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Road Trip Healthy-ish Eating

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

Road trip meal planning

Though we shy away from the term "foodies," Joel and I are certainly people who enjoy cooking for ourselves and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. What healthy and balanced has meant for each of us has certainly evolved over the years, and I have a sweet tooth that rivals all other sweet teeth. Seriously.

This isn't a post about my autoimmune condition (though it could be) and the very specific ways I have tried to eat for my condition over the years, including some extremely restrictive diets that made my body feel pretty good but left no room for anything else.

Nor is this a post about the connection between the food we put in our bodies and our self-image (though it could also be about that).

These things contribute to how I think about food and cooking, and I bring them up because prior to departing on this trip I was just starting to find my rhythm in eating in a way that supported my ever elusive gut happiness and gave me energy, without making me feel deprived.

Thus, I approached food on the trip with a bit of trepidation and worry about un-doing the good rhythm I was finally finding.

Here's what we have learned thus far about eating on a road trip in a way that doesn't cost a ton of money or leave your gut miserable, and that can support someone with a chronic condition.

Know Your Basics & Bring a Mini Pantry With You

When we left our home in the Twin Cities, friends came and shopped our well-stocked kitchen (we hate food waste), but we did keep a few items for our trip. These are what I would categorize as some basics that we knew we would use in daily cooking and likely restock over the course of the trip.

We brought: olive and coconut oil, peanut butter, honey, oats, nuts, mayo, mustard, trail mix using the leftovers from our pantry (nuts + dried fruit), a ton of tea bags, coffee, sardines and other canned fish. And yes, we have a rule of no eating sardines in the car. The things we buy fresh every week include: eggs, broccoli/other green veg, breakfast meats, and almond milk (more on this later). We mix up what we buy for dinner depending on our plans with ours hosts.

Essentially, we travel with a mini pantry which saves us time, gives us some independence around a few key meals and certainly saves money as we aren't always eating out. (Also, we purchased this plug-in cooler so we wouldn't have to buy ice constantly - it's like a mini fridge for the car!)

Consistency with Cooking

We have only gone out to breakfast twice in the entire 5 weeks on the road because we knew early on that breakfast was an easy meal to cook for ourselves and it is a meal that really impacts how we feel all day. (However, one of those breakfasts out was phenomenal and we think anyone visiting Maine should definitely go to the Palace Diner.)

A good breakfast gives us energy and fuels us for the adventure ahead. As I try to limit my gluten, it also means I am sure to start the day without any possible cross-contamination from food that makes me feel sluggish.

Our breakfast consists of: eggs, a quickly cooked vegetable (kale or broccoli), avocado (occasionally), and some sort of breakfast meat (turkey bacon and chicken sausage are favorites). Joel also drinks coffee and I either enjoy a cup of tea, hot water with lemon, or water.

Smart Snacking

We were lucky enough to receive a beautiful gift of perfect road trip snacks which supplemented a few we brought. Fruit leather, the best gluten-free granola ever, rice chips that seriously taste like healthy doritos (these), trail-mix, and nuts were in our snack care package. All have been phenomenal choices for the road. I supplement with seaweed, fruit (mostly from market stands), and occasionally get a fancy, dark chocolate bar. We also have four water bottles that we fill up and have with us when we are driving. We mostly drink water, but I also love trying local brands of kombocha we find in grocery stores.

One thing we didn't want was to be in situations where we were really hungry and opting for candy or other quick but sodium-heavy or sugary conveniences.

Bento Style Lunch

Though we do eat lunch out some days, especially if we have a whole day in a city and want to try something special (tacos! burritos! a Chicago hot dog for $4.99!), we have found a really good rhythm for simple lunches we can make for ourselves. We bought a bento box style lunch crate (similar to this one) and fill it with some combination of: olives, carrot sticks, cucumber, cheese slices, salami, and apple slices. Vegetarians could easily add some peanut butter, nuts, a hard boiled egg or other protein source in place of the salami we opt for.

These little bento boxes are easy to make (no cooking required), very filling, and allow us to sample local cheese and meats when we are restocking those components of our lunch boxes. Fact: Vermont has excellent cheese!

Other Lunch Ideas

Our friend, Sarah, gave us the advice to get meals from grocery store deli counters, which we have not done as much but agree is an affordable way to get a balanced meal and perhaps try out a regional favorite. Jello salad anyone?

Share a salad and a sandwich at a cafe or coffee shop (gluten-free bread is now typically an option in most places).

Seek out places like Union Market in DC that have various food vendors in one location. You can have a great meal (or share a few small bites from multiple vendors) for not a lot of money.

Give Canned Fish a Chance

I feel compelled to spend a little time singing the praises of sardines. Though I have been teased for bringing my own supply, I stand strong and proud in my defense of little fish. They are packed full of healthy fats, filling, and are easy to travel with (see: canned food in general).

For those skeptical about sardines, I swear by a recipe found in The Longevity Kitchen (an excellent cookbook in general). The basic technique is to chop up whatever fresh herbs you have (mint, basil and/or parsley work great), add a bit of mustard, olive oil, lemon, and salt & pepper, and then mix in the canned fish. Delicious. PROMISE.

Of course, I also find them perfectly yummy eaten straight out of the can, while sitting on a rest stop picnic table.

Do You Really Need a Full Entree?

Of all the food we eat, dinner is our most frequent meal out - unless we are cooking with our hosts. Quickly we realized that a really happy, healthy way eat out was to share more of our food. Portions are so huge at most places anyhow, and we don't have a kitchen of our own to bring leftovers home to, so besides everything else it makes practical sense. Unless we are extremely excited about a restaurant and can't decide on a dish to share, we try to order one entree and an appetizer or salad to split between us. It's worked well so far.

Know Thy Farmer

A good bet for an affordable snack option or to stock up on some produce for breakfast and lunch items are farmer's markets and farm stands. In Michigan, I got a huge bag of perfect apricots for $5! Plus, you get to meet local growers and sample some of the regional treats. A farmer's market is how I got to enjoy some Maine peaches and blueberries for very inexpensively (and they were organic)!

Know Thy Self

So, my sweet tooth. Sugar is a massive trigger for people with autoimmune conditions, and yet also I want to try all the regional ice creams! This is an area where some days I have willpower and some days I lean in to self-loving and kindness when I have a treat (like when I had ice cream twice in one day and once right before dinner). What can I say? It, like so much else, is a process and a journey I am still on.

And, to be honest, I still think it's important to look back on this trip and fondly remember maple creemies in Vermont, cider donuts in Maine, and exquisite chocolate in Michigan. Choose your battles. Choose your treats. Know thy self.

Grocery Store Battles

Back in the Twin Cities, we primarily shopped at our local co-op, but on this trip our options are all over the place. We have found that Trader Joe's is a great choice for getting some items organic, stocking up on basics, finding affordable turkey bacon, and getting a few prepared items such as bagged slaws and chopped salads that are a winner! And it's all at half the cost of some other corporate grocery store chains.

When to Splurge

Joel and I have a few things that we love, love, love when it comes to food. We love seafood and sushi - and didn't have the best of that in the Midwest - so knew we wanted to splurge on the east coast with a few "special" meals out together. We also will likely go wild with BBQ in the south. Also tacos - we will go out of our way for amazing tacos. Food is a big part of our budget, but when it comes to eating out we want it to be worth it and so we choose carefully after much internet research.

One final thought

Something we didn't expect when we started this trip is how many of our hosts would cook for us! We have had phenomenal meals with hosts throughout the country and felt so much generosity from them. We weren't expecting this, so the lesson is, accept the food generosity the universe bestows upon you.


What are your food tips for road trips? How do you eat balanced, healthy meals while traveling? And so you need to try all the regional ice cream shops too?!

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