With the ongoing travel restrictions, it seems that domestic road trips will be the preferred way to travel for a while. To ensure that you maximise your time on the road with your loved ones and spend less time worrying about the essentials, doing up a road trip food list and a road trip grocery list is just as important as planning for your trip itself – don’t let food logistics get in your way of a good time on the road.
If you think preparing food for a road trip will take quite a bit of time, let WWB Writer Sarah share with you everything you need to know to be road trip ready.
- Why you need a road trip food list
- Road trip food list for short trips
- Road trip food list for long distance trips
- Road trip list of healthy food
- Road trip food list for kids
- How to pack food on your road trip?
- When should you throw your packed food out?
- What should you pack for lunch on a road trip?
- Tips for a budget road trip food list
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Why Do You Need a Road Trip Food List?
The adage rings true – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
More Cheaper Options
Even if you plan to purchase food and snacks from rest stops or gas stations along the way, you’ll never know when you might encounter one that’s closed, too packed, or just serves dreary food.
Plus preparing your own road trip food list enables you to be in control of what food you’re putting into your body which could mean healthier or cleaner choices (who wants food poisoning when the next rest stop’s an hour away, right?).
No matter the duration of your road trip, it’s always wise to be prepared beforehand to ensure you’ll have good food for road trips.
Road Trip Food List for Short Trips
For a short trip ranging from two hours to half a day, you’re likely to have left your house having had a meal and would arrive at your destination just in time for the next mealtime.
In such instances, you might think that you don’t need to bring along anything and can hold your hunger till then.
That might be true, but it never hurts to be prepared with these road trip food essentials for those unanticipated hunger pangs.
Here is a list of fuss-free, easily consumable items that you can just grab from the grocery store or at the gas station right before you hit the highway:
- Trail Mix – You can either grab a ready trail mix off the shelf or buy your own favourite dried fruit, nuts and granola and mix it up in a bag.
- Confectionery such as bagels, muffins, and donuts
- Granola Bars or Protein Bars
- Beef Jerky
- Peanut Butter – It makes for a good sandwich filling but is also great on its own or with veggie sticks or chopped fruit.
If you have a spot of prep time before heading out:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Sandwiches – For a short trip with no coolers, opt for sandwich fillings that can keep, such as peanut butter and jam.
Road Trip Food List For Long Distance Trips
If your trip stretches half a day or even a few days on the road, you’ll probably want variety for your food options.
You’ll also want to make sure you have at least one cooler box and ice packs ready to ensure your food stays fresh for longer.
Some additional long road trip food ideas for your pre-road trip grocery store visit could include:
- Deli Meats – This is my go-to cooler food for road trips because they can go with anything – pasta, sandwiches, wraps, or just on its own.
- Cheeses – Opt for harder cheeses, string cheese, or small individually-packaged cheeses to minimise chances of a gooey mess if your cooler gives up on you mid-trip.
- Pre-packed Salad Bowls
- Yogurt Pouches – Always choose pouches over cups because they take up less space and are more convenient to consume from – no need for spoons!
- Canned Tuna
- Pasta – You can pre-boil some pasta before going on the road, mix them up with bottled sauces and portion them in Ziploc bags or containers. When you want to consume them, mix in some deli meats or canned tuna for a quick protein fix.
- Instant Soups – Bring hot water in a flask or top them up at pit stops along the way. Sometimes it helps to have a warm, comforting bowl of soup when it gets cold out.
Road Trip List of Healthy Foods
If going healthy on the road is your jam, then it’s always best to go fresh, clean, and homemade.
A day or two before going on the road, I like to make a trip down to the grocery store to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables.
The fruits can be consumed as is or they can be tossed into a salad-on-the-go. For the vegetables, I gravitate towards those that can be easily made into veggie sticks so not only are they easy to eat while on the road, but veggie sticks are usually hardier and keep for longer.
Some of my healthy road trip food essentials are:
- Baby Carrots
- Baby Corn
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Wholegrain crackers
How To Pack Food On Your Road Trip?
In deciding on things to bring on a road trip, beyond food, you’ll need to bring along items for storage and on-the-road mealtime emergencies.
Throughout many road trips, I’ve found that these are the items that should be in everyone’s road trip essentials packing list:
- Cooler – Pick a cooler that fits the space available in your vehicle and also has enough capacity to store the amount of food required for your travelling party. You’ll also want to give some room for the extra food you might pick up along the way.
For the budget-conscious, the Coleman Performance Portable Cooler (48 Quart) is quite a steal.
For those who don’t mind splurging, the YETI Tundra 45 Cooler is a favourite for its durability and ability to lock in the cold.
- Ice Packs
- Ziploc Bags – Both big and small ones. Not only are they great at storing food, but I also find keeping trash in used Ziploc bags a great way of keeping stenches at bay.
- Disposable Car Trash Bags
- Wet Wipes
- Hand Sanitiser
- Reusable Utensils – The Bamboo Travel Utensil Set is extremely lightweight, eco-friendly and food-safe. For something more sturdy, this Reusable Portable 8-piece Stainless Steel Cutlery Set has enough options to meet all your road trip meal needs.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to packing food in a cooler, I find these tips useful for organising my cooler boxes:
- Lay the bottom with solid reusable ice packs, food in the middle, and lighter, smaller ice packs on the top.
- Ensure all food going into the cooler is bagged individually or placed into their own containers, to prevent cross-contamination.
- Pack items in the order you’d consume them, with your latest meal going right at the top of the cooler, so you avoid having to dig around the cooler at mealtime.
- Restrict the opening of the cooler to rest stops and mealtimes so that the cooler maintains its cool temperature.
- If within your budget, you can purchase a new pack of ice at every gas station you stop by, to ensure your cooler box stays cold. But do remember to ensure that either the ice or your food is stored in an airtight or Ziploc bag, else you’ll end up with cold but soggy food.
When Should You Throw Your Packed Food Out ?
Sometimes the best-laid plans can go awry and the food you meticulously packed and stored may sometimes go bad before you have had a chance to even consume it.
Instead of having an upset tummy potentially ruin the rest of your road trip, know when to throw out your packed food if it has gone bad.
The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service defines 40 °F to 140 °F (4°C to 60 °C) as the temperature danger zone, where food-borne bacteria (yes, the ones that cause food poisoning) multiply best.
Cold foods should always be kept in an airtight cooler box with ice packs.
If the food has been exposed to temperatures in the danger zone for more than two hours, it may no longer be safe to consume.
If you’ve cooked some food before getting on the road, or bought cooked food at a rest stop, consume them within one to two hours to avoid having the food stay at room temperatures, i.e., the danger zone, for extended periods.
There could also be the chance that your packed food may get jumbled up while on the road. If there is cross-contamination where raw food mixes with fresh or cooked food, you’d have to throw both foods out too.
The general rule of thumb is, if your food tastes different, doesn’t taste right or smells funky, err on the side of caution, and toss it out.
Road Trip Food List For Kids
While having activities, books, and toys to keep kids occupied on the road are important, so is having the right food in a road trip packing list for families.
Doing a road trip packing list for kids shouldn’t be much more onerous than what you’re already preparing for, though you should be mindful of allergies and food that may pose choking hazards to younger children.
A good way of getting your kids excited would be to get them involved and do up your road trip packing list with kids.
If your kids are old enough, work with them to choose what boxes they want their favourite foods in, and let them construct their very own DIY Lunchables box from what you already have in your kitchen or what you have prepared for your own road trip meals.
You can have them pack their food in regular plastic containers or jazz lunch up by using lunch boxes such as:
- Bentgo Kids Childrens Lunch Box that has box components portioned for a kid’s appetite and are leak proof while being easy for your kids to open.
- Munchkin Bento Boxes’ bright colours could help your kids look forward to those mealtimes and rest stops. They also come with snap-on stainless steel toddler utensils, helping you reduce prep time and space.
- Aside from food, your family road trip packing list should also include plenty of wet wipes, hand sanitisers, and probably an extra set of clothes in case of spillage and mess.
What Should I Pack For Lunch On A Road Trip?
If lunch is all you need to pack for your short road trip, here are some of my favourite road trip lunch ideas:
1. Salad or Noodles in a Jar
This is one of my best road trip meals and one that always gets my travel mates envious because of how much space this idea saves, and how much customisation I can get in, instead of just grabbing a salad or instant cup noodles off the shelf.
You can follow these recipes or adapt them to come up with your own concoction.
Just remember to keep sauces and dressings separate else you’ll end up with soggy greens and noodles before it gets to lunchtime. For hot water, bring a portable flask or get some at a rest stop.
- Spicy Kimchi Beef Flavour Instant Noodles
- Chicken and Sweet Potato Noodle Soup
- Berry Chicken Salad with Feta
- Summer Quinoa Salad with Lemon Dill Dressing
2. Burritos, Wraps and, Sandwiches
These are such easy road trip meals and great lunch ideas even if you’re not on a road trip because the sky’s the limit with what you can put into them. Here are some of my favourite combinations:
Choose tomato-based and pesto sauces over cream-based sauces to reduce the chances of the cream going bad on the road.
Frittatas are protein-packed, tasty, and hold up well after some time and distance. Get creative – make mini frittatas so they’re easier to munch on the road or use your pasta leftovers as fillings.
How To Eat Healthy On A Road Trip?
It’s easy to go rogue and turn to junk food on the road with the limited food options and busy schedules.
To reduce your chances of resorting to unhealthy food when hungry and to increase your propensity to eat healthy, here are some ways you can ensure you make better food choices on the road:
- Plan the food for your road trip list ahead of time so you can see if you’re meeting your nutritional goals for the day.
- Bring an insulated water bottle filled with fruit-infused water. Not only will you remember to drink more water, but you also resist the urge to grab that ice-cold soda from the gas station.
- Eat frequently. You’re more likely to feel peckish at that rest stop and grab something unhealthy if you haven’t had anything to eat for a while. Make sure you’re consistently fuelled up, just like your vehicle.
Above all else, remember you are away from regular life after all, away from the familiar comforts of your own kitchen. If you find yourself having to consume an indulgent meal or two, it will be okay – you can always get back on track once you’re back at home.
Tips For A Budget Road Trip Food List
If you prefer putting your travel dollars towards other parts of your trip, aside from food, then here’s how you can make your road trip food list more budget-friendly:
- Prepare in bulk. If your priority is keeping to a budget, then cut back on variety and have the same food prepared for all meals on the road.
- Grab sauces, condiments, and napkins at rest stops and gas stations along the way. This also saves space in your cooler box.
- Bring your leftover dinner from the previous day. Make sure it’s still safe to consume and stored properly in the cooler box.
- Shop near closing time. When preparing for your road trip, or along the way, shop for food near the grocery store’s closing time and you’re likely to land items like rotisserie chicken at half price or less.
- Bonus tip – If you’re staying at hostels on your road trip, most hostel kitchens have free food boxes where past travellers leave behind food items they no longer have space for in their bags. While some food may be expired (please check!) or are left behind in small quantities, you might occasionally land a nearly full bag of pasta or unopened cans of food. These can all be a part of your road trip meal prep.
Road trips with your loved ones can be some of the most memorable moments in your lifetime. If you make it a point to sort out a food for road trip list before your trip, you’ll find that you leave more time on the road to create more lasting memories.
Eating on the road also doesn’t have to be difficult.
Having a road trip food list will ensure that you’re prepared for any types of trips short or long, whether you’d like to eat healthy or on a budget and anything in between. Plan well, eat good and drive safely on your next road trip!