Best And Worst Road Trip Foods

By Sunday, August 11, 2013 13 0

My usual road trip car, a 2000 Honda Insight. This zippy little zephyr gets 57 mpg.

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.

 Savory zucchini pancakes Compact, non-crumbly and fairly protein-rich, these are one of the few homemade food besides burritos that make my cut as road-trip worthy.

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?

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  • Matthew
    December 14, 2013

    Interesting but healthy? I would suggest preparing Carrot and Celery sticks. The Tomatoes are great and go well with Cucumber. Water is most important for staying Alert. Pack a fresh fruti mix and leave the nuts to a minimum (like 4 in a 4 hour period) and up the ante to being Walnuts… the healthier choice. Tortiilas have Lectin, which is poison for our bodies and makes one tired, so try getting your Carbs from Fruit and Veggies :-) Hope I was a help…. oh, check into the health benefits of visiting Co. or Wa. as they have the only laws legalizing the most healthy plant on this planet!

    • Kate
      March 31, 2014

      Matthew- I agree with your healthy suggestions of carrots and celery. However, I must say, I’ve never seen an arrest for driving under the influence of carrots, like I have seen for your “most healthy plant,” clearly pot. I *have* seen multiple car crashes and deaths after someone has smoked your “healthy plant” and driven. Just sayin’. This IS a road trip post. Get me celery drunk any day of the week, dude.

  • Dana
    August 20, 2013

    I think snacking while driving can help you stay alert. I like coffee and trailmix to start…last night’s pizza if I’m lucky. Usually though, I’ll end up with more distracting fare like fast food burritos and quesadillas …
    PB&Js always taste best in an atmosphere of scarcity.

  • Debra Yearwood
    August 18, 2013

    It took me so long to figure out that junk food is the worst food to have on a road trip. I’d get to the end of my trip and feel ill and wonder what the heck I’d been thinking, then do it all over again! Cut up apples, grapes and crackers are my current favourites.

    • Alison
      August 19, 2013

      Debra, I really relate. It takes me so long to figure some things out!

  • Susan Cooper
    August 18, 2013

    Love the story and I could’t agree with you more with your list and about food on the road. My downfall is cookies. I really have to reframe from buying AND eating them in the car. :-)

  • Dan
    August 18, 2013

    On the PBJs: use a tortilla wrap to contain the gloop and reduce crumbs. You may also want to substitute raisins for jelly.

    • Alison
      August 19, 2013

      Good one, Dan. Raisins definitely make more sense than jam or jelly.

  • Patricia Fortea
    August 14, 2013

    Dear Alison,
    My name is Patricia Fortea and I work for an online marketing company.

    I am contacting you on behalf of a client who would like to appear in your blog.

    If you are interested, please get back at me as soon as possible for further details. We would like to count on you in this campaign as well as in the future.

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    • Alison
      August 14, 2013

      Patricia, I doubt that my blog is going to be part of a company’s marketing campaign. But I just sent you an email. Thanks.

  • Alison
    August 13, 2013

    Mike, I’m currently on yet another road trip, with my energy flagging. So, it lifted me up to hear that the post made you laugh. I agree that the coconut cream pie episode was wacky and misguided :)

  • Mike
    August 13, 2013

    This was such a fun post to read, Alison! Just yesterday I was eating a sandwich in the Jeep and a bit of the dressing dripped onto the console. You are so spot on with road trip friendly foods and those that are not. I burst out laughing about the Coconut Cream Pie!! :)