Road Trip Granola: For When You're "On the Road Again"

McDonalds, Burger King, Hardee’s, Subway, Arby’s, TCBY, Taco Bell, Sbarro. Anything sound good? Didn’t think so. When a family hits the open road in the U.S. of A. and the excitement of the first few hours of tunes, wind, and unfurling pavement has worn off to be replaced by boredom and hunger, it will have little choice but to pull into an oasis to eat. Unfortunately, our oases give oases a bad name. Far from a place to relax and replenish, our U.S. highways seem to be lined with not much more than loud flushing toilets and purveyors of junk food. I always fantasize about the small, family-run diners tucked into the towns we roll by; but realistically, when you have three kids and seven hours of driving ahead of you, there is no extra time to dilly dally in search of homemade chicken soup and apple pie.

So a few years ago, I started packing my own food, which allows me to kill two birds with one stone. (Incidentally, I LOVE killing two birds with one stone. In fact, I actively seek out opportunities to engage in this type of super-efficient avian slaughter.) Not only do I get to feed my family tasty and nutritious food on the road, I get to clean out my fridge.

I begin by hard boiling all the eggs I have, which I consider to be the ultimate travel food. They’re portable, not perishable, not messy, filling and delicious with a sprinkle of salt, which I always pack as well. We pretty much always have frozen baguettes, salami and some array of fancy and not so fancy cheeses in the fridge, so I forage for olives, roasted peppers, and greens and I am usually able to concoct an enviable sandwich. Individually wrapped, they’re easy to toss back to the hungry chicks in the depths of a minivan, and they take a lot longer to eat than a mushy fast food burger. (Yet another couple birds in my crosshairs: keeping the kids quiet and occupied eating a chewy, toothsome sandwich, plus time saved by not having to stop and argue about what to eat, eat it and then stop in half an hour because said lunch is not sitting quietly in the driver's tummy.) Then I dump all our fruit, carrots, cheese sticks and yogurts into the cooler, fill up everyone’s water bottles, grab some chips, Oreos and Twizzlers (hey, it’s a twelve-hour drive to Michigan, people!) and we’re ready.

This year I added granola to my mix and it was a hit. I used my college friend, Kate’s, recipe which came with a page of special instructions. The woman takes her granola seriously and seems to have experimented heavily, so in lieu of experimenting myself, I decided to ride on the coattails of her research and was not disappointed. Kate and I have similar taste buds (her salty meat tooth may even surpass mine), so I knew I would be pleased with her chosen levels of sweetness and saltiness. I am including her notes because they are edifying and amusing -- and because it will make her blush. I feel compelled to point out that you can kill two birds with granola as well. It’s tasty and chewy, just the kind of thing you want to be eating when you’re bored and daydreamy, watching the trees stream by with your feet up on the dash. It’s also portable and nourishing, so in the event the you have to abandon your car to hike over a snowy mountain pass to safety, then you’ve packed the perfect food.

Happy trails!

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4 cups of quick-cooking rolled oats

¾ cups of vegetable oil

¾ cup of local honey (I used Ames Farms single source honey from Watertown, Minnesota.)

½ cup of wheat germ

¾ cup of roasted salted pepitas

½ cup of coarsely-chopped walnuts


Heat oil and honey on the stove (low heat) to combine.

Mix oats, wheat germ, pepitas and walnuts.

Pour oil and honey mixture over the oat mixture.

Spread on parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Kate's Notes:
I was a big granola-making mama in 2008 and 2009. I've taken a hiatus and in the interim, forgot some of the tweaks I made to customize it to my tastes. Nonetheless, my recollection of what I liked is attached. I am flattered to get the nod for credit, but take it all for yourself. You'll find your own combo of oats, honey, and fruit/nuts that you like. Granola is a lot like salads and soups. You start with a few basic ingredients and tailor it to satisfy your flavor (sweetness, saltiness, acidity), texture and color balance. Although, unlike salads and soups, there's not much room for modifying the color of granola. It's brown. However, there is a wide margin for altering taste and texture. Here are a couple notes:

- I like clumpy granola that is crunchy and not too caramelized.  

- I don't prefer fruit or coconut, but I'm not a complete purist.  

- I add pepitas (salted or non) and walnuts. Sometimes I add wheat germ since it's oh-so-healthy and/or flax seeds. If the flax isn't ground, I think it just flies through your GI unscathed, thereby making it useless.

- If you like dried fruit, add it after the baking step.

- You can try so many nuts and seeds -- pistachios, blanched or unblanched almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans

- Cooking temp and time variation will change crunchiness and caramelization; I like medium temp of 325 for about 30 to 35 minutes.  

- Cut the amounts of oil and honey if it's either too greasy or too sweet, but not too much because it needs to bind and not be too dry.

- I found a "desert mesquite" honey that I like. Clover is fine -- it's the basic stuff. To appeal to your local audience, try different honeys available at your Farmer's Markets. You should be able to find a variety where the nectar comes from an array of plants like raspberry, buckwheat, and alfalfa. I don't think any type of honey is cloying, but some taste sweeter than others. Their total sugar content may be the same, but I think maybe the amounts of fructose, glucose and maltose can vary. That's my unverified suspicion, but it satisfies my curiosity about why some honeys taste sweeter than others.    

- Stir it around the pan midway through cooking

- It hardens and dries as it cools

- Make a bunch of small 2 cup batches until you find your favorite combo. 

Gabriela Lambert gave up practicing law to stay home with her three kids and live a life of leisure. Given the choice between salty and sweet, she'll hit the salty every time. Given the choice between pig and cow, she'll clutch her chest and whimper that it’s like asking her to pick her favorite child. On her birthday, she's most likely to choose a trip to the farmers' market with her family, but that’s one of her favorite things to do any day. In addition to minding her brood, she spends her time doing yoga, driving around in her minivan, and blogging at Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Using Up My Farmers Market Booty with Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits.