Tips for eating while traveling

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Updated April 8 ,2019

A few years ago my family went on vacation to Northern California and Southern Oregon and recently we flew to Florida to explore three different national parks.  These vacations have been different for us because we fly and typically we load up the minivan and drive.  Driving gives you more choice and control over the travel foods that your family has on vacation.  I do want to make it clear that I do not control everything my family eats.  I give choices.  However, I do like packing my own travel food on vacation because then I can make sure fruits and vegetables are available.  If you leave all of the meals to restaurants and fast food joints sometimes the selection is poor or prices are higher than what you want to pay.  Plus, I nostalgically remember the packed lunches and meals my family would have on vacation growing up, even though at the time I said, "Why can’t we stop at a restaurant?"

On the trips where we fly I find the travel food situation a little more challenging.  One reason is because when we fly I do not always have a consistent way to keep foods cold because not all the places we stay have refrigerators and we cannot take our large cooler that keeps things cold for up to 5 days.  A second reason is some of the places we stay are rather remote and we do not have large grocery stores close by.  After these trips are over I realize I have stressed about the food situation a little too much I and wanted to pass along some of the things I have learned and tips I have if you and your family are dealing with similar challenges on your vacation.

  • Have some shelf stable items that you can make a meal out of for those times that you cannot keep things cold. Some of the shelf stable items I recommend are shelf stable hummus packets and crackers, vacuum packed tuna pouches, nuts, jerky, and fruits that did not require refrigeration (nectarines, plums, pears, oranges, and apples work well), peanut butter packs.

  • Keep the meals simple. Do not over purchase food at the stores as this can lead to food waste. Since on these vacations we move around a lot I typically do not purchase food to make a different meal every night. For example, if we are staying at a house with a small kitchen for only 3 nights I only purchase food for breakfast, lunch, and 2 dinners. That way it leaves some flexibility to go out and try some local food if we want.

  • Plan ahead. Call before you arrive and find out where the large grocery stores are in relation to where you are staying. Look on the websites for those stores as you may be able to place an online order to be picked up or delivered to where you are staying.

  • If flying, pack a small collapse-able cooler that can filled with food and ice packs and placed inside of your carry on. You are able to pack freezer packs that are filled with liquid as long as they are frozen solid when you go through security. If they have thawed I would recommend placing the ice packs in your checked bags. For more information about foods that can be taken on a plane check out the TSA guidelines.

  • Have an open mind. When driving through smaller towns they will not have as large of a selection of certain foods like organic produce and meats, but you may still find local produce and goods that are tasty and possibly a little different.

  • When going out to eat, consider sharing meals to avoid leftovers as your ability to store and transport leftovers may be limited depending upon your accommodations. Also, many restaurants do not have healthy choices for kids, therefore, offer them fruits and vegetables with the meals and snacks that they are not having at a restaurant.

After reading all this someone might say, “Wouldn’t it be easier to eat out?”  Notice I mention that I remember the picnics I had with my family on vacation, but do not recall any restaurants we went to.   That was one of the ways my parents modeled healthy eating habits and financial habits for vacationing.  Also, this can allow you a little more flexibility as to where you eat some meals.  We typically will eat our lunch while hiking. Some of our favorite spots include lunch sitting on a bench along the coastal trail at Redwood National Park while our kids watched for signs of whales in the distance, finding a seaside public beach in Maine and watching shrimp and lobster boats coming into the bay, or sitting along side the turquoise waters at a state park in the Florida Keys.  I do not believe a restaurant would have provided us the same experience.

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Views of snack and lunch spots we have had on previous vacations:

PicMonkey Collage (3)

PicMonkey Collage (3)