Thursday, July 18, 2013

Food for the family road trip

I've been on a lot of road trips (as you know), but this will be my first family road trip; my 13-year-old stepson will be along. Also, the road-tripping is the vacation this time; rather than driving straight through to some far destination, we'll be meandering through Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, spending several hours each day driving, but also stopping to eat, sleep, and see things.

But we're still trying to keep this economical. Thanks to our Prius, we can cover close to 4,000 miles on $300 in gas. We'll stay in the nearest Motel 6 each night. My annual National Parks Pass (last year's birthday present from my parents) means we can skip paying admission at all the national parks we plan on visiting.

Which just leaves food. We can eat at least two meals a day out of the cooler in the backseat, stocked with sandwiches, fruit, homemade cookies, and road-trip staples like beef jerky and trail mix. We'll have a couple of picnics in the great outdoors. Dinner will be eaten in an actual non-chain restaurant each night.

I've written about road food before (and here), but with a kid along, we'll need more kid-friendly fare.

How do you go about stocking a cooler for minimal expense?

1. Buy bottled water on sale, and freeze the bottles. These will be the ice for your cooler; they can be refrozen each night (thanks to the microwave-fridge that comes with each room at the Motel 6) or drunk as they melt. In a pinch, the hotel can provide ice for the cooler. Refill empty water bottles and Camelbaks each night in the sink.

2. Sandwiches and wraps. I'll buy a loaf of bread, some sliced turkey and cheese, a package of large tortillas, and a big box of salad greens at Costco. Add a small jar of mustard and a jar each of peanut butter and jelly and sandwiches are taken care of. The salad greens will go inside the tortillas, along with bacon and some shredded cheese, to become wraps. (And a much-needed source of greenery.)

3. A variety of other stuff. I made two batches of chocolate chip cookies. Costco also provided apples, bananas, beef jerky, granola bars, and the base ingredients for some homemade trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips). In addition, I packed some dried fruit, a small bag of baby carrots, a box of cereal, a bag of pretzels, and some crackers.

4. Caffeine. This can be slightly tricky, depending on how you feel about cheap truck stop coffee. Normally tea is the basis of my road trip caffeine; hot tea bags are cheap and easy to pack, and I can throw one into my refillable mug every morning and top it off with free hot water at the nearest gas station. Ditto iced tea bags--throw one into the Camelbak, add water, done. But my husband is a coffee drinker, and I'm getting back into drinking coffee myself. So we'll need a way to get decent coffee while on the road--that's not from Starbucks or a gas station.

I think the way to solve that problem is with iced coffee. I can make two large Thermoses of good coffee before we leave home, and doctor them up with cream, simple syrup and an orange peel. Then each morning we'll fill the Camelbaks with free hotel ice, add the coffee, and away we go. I'm not sure we'll have a full ten days' supply  in those two Thermoses, but I can go back to drinking tea when it runs out and my husband can drink gas station coffee for a couple of days.

Regardless, if we're carrying our own coffee and tea supplies, and our own food supplies, we'll never need to buy anything at a gas station that isn't gas.

So breakfast can be wraps, fruit, and iced coffee; lunch can be sandwiches and more fruit; and there will be an infinite variety of snacks.

Other things we'll bring with us, rather than buy on the road:

Sunscreen and bug spray
A couple bottles of wine (for picnicking purposes)
All the Camelbaks, water bottles, Thermoses and travel mugs (no need to buy any beverages, ever!)
Guidebooks from the library
Tissues, paper towels, wet wipes, and Febreze (for the car)
Laundry detergent and quarters (just in case)
Silverware (rather than buying plastic)
Stamps (for postcards)

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