All too often I find myself in a mad scramble when packing to get out of town. Especially if it is just for the weekend, I have to beat traffic and I'm trying desperately not to forget the essentials, like underwear or beer. Because of this less than ideal state, I often compromise in the worst of all ways: snacks. The snacks and treats we bring on our outings are often the best part and can help make the trip more memorable. If we forget, we get to go foraging at the gas station on the way. That never seems very satisfying, healthy or tasty.
Since food is the thing that fuels us, it would seem obvious to give it a lot of attention. After all, we are depending on using our bodies to have fun on vacation. Hiking, fishing, boating and camping require a lot of energy and are absolutely ruined by indigestion and heavy foods. If you have kids, it can be even more obvious. Having to compromise by buying pre-packaged foods can wreak havoc on your children. Most every snack food, even the savory ones, are loaded with refined grains and sugars. So begins the roller coaster of moods then inevitably end up in a crumpled mess when the train derails. Add sugary drinks and it can be like a roller coaster in a hurricane. Fun!
With just a little planning and forethought, (and plenty of room in the car for a cooler and sacks of snacks) your whole trip can be different. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that your whole vacation will be greatly improved. I am not suggesting you never eat out. Of course, that is often the best part of any vacation. What I want is to share with you the joys, pleasures and advantages of preparing your own traveling food as well as providing some handy, simple recipes that can get you started.
Besides meals, there are two important ways to think about what food to bring on your trip. First, there is the stuff you eat while actually traveling, be it by car, train or plane. Secondly, and most often forgotten, are the treats you can cook together when you arrive.
For the journey, it can be ever so satisfying to be prepared and not have to settle for less when the options are greatly limited. Imagine the airport. You rush (slowly) through check-in and security, find your gate, board and then realize you are starving and the plane your on does not serve a meal (or if they do, it is questionable at best). Similarly, imagine you are driving across Nebraska (a state I lived in for many years) and it's late. Nothing is open and if you have to eat at another gas station or 24 hour diner, you might not make it to Colorado.
These situations happened to me countless times, but I finally realized that it did not have to be this way. Indeed, i had a choice. Despite the fact that liquids have been banned on planes, sandwiches have not. Nor has dried fruit, granola bars, jerky or fresh fruit and vegetables (unless you are traveling overseas...tried that once, oops). Instead of pretending like you don't have a choice, take charge of your food. Our family always has two carry-on bags: one for entertainment, one for food. The food bag always has dried fruit, our own trail mixes, beef jerky, fruit leather, crackers, cheese and olives (goes great with airline wine), apples, peanut butter, celery, carrot sticks, granola or granola bars, and baked goods.
It is a good list and although we do not bring everything every time, we bring a fair balance of vegetable, grain, fruit, veggie and protein. My favorite part are the jealous looks of other fliers as you bust out your own buffet and they are stuck with airline chicken, soggy egg salad sandwiches or just a teeny bag of nuts. These snacks also work great when you are stuck with a layover and have either no options or everything costs twice what it should.
Once you reach your destination, do you have a place to cook? If so, think about the opportunities present in the kitchen. Not just for rainy days, I find that making cookies, brownies and other treats can really bring people together. Plus, it gives you the chance to simply pack ingredients and relieves some of the pressure of baking and packing at the same time.
Before I get to the recipes, let me lay out again, the convincing reasons to spend the extra effort and take charge of what you eat:
1. You get what you want. One of the worst feelings to have about food is that you have no choice. It simply is not true. Everyone has so much choice in this day and age, when it comes to food. The problem comes when you fail to plan ahead or take action. Every time you decide not to do something, you limit your choices.
2. Anything you make yourself is going to be better than anything you buy. Really, I believe this. For one, nobody I know has high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and sodium benzoate in their pantry. By making things yourself, you leave out the junk. Additionally, if you put your heart and energy into the food you make, it simply tastes better than anything made by robots at a factory.
3. You will pay the same if not less for a superior product. By bringing your own food and snacks, you not only end up with a superior menu, you save money.
4. You will feel better and have more time and energy to enjoy your vacation. By having good food prepared in advance, you will not only eat healthier food, you can eat more regularly. Too many times on the road, I found myself searching for food in vain when I was super hungry. When I finally broke down and stopped at a diner and wolfed down a super greasy meal, I would usually feel awful (heavy greasy food+moving vehicle=ugh). In comparison, eating yummy homemade sandwiches and a salad while sitting at a roadside park while the kids run wild=invaluable. Traveling by yourself or with a friend, you can avoid stopping all together and get where you are going.
Ok, enough already. Here are some ideas I have compiled over many years of roaming the country.
"Chex" mix (many ways)
5-6 c. "chex" style cereal
2c Cheese crackers (can be fish or bunnies or boring old squares)
Nuts (peanuts, almonds, pistachios, etc. probably about 2-3 cups)
1 stick butter
4 T worchestershire sauce
1/2t onion powder
1t garlic powder
1/2 t salt or seasoned salt
Optional: I have added the following at various times in the past.
Corn or soy nuts
Bagel or Pita chips
Bake on sheet pans at 300, stirring every 10 minutes or so until it starts to brown a bit and crisps up (35-45 minutes). Let cool. Mix will be most tasty after it cools and has sat a bit.
Honey butter popcorn
(make before you go or when you arrive)
Pop the popcorn, mix with honey and melted butter. Spread out on sheet pans and bake at 325 for 10 min, stir, 5 min, stir, 5 min, done! Popcorn burns quickly, so set a timer. For the pan pictured I used 3T butter and 5T honey.
For a tasty variation, try 1t truffle oil with the honey and butter mixture. Yum.
Crispy rice treats
(easy to make on the stove top or over an open fire)
Melt a stick of butter in a pan on stove or coals of a fire
Add a bag of marshmallows and stir constantly until melted
Remove from heat
Add crispy rice cereal and stir
If you want to cut them up, press into a cake pan before cooling
Bonus: add peanut butter to melted butter/marshmallow mess...yum
Favorite chocolate chip cookies
2c butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar and 1 1/2 c brown sugar or 3c raw/unrefined sugar
cream/blend the above, preferrably with a mixer until it begins to get light and creamy
4 eggs, one at a time
continue to whip this mixture while you assemble and mix the dry ingredients:
5 c all purpose flour (or slightly less)
1T baking powder
1 t salt
3 c choc chips
1 1/2 c nuts (optional)
add dry to wet, mix fairly well.
refrigerate or immediately shape into cookies and bake:
350 for 10 - 15 minutes or until they are done as you like.
I don't have to tell you how to mix nuts, dried fruits and or chocolates. However, I can tell you that any grocery with bulk bins is a good start to find your favorite items to mix up. Also,Trader Joe's has a good and varied selection of trail mixes.
Here is a great recipe for granola bars from Smitten Kitchen!
Feel free to comment and contribute your own favorite snack ideas. If I really like them, I will add them to this post!
For more info on what you can take on a plane. This will tell you the various rules regarding liquids, which of course will probably include applesauce, hummus, peanut butter, yogurt, etc. Other than that, there seem to be no rules about food that I can find.
Thanks for reading and happy travels!