Food for the Road

Highway food can be fun for a while—eating forbidden french fries at a fast food joint or sipping iced tea in the cool muffledness of a restaurant. Normal dietary restraint often takes a vacation when we do. (The only time I ever saw my father drink coffee was on road trips.) But after a few such meals, home cooking starts

sounding mighty good.

Food is not something to overlook when you are packing for a trip. Because eating on the road often tends to provide desperately needed breaks from cramped quarters, it fosters psychological as well as physical refreshment. Thankfully, it is possible to eat nutritious, winsome meals on the move.

While traversing the wide open spaces of America via bus, bicycle, Vega, and, most recently, Amtrak, I have been collecting ideas for delectable travel meals. Possibilities multiply when you push the range of "portable" food.

First, the basic kit: You’ll need some sort of insulated tote bag to keep cold things cold for the first two days. Find two plastic quart jugs with screw tops, one for water (which will be frozen before departure), and the other for mixing juice or storing wine later on the trip. Wrap up some silverware and include a sharp paring knife for cutting fruit, cheese, onions, and tomatoes. Don’t forget a can opener.

Bring mugs to use for cold or hot beverages as well as for soup. Find portable containers (film canisters, perhaps) for salt, pepper, chili powder. Tuck in a few old bread bags and twist ties for trash or leftovers. A cloth, nice or otherwise, is good to have for padding, a tablecloth, or for wiping up spills. Round up various sizes of sealable plastic containers. These are the treasure boxes you will fill with good things to eat for your trip.

Somehow, schedule an afternoon or evening of cooking just before leaving. Well before then, plan out your meals, including breakfast, lunch, supper, snacks, dessert, and beverages. (A well-endowed picnic bag should be able to feed you and your traveling companions for three days.) Go shopping. Don’t be dismayed by all those items that will have to fit somehow in the bag—they will.

My list of instant portable foods usually includes can(s) of frozen orange, apple, or grape juice concentrate. Much cheaper than buying bottled fruit juice on the road, frozen juice also helps keep everything else in the tote bag cold the first 24 hours. Other items are instant lemonade, dehydrated soups, tea bags, coffee, canned sardines or oysters, pork n’ beans (which I admit to liking cold out of the can, but they can be heated on a hot car engine or campfire), crackers, tortilla chips, salsa (messy but worth it), cheddar or mozzarella cheese, nuts, yogurt, butter, and a loaf of hearty bread.

Easily prepared foods include boiled eggs; carrot and celery sticks; apples, oranges, or other fruit; and avocados or tomatoes (both should be tucked into your mugs for safe travel). Check out all options for fresh fruits and vegetables that can be eaten raw. If you are like me, these are what you will crave the most after a few days of travel.

And now for "celebratory" food that can be prepared ahead and eaten on the road—dishes that will rekindle glazed eyes. It seems half the American population likes pizza cold—why not take advantage of that and pack pizza (wedges stacked face to face) in your picnic basket? The same goes for lasagna. Bake a 9x9 pan of cornbread and cut to fit a square plastic container; serve with jam or honey. Make blueberry, apple, or bran muffins. Homemade cinnamon rolls taste even better on the road than they do at home.

Roll out a whole wheat pie crust dough, cut in circles, plop a tuna or broccoli-cheese filling in the middle, fold in half, and bake into Canadian-style pasties. Barbecue chicken drumsticks and make potato salad to eat the first day when the tote bag is still cold inside. Bake a batch of oatmeal cookies or a pan of butterscotch brownies. See how varied the possibilities are?

The ambience of each meal will be up to you and your itinerary. Take time at a highway mountain pass to hike up and away from the road to spread a picnic (walking is as important as eating—vacation or no vacation). Pull down the meal tray on a plane or train and spread a red checked napkin on it before laying out your feast. If driving alone, make sandwiches—fresh bread, jalapeno pepper cheese, lettuce, and tomato—that can be eaten with one hand. Polish the meal off with an apple and homemade cookie. Brush your teeth with a carrot.

As for the dishes, wash them in a restroom sink or stuff them in the recesses of the tote bag until you reach your destination.

Best of luck on your vacation feasting this summer.

CAREY BURKETT, former assistant to the editor at Sojourners, is now an organic vegetable farmer in Hallettsville, Texas.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"Food for the Road"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines