Friday, August 9, 2013

Picnic By The Side Of The Road

We don't really do vacations at this point in our family life.  Due to small amounts of time off and faraway family, what time we are able to take is usually spent heading down to the Shenandoah Valley to see them.  In the early years of our marriage, when time off was more plentiful and the current demands of 6 kids nonexistent, we traveled there several times a year.  Right now, it is usually twice a year - and it still doesn't feel like enough.  While it's not really a proper vacation, it can still be expensive.  In the past 10 years, the price of tolls has more than doubled.  Gas is much more expensive, and the vehicles we use to cart this crew from here to there are hardly fuel efficient.

Still, raising our children with a strong sense of belonging to both sides of the family has been something that is vitally important to us, so we find ways to make it work.  One of the best ways for us to save money is in the food department.  Our car trip is roughly 10 hours, give or take - with nursing and bathroom breaks, stopping for gas and just to give kids a moment of fresh air.  Therefore, we usually end up eating at least two meals on the road.  Eating fast food might seem like a decent option, but a few trips down the turnpikes showed us that the prices there are radically different than what we expected.  It could easily cost us the price of a tank of gas to feed our crew - and is nutritionally lackluster fare at best.

So, for awhile now, I've been thinking up some good options for take along food.  Bringing back the picnic by the side of the road idea. Not only does it save our family money, but well fed and properly nourished children aren't as irritable and grumpy as those who haven't eaten anything but donut holes and french fries for 10 hours.  With just a little bit of planning, taking a meal or two along can make all the difference - both financially and nutritionally. Here are some ideas that I've tried.


 Prep some hardboiled eggs the day before.  While these are messy to eat in the car, they are quick and easy to munch down on a short bathroom stop - and the protein they provide will keep kids from crashing later in the day.

Muffins - these can be as healthy or as tasty as you want.  I make a double batch and stick it in the fridge the day before we leave so they aren't too crumbly.

Fruit - grapes can be frozen and help keep your cooler cool.  I divide them into individual bags so everyone gets their own.

Lunch - 

Sandwiches are an obvious option.  We prep these the day before, but just put the meat/cheese on the bread.  Lettuce and Tomato go in separate bags, and we bring along condiments to put on right before we eat to keep them from getting soggy.

Trail mix - dried fruit and nuts are easy to eat, delicious and perfect for a mid ride pick me up.

Dinner - 

Chicken legs are cheap and easy to bake.  I just drizzle mine with olive oil, sprinkle on salt and pepper and throw them in the oven.  Then keep them in the fridge over night and bring them along in a cooler.  They require no utensils, kids love them and again, protein!  An alternate option is to just buy a few rotisserie chickens and pull them apart.  A bit messier - something I would only recommend if you are stopping to eat.

Vegetables - My kids love raw vegetables, so I chop these up and put them in bags in the cooler.  Easy to eat.

Soft Pretzels - these are sooo delicious!  Kids love them, and they are easy to make and take along.

If it seems like a heck of a lot of work - it is.  These little life-hacks make it easier, but yes.  It is work to pack 8 people in clothes and food and somehow transport the whole shebang south 10 hours.  But when we see the relationships our children have with my husband's family, we know it is all well worth it.

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  1. We are a pack food wherever we go family for various reasons and it has never let us down :)

    Enjoy your travels.

  2. Great tips. Thank you. I have found bringing a few large glass bottles of water from home saves money on all of those bottles of water that are so expensive to buy when we are away on vacation. I also pack muffins and granola bars along with cereal and milk to have in the mornings so we do not have to waste time and money going for breakfast. I pack snacks like popcorn popped at home, soft pretzels (yum), fruit and maybe cookies for a treat when we are hungry in the room. This way, we only eat two meals per day and keep them well within our budget.

  3. Good ideas- we have a ten hour trip coming up to visit relatives and stopping at a good rest area to run and eat is always helpful....K

  4. Lydia, these are great ideas for traveling meals. Where we live we have to drive at least 30 minutes to get to any kind of major shopping areas, most being an hour away. Some of these ideas, along with some preplanning, will help to keep us away from the convenience store snacks and restaurant pitfalls that always seem to befall us. We also pack a lot of apples and pears. They seem to travel pretty well, along with homemade granola bars (if you have a little baking time before you go). I hope you have a great trip!


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