We recently returned from a cross-country road trip (NY to Seattle and back). Our traveling party consisted of my husband and I plus our 4 children, ages 8 years, 7 years, 2 years, and 1 year. Leading up to the vacation, I was quite afraid of what to expect. 3,000 miles each way is quite a trek for an adult, let alone young children. Now that we have returned, I am actually looking forward to the next road trip. Over the next few weeks, I will share some tips based on our experience. Today, I will start with food tips.
- If you have a cooler, be sure to refill the ice at each hotel stop. Also, they sell plug-in coolers (ours is also a heater) that you can plug into your cigarette lighter. When you stop, you can use an adapter to ensure your stuff stays cold or just put the food into the hotel refrigerator. To be honest, even though we own a plug-in cooler, we only used it for the beginning of the trip and decided to just buy those things that we like cold, as we needed them. The coolers are great for a short trip, but take up valuable space on a long one. Next time, we will simply freeze a few things (juice boxes, bottled water, yogurts, etc) ahead of time, consume them when they defrost and just buy the cold things as we need them.
- Avoid fast food meals if possible. Not only do they cost a lot, but they make you feel yucky, especially after a few days of eating just that. If you do stop for fast food, check the value menus and look for healthy options to balance out the not healthy options. We fed our entire family breakfast one day at a McDonald's in South Bend, IN for about $10. The older kids, my husband and myself each had a Sausage McMuffin ($1 each) and a yogurt parfait ($1 each). The babies shared a yogurt parfait and apple dippers ($1 each). We all drank water with the meal. When we left, we were satisfied and were not feeling weighed down by a heavy meal.
- When traveling with younger children, try to stop at places with playgrounds. Allow the kids to run off some energy while the adults eat. When the adults are done eating, the kids can then eat in the vehicle. This gives the adults some much needed "quiet" time and allows the kids to burn off some energy. It also prevents the children from lollygagging while they eat and holding up the trip. (Thank you to the Johnson Family for sharing this tip with us)
- Think about the "portability" of the snacks you choose and the potential for mess. Handing out yogurt for a snack is a nice idea, but younger ones will undoubtedly spread it all over themselves and neighboring children/books/windows. I also found it easier to bag up all the snacks into individual portion sizes for the kids before leaving on the trip. I could then just pull out a bag and pass it back without dealing with excess packaging being thrown on the floor.
- Stop at grocery stores and/or roadside stands and picnic in the parks along the way. This is the time to give the children things like yogurt and other potentially messy foods. For about $10, you can pick up a cooked rotisserie chicken, yogurt for everyone and some fresh fruits or veggies. That is much less than you would spend at a restaurant and so much healthier for you too.
- Limit the consumption of beverages before extended periods of driving and at every stop, have everyone at least try to use the rest room. We even had to have our 7 year old go and then count to 20 and try again. She had gotten into the habit of not completely emptying her bladder so she would need a rest stop 20 minutes after we left the previous one. When she started counting and trying again, the extra rest stops were no longer needed.
- As I have mentioned, it is important to balance your meals when traveling, especially when traveling for more than 1-2 days. The things you consume will affect how you feel and the number of rest stops you need to make. Still, this is a vacation, so feel free to indulge a little, just keep it in balance. Trust me, your tummy will thank you later.
I hope these tips will help you on your next road trip. Please feel free to share any tips you have regarding food when traveling.