Fuel for Road Warriors: A Guide to the Best Road Trip Snacks and Meals
Cruising the Highway Is Hungry Work
No one has so simply encapsulated the joys of a cross-country trip quite like Willie Nelson. In his 1980 hit “On the Road Again,” the country-music troubadour sang, “On the road again, / Going places that I’ve never been, / Seeing things that I may never see again, / And I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
True enough, but Nelson forgot to mention one thing: Whether you’re crossing a continent or driving to the next town, a road trip is hungry work. Sure, you could pull over at a truck stop or a nearby McDonald’s whenever your stomach starts to rumble. But aren’t there healthier and more satisfying options for road trip snacks than powder-covered donuts or road trip meals than greasy sleeves of fries?
There are indeed. Read on to discover some great road trip eats you can enjoy while you and your crew drive.
Homemade Munchies: Easy-to-Make Treats for You to Enjoy As You Drive
You know how every recipe Martha Stewart makes seems an impossible endeavor, a culinary craft requiring exotic ingredients, exquisite skill, and lots and lots of time? Yeah, that’s not what we’re aiming for here. With a little preparation, you can stock your vehicle with homemade road trip food so that you and your passengers won’t go hungry.
Let’s start with one of humanity’s oldest snacks: the nut. Peanuts and cashews are common enough treats, but there are more interesting options. For instance, the pistachio has risen in popularity, and now you can enjoy this ancient nut with or without shells, flavored, or even raw thanks to Wonderful Pisachios.
Pecans don’t have the same number of off-the-shelf options, but it’s not too hard to turn kernels into compulsively munchable treats. Try whipping up a batch of sweet-spiced or even Asian-spiced pecans.
Fruit leather is another awesome treat that’s among the best road snacks. Forget the overly sticky, saccharine tang of Fruit Roll-ups. Making your own sheets of fruity goodness is good for you and a fun family activity if you have children. Snag whatever fruit is in season (or yank any long-in-the-tooth berries out of your refrigerator) and cook a batch of mixed berry, strawberry or cinnamon-apple fruit leather.
Pro tip: Wax paper works great for storage.
If you’d like a snack that straddles the sweet/savory divide, consider oatcakes. A Scottish staple, an oatcake can be a cookie. Or a cracker. Or a crepe. A widely eaten food always develops lots of variations, but all oatcakes tend to share a delightfully nutty flavor. Start with the recipe from Orangette, cut them into bars, and see how they sit with your clan.
Dialing down the sugar results in a treat that pairs well with an apple and cheddar cheese. Adding more sugar (or perhaps ladling a dollop of powdered-sugar glaze between two of them) makes them much more decadent.
And speaking of decadent, I suspect you’ll never find a richer granola bar than those created by Ina Garten, star of the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. Almonds and coconut meet dates, apricots and cranberries, while honey, brown sugar and vanilla extract add sweet satisfaction.
The recipe calls for wheat germ, but I’ve found that a spoonful of flaxseed makes for a tastier and equally healthy final product.
But let’s not restrict ourselves solely to snacking. If your trip proves lengthy enough, you may find yourself longing for the main course. Fortunately, there’s a whole host of road trip-friendly dishes to take with you.
- Chickpea of the sea sandwiches: a tuna-free version of the old standard that you can enjoy without fear of it spoiling
- Tomato feta pasta salad: easy to make and won’t require a cooler
- Cheese and pickle sandwich: this British concoction calls for Branston Pickle, a sweet chutney. Feel free to substitute bread-and-butter-pickle chips or dill-pickle chips
- Individual charcuterie and Italian relish containers: toss cured-meat slices, olives, pepperoncini, and mini mozzarella balls in Tupperware for a finger-friendly meal
Pre-Packaged Perks: Glorious Off-the-Shelf Goodies
Of course, sometimes you just don’t want to cook, and busy schedules can make it impossible for you to get into the kitchen prior to a trip. Fortunately, many retailers have increasingly diverse lines of road trip snacks. Even better, many of them are good for you.
And speaking of good for you, remember those McDonald’s fries I mentioned above? Though my kids and I enjoy greasy fast food as much as the next person, a steady diet of it isn’t sustainable during a long journey. Try gourmet chip substitutes instead.
Gourmet Chip Substitutes
Both Trader Joe’s and Inka Crops sell salted Inca corn, a snack similar to Corn Nuts or Fritos. Garden of Eatin’ Blue Chips give you the same corny crunch in a traditional chip shape and pair well with individual hummus containers from Sabra or Veggicopia. And Boulder Canyon sells potato chips cooked in olive oil, rice bran oil or coconut oil.
Fruit and Veggie Options
Fruit makes for a tasty treat, and apples and bananas ward off the munchies. However, you can find more exotic options. Very young children will enjoy the applesauce packets from GoGo squeeZ. More than just blended apples, flavor options include apple grape, apple cherry, and apple raspberry lemon twist.
Nowadays, though, bars aren’t just sweet treats. The old convenience store staple of beef jerky has found new life as, yes, a bar. Instead of snapping into a Slim Jim, pick up an EPIC Bar. Meats include bison, beef, lamb, chicken and turkey, and they come combined with flavors such as sriracha, maple, cherry, cranberry and sesame barbecue.
Tanka Bar is another brand with similar offerings, although its protein is entirely buffalo.
If eating meat in a bar form sounds too off-putting to you, check out KRAVE jerky. Widely available, nitrate-free and utterly delicious, it serves up a more traditional jerky strip. Also, KRAVE’s meat is always delightfully soft, so your jaw won’t start aching as you try to gnaw through a leather-like lump.
Proper Preparation: Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean
It’s one thing to have a bevy of delicious foods on hand. It’s quite another to make it through your trip without finding crumbs in every line of upholstery, peanut butter smeared into the floor mats, and the suspiciously lingering smell of spoiled dairy. Here are some tips for keeping your car clean as you nosh.
First, wet wipes aren’t just for wiping up babies. They can keep little (and big!) mouths and hands clean. Also, if someone happens to drop something, quick intervention with a wet wipe can take care of most of the damage.
Naturally, you need something to do with those wipes once you’ve used them. For heaven’s sake, don’t toss them on the floor. Rather, give each person on your trip a plastic grocery bag reserved solely for trash.
I know environmental advocates urge against anyone using plastic grocery bags. However, they serve as a great trash bag substitute if you have a few around. Think of it as practical recycling! You can also use a cereal container for this purpose — one of many great Pinterest travel hacks for keeping your car organized on road trips.
Individual portions often help. Socking away a serving for each person beforehand in a zip lock or wax paper bag helps keep messes contained. So does avoiding foods that go bad. Sure, you can pack a cooler if you really want egg salad. But it’s one more thing to manage and no guarantee that something won’t spoil.
Finally, take time to savor your snacks, your friends and family, and the hum of the road as it wheels away beneath you. Crack the window. Turn up the tunes. Watch the sun start to sink toward the horizon. And known that there truly isn’t anything quite like being on the road again.