Depending on the size of your family, you could spend $400 or more by eating each meal out during a five-day road trip. Considering that you must already pay the inflated price of gas, that could be an added expense you simply can’t afford. Instead, consider packing your own food. By bringing meals and snacks that keep everyone satisfied, you can use the money on other things, such as souvenirs and sightseeing – or, save it for your next vacation.
When packing food for your trip, it’s essential to keep it fresh. If you prepare meals, place them in freezer bags, eliminate excess air, and freeze them flat to maximize cooler space. And if you plan to stay at a hotel during your trip, book a room with a refrigerator and a microwave. Even if it costs slightly more than a room without, you will still save money by eating in, rather than buying food from restaurants.
Food to Bring on Vacation
Here are some family favorites to consider packing on your next road trip:
1. Sloppy Joes
My family rarely eats these at home, so having them on a trip is a nice change. If you whip up Sloppy Joe meat, store it in quart-sized freezer bags so it’s easier to serve. These are simple to put together, and the kids love them.
Meatloaf is a convenient meal, and it can stay frozen for several days into the trip if your cooler is properly packed. This is great for a main course, and leftovers are good on sandwiches.
To make tacos, simply brown a pound of ground turkey or beef, drain the fat, and add salsa and black beans. Let it simmer for a few minutes, then cool and pack in quart-sized freezer bags. This can be served in taco shells or over a bed of lettuce and fresh tomatoes.
You may wish to purchase a rotisserie chicken the day before you leave on vacation, and dice all the meat into small chunks. That can make up the bulk of your lunches throughout the trip, and it is very cost-effective, as most rotisserie chickens only cost $5 to $7.
4. Chicken Salad
Simply mix diced chicken with enough mayonnaise to coat it, plus diced celery, quartered grapes, and chopped nuts. It is quick, tasty, and cheap.
5. Chicken Tacos
Mix the diced chicken with enough salsa to coat it completely. In the hotel, microwave for about a minute and serve on soft flour tortillas with lettuce and diced tomatoes.
6. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
Lunch doesn’t get any simpler than this. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are great for busy days when you are visiting tourist attractions, as well as days when you are traveling in the car and don’t want to stop at a restaurant.
Breakfast should provide you with protein to help keep you full when you are busy sightseeing, but it should also be easy to prepare.
7. Breakfast Burritos
Scramble and cook a dozen beaten eggs with diced ham or another protein of your choice, as well as diced green peppers. If you like, add salsa for additional flavor. Then, fill a flour tortilla with about 1/3 cup of the egg mixture and shredded cheese, and roll it up. Wrap it in foil and freeze. When you are in the hotel, unwrap the foil, and then wrap the breakfast burrito in a paper towel. Microwave it for one minute if it is thawed, or two minutes if it is not.
While it is easy to buy chips and prepackaged snacks, they may leave you and your children feeling lethargic or hyperactive. Instead, try some of these healthy snacks:
8. Fresh Fruit
Bring a mix of fresh fruit that does not require refrigeration, such as apples, bananas, and grapes. Try to bring no more fruit than you need, as some fruits do not travel well, especially in a hot car.
9. Hummus and Pita Chips
Hummus can easily be stored in your cooler. This snack is packed with protein and carbohydrates, which gives you and your kids energy and keeps you feeling full longer.
10. Homemade Bread and Muffins
Bread and especially muffins can serve as a quick breakfast or snack when you go sightseeing, and are very convenient to eat while on the go. I like to make a batch of pumpkin bread and banana muffins for long car trips.
11. Hard-boiled Eggs
Boil up some hard boiled eggs to eat as a quick snack or a breakfast on the go. My family boils a dozen before any trip, and they are usually gone within the first three days.
Easy Slow-Cooked Meals to Prepare While on Vacation
If you don’t want to bother with cooking before the trip and hauling a packed cooler, you can still avoid the high cost of eating out. Just bring your slow cooker (and containers to store leftovers in). These meals will prepare easily in your hotel room:
Pour a can of black beans, pinto beans, and kidney beans (drained and rinsed) into a slow cooker. Add some cumin and chili powder, a can or two of diced tomatoes, and diced green pepper. Cook on low for eight hours while you are out and about.
13. Pulled Chicken
Buy several chicken breasts from the store along with a bottle of barbecue sauce. Place the chicken breasts in the slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Let it cook on low for eight hours. Then, shred the chicken and add a bit more barbecue sauce. Serve on hamburger buns with vegetables on the side. Or, heat the chicken breasts in the slow cooker with a can of black beans, a jar of salsa, and a bag of frozen corn, and serve on tortillas with greens.
Family vacations can be expensive, but bringing your own food may literally half the cost. Just be sure to play it safe with your food – if you are in doubt whether something is fresh, throwing it out is always better than making your family sick. On a recent trip, I placed some hard boiled eggs in the hotel refrigerator, but when we woke up, my family and I discovered that the refrigerator, though plugged in, wasn’t very cool. It was a shame to have to throw away the food, but now we know to always check refrigerator temperatures first.
What are your favorite foods to bring when you are on vacation?