 small children…I can us all the food prep advice I can get!!

  7. Amy June 8, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    Thank you so much everyone! I am printing out everything and placing it in my ever-enlarging travel planning binder! And a special thanks to Michele (who I hand’t even observed was a fellow Washingtonian!) for the time and thought put into my question.

    • Michele @ Frugal Granola June 8, 2010 at 11:22 am #

      I hope you have a good trip, Amy! Stop back by; we’ll be posting some frugal & fun travel activities for you to put in that binder, too. :)
      Thanks so much for sending in your question!
      Blessings,
      Michele

  8. Jennifer June 8, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    This is a wonderful post, thank you so much Michele!

    One thing I would suggest bringing on your trip is a slow cooker, because it doesn’t have any exposed heating elements, making it safe to use in hotels, etc. and you can cook oatmeal, beans, soup, whatever, in a slow cooker. Steph at crockpot365.blogspot.com has some great ideas for slow cooker meals.

    And I don’t know the interests of your kids, but since they are older maybe they could help with meal prep/baking. It would relieve your workload and maybe help them to be excited to eat some of the foods that are being prepared.

    One other thing you could pack is reusable ice packs that you could pop in the freezer at hotels because they wouldn’t make things soggy when they melt.

  9. MIchelle D June 7, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    We will be traveling across country this summer and these are such very appreciated tips! I recently had to pack my own food for a mission trip to Mexico because of food allergies. Oatmeal was a great start for breakfast, and easy to pre-package and doctor up before you leave so it is ready for hot water and a stir in the morning. I bought shelf stable cooked brown rice for my time in Mexico, but if I had access to a cooler, I would have just made up a huge batch and frozen it to bring along in a cooler. Balsamic vinegar and olive oil were musts for me, as were garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. You have the basic for a simple and quick dressing for veggies, or a tasty dipping sauce for french bread you can pick up at any market. I would suggest a shoe box filled with your flavorings of choice, I have one for camping and it is the most useful thing! Condiments seem to be the most useful, small, items when cooking on the fly. You can fit a great variety in a small space… soy sauce, mustard, honey, hot sauce, chili paste, Italian seasoning, curry powder, ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning… you get the idea :) Have fun and safe travels everyone!

  10. Becki June 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    This was such a great post for me….I just spent hours looking for meals to eat on the road with minimal equipment. We just got back from a 5 day roadtrip with a baseball team full of hungry teenage boys and looking for food to make for an even longer trip with the same group next month. This is very helpful….THANKS!

  11. Amanda June 7, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks! These are awesome, and I will share this post (as well as the upcoming one) with my fellow army wives. We seem to end up doing more that your average travel, or spend lots of time living in hotels during moves, husbands attending schools/additional training, etc. Our family is getting ready to take a three-week cross country trip to visit family…before our move to Japan in August, where we will be living in a hotel again while we arrange for housing, etc. Many of the moving expenses are reimbursed, but it’s wonderful to be able to live healthfully and frugally even in the upheaval. Of course, our trip to visit family is not something we have extra funds sitting around for, but it will be the last hurrah before we come back to the states in 3 years.

  12. Kim Philpot June 7, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    You have some wonderful ideas – thank you for sharing them.
    We camp a lot and use tortillas or wraps all the time – they don’t get squished and deformed like bread can. I love the recommendation for a knife with a cover. I have a Pampered Chef one I bought years ago that is my ‘camping knife’ now because of the cover (which also sharpens the knife).
    I also pre-cook some of my meat – bacon, sausage, etc – so that I just have to heat it up (maybe breakfast burritos – scrambled eggs with cheese and sausage in a tortilla), instead of cooking all the way, draining the pan, etc.
    Thanks!

  13. Lindsey June 7, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    Okay, I just had to say how awesome this post was!!! Thank you thank you thank you! Wish I had had it when we were prepping for a beach camping trip. Will be using all of these tips on our next trip, thanks again!!!!

  14. Gabreial Wy. June 7, 2010 at 7:10 am #

    What a timely post! We’re planning a road trip and I needed some ideas! Thanks so much!

  15. Country Girl in the City June 7, 2010 at 5:04 am #

    Thank you for this post. It will be very helpful if we do get away for a little vacation this summer, as I would like to bring and prepare most of our food. You also have great ideas that I can use for some day trips that I would like to do this summer.

    Thanks.

  16. Michelle June 7, 2010 at 5:01 am #

    Most excellent ideas! We leave on a raodtrip in 9 days! We always use the granola stand-by, but I really like the wrap ideas. We will be on the road for 12 hours and you have given me a handful of meal ideas and a great way to save money!
    ~Michelle

  17. rowena___. June 7, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    the item about eggs says pack RAW eggs in the egg holder but did you in fact mean PEELED/SHELLED eggs instead?

    • Michele @ Frugal Granola June 7, 2010 at 8:38 am #

      Rowena,
      No, I actually DO pack raw eggs in the holder (in the cooler with ice); it keeps the eggs from breaking, and then you have raw eggs to add to your pancake batter.

      I just pack the boiled eggs in a storage bowl, since I don’t have to worry about them breaking. You could pre-peel those if you want; that would just be one more prep step to do.

      Blessings,
      Michele :)

      • Amy November 4, 2010 at 11:45 am #

        We made buckwheat pancakes the other day and used bananas as an eggs substitute! A yummy flavor addition and it’s easier to pack or buy from a local food market. I’ve also heard you can use baking powder instead, which is I think what commercial pancake batters must use because they are usually just “add water”.

  18. Leila June 7, 2010 at 4:44 am #

    It was a real eye-opener to me to realize I could pack certain things other than sandwiches and NOT have to stop at fast food!!

    And we like it better!

    Thanks for all your ideas — it’s really helpful to have a list.

    God bless you!

  19. Dianne June 7, 2010 at 4:42 am #

    So excited to read this post today! We are leaving for a road trip to Florida and was concerned about what we were going to eat. Very helpful tips!

  20. Jennifer June 7, 2010 at 3:47 am #

    While traveling in Europe during college I would often stop at a market or grocery store and pick up a baguette, an avocado, a tomato, a hunk of cheese, and some fruit. Once in a while we even found tabouli in the deli section of a supermarket. Then we would just make a picnic lunch out of those goodies. Depends on what your kids like, but it reminded me that we didn’t always have to have “sandwiches” or something like that to make a meal.

  21. Penny June 7, 2010 at 3:00 am #

    These are great tips! One thing I often do is get out my plastic containers (I always use Gladware), and fit them to my cooler. Then I fill some containers with food and some with ice, and alternate the way I put them in the cooler (always putting ice on top). It takes up more space this way, but the water from the ice melting is always safe in a sealed container. This makes it easy to fill them up in hotels also.

    • Amy November 4, 2010 at 11:48 am #

      If you have extra room, you can split smaller coolers up by days. Opening them less means that the food will stay good longer. For food that needs to stay very cool for a long time, pack ice on top and bottom. pack dry food separately. We use this method when packing food for a week up at camp and it stays good the whole week.

  22. Nikki June 7, 2010 at 2:10 am #

    Great ideas! Thank you! My stepson lives nearly 8 hours away. These ideas are perfect for when we go to visit him. I might even use a few ideas at home when he comes to visit us. ;-)