Nearly 35 million Americans planned on taking a road trip over Memorial Day weekend, according to AAA, despite rising gas prices.

If you are planning on packing up the car and heading out to the beach, the Wild West, grandma’s house or anywhere in between, food might be near the top of your “what-to-pack” list. While you can likely find plenty of fast food, mom-and-pop restaurants and truck stops along the way, you will be better served by packing your own snacks and maybe even a meal from one of your favorite meal delivery service.

Why Pack When I Can Stop At The Drive Through?

The top two benefits rival each other: When you pack your own food, you will eat healthier and save money. While you can find a handful of healthier options at gas stations such as nuts and string cheese, most of the food you will find from here to there is probably not on any nutritionist’s list of recommended eats.

When you pack items from your own kitchen, you know every ingredient, can support any dietary needs, and can serve what you want to eat and what you want your family to consume. In addition, if you pack healthy food, you will be eating the types of things that increase focus, energy and wellness, so that you don’t have the temptation to nod off when 2 p.m. rolls around.

While fast food is known for being quick and affordable, prices are on the rise. Although the cost of eating at home (or packing it with you) continues to decline, the cost of eating out has trended the other direction. You will save money and calories when you choose to pack your own food for your next road trip.

And those aren’t the only benefits of packing healthy food for your next trip – you can eat when and where you want, rather than panicking because you’re 30 minutes from the nearest restaurant as your kids’ regular lunch time rolls around. Likewise, if you’re on a relatively long trip, snacking or eating lunch in the car will fill some of that time with a happy activity that everyone enjoys. Finally, you will have less waste, trash and non-recyclable products to deal with when you pack your own treats.

Road Trip Food Packing 101

When it comes to putting snacks and meals together, you have a couple options:

  • Pack everything in a cooler or picnic basket, or
  • Everyone gets their own lunch box.

On one hand, it is simple to bring just one large receptacle for food, however, if you have kids that argue over who gets the bigger or better piece, then separate can be a great solution.

Make sure you have adequate cooling or heating as needed. Beyond traditional cold packs and insulated lunch bags, many beverage/liquid containers now offer hours of proper temperature control. Consider containers used for camping or kids’ lunches that can hold heat or cold for many hours.

Finally, think carefully about the type of food you are packing. Anything with a million little pieces (think popcorn, for example) can create a messy, sticky, crunchy mess for hours to come. Likewise, it is ideal if most items are pre-made so that you aren’t trying to spread mustard and chop peppers while en route.

The Best Bets For Your Cooler

Driving across the state or country can be liberating, energizing and fun – but it can also be dull and exhausting, depending on where you are, what there is to see, how long your day has already been and who is in the back seat.

With that in mind, it is especially important to pack snacks and meals that you will give you sustained energy while on the road.

Sandwiches with lean protein on whole-grain bread, hard-boiled eggs, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts and pretzels, string cheese, granola bars and snacks in pouches can all work great. Even a little dark chocolate is healthy when consumed in moderation. If, however, you turn to candy bars and chips, you will experience a crash at some point that will likely drastically reduce your endurance and focus.

Finally, don’t forget about hydration. While it might entail extra restroom stops, drink water along the way so that you are hydrated and healthy when you arrive at your destination.

If you aren’t already a pro at packing healthy food for road trips, give it a try as you set off this season. You can save time and money, reduce your consumption of fried or fatty foods, and worry less about scheduling breaks to stop and eat. And, when you pack right, you will consume the foods that give you energy and focus, whether you’re just traveling across state lines or are off on a month-long adventure.