Food for the Road

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Pricy, processed convenience foods and constant restaurants stops can leave you and your budget feeling bloated

Need some fresh ideas to eat well on the road? Here, some easy foods to pack and prep.

Trail mix. It’s a classic snack for road trips and hiking trails for good reason: trail mix is easy to pack, tasty and provides some carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein. Just be sure to keep portion sizes modest and use ingredients that are high in sugars, salts and fats as “accents” only.

Cherries, berries, grapes and cherry tomatoes. Not only are they nutritional powerhouses and low in calories, they don’t need cooling or chopping.

Slices and dip. Vegetable or fruit slices are more fun with dip. Keep it simple with a small container of yoghurt, nut butter or honey for fruit and some creamy dressing for vegetables (which can double as a salad or sandwich topping for other meals).

Do-it-yourself sandwiches or wraps. Why DIY? Our favourite toppings can make the grains go soggy, and fresh breads and wraps can hog cooler space. (Plus you don’t have to worry about who gets what sandwich.) If you prefer to preassemble, substitute those slippery ingredients with “drier” choices like flavoured cream cheese, goat or feta cheese or hummus.

Whole grain products. Rice cakes, pretzels, crackers and plain popcorn also won’t go bad in the car — but look for whole grains to keep you feeling fuller longer. Baked goods such as low-fat muffins and breakfast cookies also satisfy and can be baked in advance.

Canned meats and legumes. Get your protein without the fuss! Unlike their fresh counterparts, these choices don’t need cooking or cooling. Add them to a sandwich, wrap or salad.

Dried pasta or couscous. If you can boil some water, you can cook up some grains for a quick pasta salad with some fresh vegetables. You can even prepare quick-cooking couscous in a bowl with hot water from a hotel kettle.

Frozen foods. It’s especially important to keep meats cool while you travel, so give them a head start by freezing them ahead of time. Also, frozen juice boxes can serve as ice packs. (They also make great popsicles or “slushies”.)

Want to kick things up a notch? Look for recipe and road-trip planning websites, like the New York Times101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics or


Keep food safe and healthy

Check your cooler. Before you start, make sure your cooler is clean and in good condition. If you’re buying new, look for good insulation and a tightly closing lid. Some coolers plug in to your vehicle’s cigarette lighter to double as a mini-fridge.

Keep things separate. At home, we keep raw meat away from fresh produce, and the same principle applies with the cooler. As space allows, keep foods separate to prevent cross contamination.

Because juices can leak and contaminate other foods, make sure everything is well wrapped. Put Baggies and containers in a sealable plastic bag, for instance.

Layer ice and food. Ice packs placed on the bottom have a hard time keeping the top foods cool. Try layering your food with ice to evenly distribute the cold. (Be sure to pack the foods you plan to use first on the top.)

Fill up empty spaces. A full cooler will stay cooler longer, so pack those empty spaces with extra ice. Unless you want ice for drinks, stick to larger blocks rather than cubes — they’ll won’t melt as quickly.

Include a food thermometer — and check it regularly. Like your fridge, the temperature in your cooler shouldn’t exceed 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) to keep perishable foods safe.

Bring a backup. The more often you open the lid, the more cool escapes. Pack a second cooler for drinks and snacks you’ll be accessing often. Try to open the lid as little possible.

Keep it covered . It may seem counter intuitive, but covering your cooler with a blanket or some towels can help keep temperatures down. (They’re extra insulation as well as a shield against the sun.) When you stop, keep your cooler in the shade or partially bury it in the sand for a long day at the beach.

Watch the time. While the usual rule is to toss any food that’s been sitting out for two hours, you’ll want to cut that down to one in hot weather. Remember: when in doubt, throw it out — especially if it’s been sitting in water.

One last word of advice: Stop to eat . Eating while driving can be as dangerous as other distractions, plus it’s better for your health to take breaks. Avoid treating meals as “fill-ups” and instead take time to enjoy them as part of the travel experience.

Sources:, Colorado State University Extension SafeFood Rapid Response Network,, United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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