This week’s post is on the lighter side, like when I fell in love with WES, and the time I wrung my hands over whether or not I’m a hippie. (To be honest, those were funnier than this piece, but this one is more helpful.) I’ve just returned from another work road trip to Oregon’s beautiful South Coast, and while I know this isn’t my classiest habit, I eat a lot of breakfasts and lunches in my car. The long distances I drive between the wonderful small towns of Southwest Oregon pretty much demand it.
While my diet is by no means free of junk food, I maintain that the most pleasing road trip food is not junk food, but healthy food. For a lively discussion of food choices, transportation choices and other diamond-cut life topics, here’s a podcast in which I appeared. Road trip fodder for the ears.
Loads of research has made clear that distracted driving is dangerous driving. I’ve logged so many road trips and car meals, I’ve developed a diamond-cut standard of best and worst eating practices aimed at minimal driving distractions, plus eating pleasure, plus nutrition. Let’s tackle the worst practices first.
Worst Foods To Eat While Driving
Coconut cream pie. In my defense, the only reason I ate this once while driving last year is that the oversized piece the restaurant gave me was impossible to finish after dinner. There most of it sat in the car with me the next day, large and fluffy and needing to be eaten. So I ate it. Without a fork. Bad idea. It was like a slapstick Marx brothers pie-in-the-face movie. The only solution here is to not order coconut cream pie on road trips.
Leftover enchilada casserole I love leftovers of all kinds, since like my friend Colleen I hate things to go to waste, plus, who would cook more often than they have to? That said, leftovers from homemade food seem to translate into road trip meals in only a few ways, which I list below under Best Foods.
Hamburgers The pickles and other good things have a distressing habit of falling out onto one’s lap. This is true of almost all sandwiches. Maybe you like sandwiches with only one thing in them. But I don’t.
Milkshakes They sit so heavily in the stomach they could make you fall asleep. Falling asleep at the wheel would be the worst possible practice. Heavy foods in general aren’t the best road trip food, in my view.
Cookies Possibly you love to eat these while driving. I’m not here to rain on your road trip parade. I have a personal policy against cookies for three reasons: they’re addictive, with no natural stopping point; their sugar content gives me too much of the wrong kind of energy; they create more crumbs in my lap and car than Hansel and Gretel needed to find their way back out of the forest. Actually, the first two reasons explain why my household doesn’t buy or make cookies at all. We’ve got our vices, but cookies aren’t among them.
Best Foods To Eat While Driving
Homemade burritos These work splendidly if they’re not packed too full and they have internal cohesion (cohesion defeats crumbling). I make breakfast burritos by slicing and sauteeing whatever vegetables I have on hand (leeks are my favorite, including the green tops) and then scrambling eggs into them. Grated cheese creates the crucial cohesion factor. I use cayenne pepper for heat, because salsa is too watery and drips onto me. I wrap the filling in whole wheat tortillas, and then package in sturdy aluminum foil to guard against smushing.
Cheese and crackers This is my standard lunch, along with one or two of the following three items. Triscuits are my cracker of choice because they are 100% whole wheat and contain no sugar (while I love sugar in my coffee, it incenses me that the average cracker has sugar among its ingredients). If you bite along the horizontal strata of a Triscuit, it will snap obligingly without crumbling. Pleasing and elegant.
Peppers I eat these like apples, the advantage over apples being that the leftover core is harmless, not sticky. And peppers have fewer calories.
Grapes These are my favorite road trip fruit because they are bite-size and unlike many fruits, they leave no messy traces (the benign little twiggy stems don’t count as mess).
Cherry or grape tomatoes They explode in my mouth with all the pulpy, juicy goodness of a forbidden fruit. Wonderful in combination with crackers and cheese, also burritos. One reason the best road trip food is healthy food is that we digest it more quickly and easily than heavy, fatty food. That means our minds are left clearer for work or for pleasure.
Roasted almonds. Also roasted cashews — both are tasty and highly nutritious — but almonds cost less. Peanuts are far and away the cheapest nut, but are oilier and less charismatic.
Honorable Mention Road Trip Food
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches The make-or-break with this perennial favorite is keeping the jam or jelly well inside the sandwich. If you can pull that off, you’ve got a great road trip food that is famously thrifty and non-perishable. Colleen made us fantastic PBJ sandwiches on Dave’s Killer Bread for our mountain-climbing expedition last weekend (they just slayed me, ha ha). And, my friend Dana, an ICU nurse eats PBJ when he drives home from work after his 13 hour shifts. So it’s a breakfast of champions, if you can keep the oozy/sticky factor at bay. If you fail in that, keep moist towelettes in your food bag. If you rebel against buying these as I do, a moist napkin inside a plastic bag also does the job.
Over to you: what’s your favorite road trip food?