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Purposeful parenting amid a world of sugar, screens and schedules.

Eating On Road Trips- What We do to Keep Things Healthy and Inexpensive

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Roadtrips!  Oh how we  love road trips.  As part of my Traveling with Small Children Series, I am going to be talking about eating healthy/cheap while on the road.  It’s something we really have to think about and plan for, especially for a longer trip.  Eating out gets expensive and often is not very good for you.  Not only are most restaurant foods packed with fat and carbs and are low on veggies…but there’s also sugar in everything.  We took a trip recently and ate out pretty much every day- it is part of the fun of being in San Diego- lots of good food we don’t have in our small town.  But I came home craving veggies.

FOOD TO PACK-  A lot of good snacks are essential.  My kids tend to get bored and want to eat.  I might not encourage that normally but I understand how it is on road trips where you drive all. day. long. and don’t mind letting them eat as long as it’s not just a bunch of junk.  I do allow them to pick something fun from the gas station at some point along the way (they always get M&M’s) but mostly I pack my car with healthy-ish things.  This time I did…

    • Drinks: milk, almond milk, water, some juice boxes for fun
    • Snacks: granola bars (home made is healthier!), veggie straws, grapes, bananas, oranges, pineapple, carrots &peas &ranch, corn chex, string cheese (I usually make something like almond butter cookies or banana oat muffins but didn’t this time.)
    • Breakfast: For this road trip we stayed in a hotel that had continental breakfast but normally I would bring yogurt (plain because any kind of flavored yogurt has a lot of sugar) and eat that with fruit.  I make healthy muffins to bring along.  I particularly like these banana oat muffins and these buckwheat muffins because they are tasty but also not very sweet (so a lot of people who are used to sugar in everything might not like them!)  I also bring bowls and spoons and we do cereal.  If we are camping and not in a hurry we might do eggs or something.

Breakfast…camping in the Redwoods

    • Lunch: ham, salami, cheese, bread, peanut butter, jelly (mixed with some snack food like the veggies and ranch or fruit)  My kids also still really like baby food so I get those baby food packets that they suck on and there’s very little mess.  They love it.  Often times I will also make tuna or chicken salad (I really love curry chicken salad similar to this) and eat that as a sandwich or with crackers.  We get those multigrain Food Should Taste Good cracker/chips from Costco.
    • Dinner: On a short road trip we don’t bother spending money on food for dinners usually because we’ve learned that we tend not to want to eat what we’ve brought.  We want to get out and stretch our legs and eat at a restaurant of some sort.  Especially if we are trying to cover a lot of ground.  If we have more time we might stop at a park or rest stop and bring a little travel bbq grill and cook up some hot dogs or something.  When we are camping or if we are trying to save money on a longer trip, we do a lot of campfire cooking.

Tinfoil packets on our mini travel bbq grill.  You can use that thing anywhere!  At a rest stop….truck stop…or on the beach (which is what we are doing in this photo.)

EATING OUT– Eating out is difficult to do healthy.  I think if you’re eating out you are more likely doing it because of the experience of eating awesome food than trying to be healthy.  But here’s some tips just in case:

    • Salads. Wendy’s has some good salads.  The pecans on the pecan chicken salad are totally covered in sugar and even some gluten so you might want to avoid those, but they are yummy 🙂  Places like Whole Foods, Denny’s or even Chuck E Cheese (my kids LOVE that place.  We don’t have one where we live) have a salad bar or good salad options.  Subway has salads but I’m never impressed.  They usually use shredded lettuce, which I am not a big fan of.
    • Burgers without buns. This idea is not going to appeal to everyone, but I eat gluten free and it is one of the tips I use most often when eating out.  I have tried ordering cheeseburgers at pretty much every fast food place, asking for lettuce instead of a bun.  And besides In’N’Out (order it protein style), which is only located in a few places, surprisingly McDonalds is the only one I really had any luck with getting big pieces of lettuce to serve as a bun.  All of the others just throw the burger in a bowl with some shredded lettuce and a fork.  So obviously a McDonalds cheeseburger is not healthy, with or without a bun, but at least it’s low-carb/gluten free.  At an actual restaurant, Red Robin and Fuddruckers are great places to go for this.
    • Veggies. Ask for extra veggies.  On anything.  I did this at a Thai food place and although it’s possible the sauce had a lot of sugar, at least I had a really large portion of fresh veggies.
    • And then all the usual advice– there’s a healthier section on the menu at places like Taco Bell or nicer restaurants have like a weight watchers section. I think being gluten free helps me to make healthy choices because I don’t get anything that’s breaded/fried and often just end up getting some sort of meat and veggies.  It doesn’t have to lack flavor though…for example the curry at the Thai food place was amazing and so flavorful.  We ate a lot of Mexican food at taco shops when we were in San Diego and I got chicken tacos with homemade corn tortillas, grilled chicken, cilantro, onion and guacamole.  It might not be full of veggies but it doesn’t seem that bad for you either.  So good!  Sushi is a good healthy option too.
    • For Kids.  I really like going to places with salad bars because not only can I get healthy food, but there’s always things like peas, pineapple, carrots, cottage cheese and diced ham for the girls.  I also try to bring my own food for them- the baby food packets and whatnot.  I find it incredibly hard to feed them healthy things otherwise.  They always want mac and cheese or a cheeseburger or a corn dog.  Although I got them phad thai at the Thai place and they really liked it.  Maybe not the healthiest, but it has good things about it and it’s at least gluten free!
    • Grocery Stores.  If you are just in need of some warm food on the road and don’t want fast food, grocery stores usually have some baked chicken along with their fried chicken.  Lemon herb or garlic are yummy.  And sometimes besides potato salad they will have a broccoli salad or something a bit more healthy.  And although it’s not great quality, sometimes they will have sushi options in the deli with all the sandwiches.  Some grocery stores have amazing food though- like salad bars, sandwiches, etc.  Whole Foods is expensive but I just love going there for lunch.  They have gluten free sandwiches and pizza and you can have them made however you want.  I get mine with pesto and lots of veggies.

CAMPING FOOD we just love to camp and we love camping food!  Besides all the normal snacks and sandwich options, these are some of our favorite camping meals:

    • Tinfoil “hobo stew” packets– you can really do anything with this…use whatever you have.  But our favorite is ground beef, onions, carrots, pepper, potatoes, garlic and kechup.  You need something to keep it moist or it gets really dry.  So if not kechup, then something wet like bbq sauce.  My friend uses cream of mushroom soup.  We do bacon sometimes and instead of ground beef, ground sausage or ground turkey is really yummy.  We’ve used all sorts of veggies…corn, asparagus, etc.  Just wrap it up and throw it on the fire.  Turn it regularly.
    • Plain ol’ meat.  Pork chops are one of my favorite things cooked over the grill.  They don’t even need any spices.  Just the smoke flavor is so good.  Chicken of course.  Fish…mmm…we aren’t fishermen, but I like grilled fish.  It’s taken some time for me to like it.  I had to start with salmon first and work my way to fish that tastes a bit more fishy 😉

Camping with some friends.  This definitely wasn’t one of our healthiest meals, it was our last night and we just threw on all the food we had left.  The corn is cooking in husks down below on the right.

    • Hot dogs and hamburgers are an obvious choice.  The downside is that they aren’t the healthiest and are usually eaten with some sort of bread.  But I just cut the hot dogs up and have the kids dip them in kechup.  Or we splurge on gluten free buns.  I would rather have my kids eating questionable meat than lots of gluten or sugar.  I get Nathan’s hot dogs or Hebrew Nationals which seem to have less questionable ingredients.  And I either bring gluten free buns or lettuce to wrap the cheeseburgers up in.
    • We prepare fun things in advance and keep them in tupperware.  Fajita fixins.  Marinated meat.  Or even justleftovers like curry.  So good cooked over the campfire.  I also prepare side salads like broccoli salad or asian coleslaw, etc. to go with them.
    • Corn on the cob.  Not it’s own meal of course but so yummy cooked over the campfire.  You can just wet the husk down and throw it on.  Or take the husk off and wrap it in tinfoil and throw it on (on the grill or on the outskirts of the fire.)  Great with some butter and salt and pepper.  Mmm, the pepper really makes it amazing.

We love dipping chips in avocado mixed with some salsa.  Not a good on the road snack but makes a great camping snack!  Our kids love it too.


Although we eat as healthy as possible, we definitely do fun things once in a while.  Here, our three year old is roasting her first marshmallow!  We eat them with chocolate chip cookies.


Author: Explore Imagine Love


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