Is it your goal to eat healthy on the road with your kids during your worldschooling interstate adventures?
With summer travel about reach peak season, millions of Americans plan to hit the highway with kids and explore the Lower 48.
And maybe you just want to stop at the roadside diners and swing through drive-throughs. If that’s the case, you get zero judgment from me.
But as a world schooling parent, I have to make it a point to find ways to feed my kids healthy meals. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with indulging on vacation or the occasional junk food fest but because we spend so much time traveling that if I didn’t learn to feed them well on the go, they’d have a totally trashed diet.
So if you travel a lot with your kids, too, or healthy eating is just a high priority for you, you probably noticed at some point that eating healthy on road trips in the United States is a lot like trying to pull teeth from a cranky elephant.
However, with a little planning and a few slight changes in your strategy, I promise, it’s totally doable.
You might even discover that you like it more.
Advantages of Healthy Eating on Roadtrips
Of course, the major benefit of intentionally eating healthy food whilst traveling is that it’s . . , well, healthier. But there are a number of other benefits.
–It’s way cheaper—if you do it right. You can easily spend $30 at a fast-food drive-through with a family of 4. More if you have teenagers, athletes, or a bigger family. And if you want to actually sit down at a roadside diner, you’re looking at more like $60-$80 for lunch and over $100 for dinner at a restaurant. By planning ahead and packing your own, you can easily cut that to 1/3 the price.
–You save time. Finding a place everyone can agree on, ordering, waiting for the food to arrive, and then finally eating it all takes time. By contrast, if you pack your own, all you have to do is find a spot to eat it and get off the highway. It goes way faster in general and you can spend the extra time doing worldschooling or vacation-y stuff,
–It teaches planning. I’m a home educator, so you knew there was going to be some learning involved here. Teaching kids to plan and make their own meals fosters a sense of independence, provides choice, and promotes executive functioning.
-Cut down on waste by using up leftovers. I never like to leave a bunch of food in my fridge that I know is going to go to waste while we’re gone. Packing meals helps to use up leftover fruits, veggies, and meat that might otherwise end up in the trash.
-It makes dealing with dietary concerns much easier. Got a kid with nut allergies? Do you keep kosher? Are you currently on the whole foods bandwagon?
The irony of the obesity epidemic in this country is that there is literally no place on earth where people are pickier about their diets. With so many different religions, food philosophies, and allergies, it’s hard to plan dinner with friends, let alone a 3-week cross-country journey.
Planning ahead makes dealing with dietary concerns a lot less drama.
How to eat heath(ier) on the road.
The goal here is not perfection. It’s doing the best we can. Traveling always requires a little lifestyle compromising, and eating is no different.
So, the following tips are with that in mind.
#1 Avoid fast food.
The absolute worst option of all is the fast-food drive-through. I don’t have to tell you why.
#2 Pack your own lunch.
It’s easiest to pack meals for the first couple of days of your trip.
After that, other factors—lack of kitchen access, refrigeration, etc— make it harder. (More on how to deal with that in a second).
But at the very least, try to pack lunch and snacks for everyone for the first day or two the night before you leave. Here are some ideas.
Salad in a Jar
For the adults, salad-in-a-jar recipes are my go-to lunch.
(If you can get your kids to eat salad, you’re like, amazing. I’ve never had any luck with that one).
There are so many recipes for jar salads. They’re convenient to eat and to clean up—just seal them up when you’re done and throw them in your bag until you get to the next available sink.
Okay, you don’t actually, 100% have to have (affiliate link —->) a bento box to pack lunch for your kid, but they make life waaaaaaay easier.
They’re a little pricy up front but they pay off and the good ones won’t leak. It keeps everything separate so you don’t need to use plastic baggies and it cuts down on waste.
Bonus: You can teach even your littles to pack/clean up their own.
Fresh snacks that include fruit & veggies.
For me, the single hardest part about eating healthy on the road is providing fresh fruit and veggies.
But over the years, I’ve learned that some fruits & vegetables travel better than others.
In order to provide the most variety, I start with the most delicate fruits first.
Day 1 & 2 Fruits/Veggies
These items must be kept in a cooler and are best eaten in the first two days.
Day 2-4 Fruits & Veggies
These items are hardier and can be kept outside refrigeration (although they spoil much faster in a hot car!)
-Unripe bananas (eat within 3 days).
Proteins that travel.
Protein that travels well is actually pretty easy. Try:
Traveling for more than 4 days? No worries.
Packing and planning ahead works well for about 3-4 days.
After that, fresh food tends to spoil and you need to regroup.
Consider staying in residential hotels or home rentals.
We all know by now that sites like Airbnb and Vrbo can provide unique experiences and sometimes they can be cost-effective for families.
But honestly, they’re getting way more expensive than they used to be in the United States and residential hotels may actually be a better option.
A residential hotel is different from a standard hotel in that they usually have full kitchens. Of course, this makes cooking for yourself a whole lot easier.
If you must stay in a regular hotel, at least try and stay in one with a refrigerator.
Take advantage of farmer’s markets.
This is one of my favorite tips.
The reason is 3-fold.
1. Farmer’s markets typically offer regional food—which makes it both seasonal and super fresh.
2. No matter where you are, going to the farmer’s market is a cultural experience. You and your kids get to learn about what the regional cash crops are and, in some cases, how they prepare it (farmer’s market’s also feature regional delicacies prepared by local cooks).
3. The farmer’s market is often located in a downtown or historical district, making it a great way to begin your day.
If you MUST stop for convenience food . . .
Skip the drive-through and head to the gas station. Yup, the gas station.
-Fresh fruit (usually, they have bananas, oranges and/or apples somewhere)