We’re planning a trip to the mountains of my childhood.
This involves a goodly trek: ten hours each way in the car if I’m careful with rest breaks. My brother swears you can make the trip in six hours, but there’s a reason he gets speeding tickets and I do not. (I don’t mean for that to sound as supercilious as it types out. Well, mostly not, anyhow.)
Over the years, we’ve developed a system of stops and breaks that works for us. And when I say “us”, I mean: caters to the easily-bored Mother of Minions, who doesn’t like to sit still for anything longer than 90 minutes at a stretch, and thinks Southern Idaho is about the most boring, desolate drive in the entire universe. Scientists interested in developing teleportation devices need to make this drive about 40 times in a row, as they’d find tremendous incentive for their work. It is really, really dull. You’ve never seen so many miles of nothing, so well-fenced. (Well, unless you’ve driven across portions of Texas or Montana. Distances are really distant here in the West.)
We leave beastly early in the morning (I’m thoroughly convinced that each day should have only one 5 o’clock in it, but trip days have two) in order to travel with snoozy children as far as possible.
Here’s the plan:
Leave here Beastly Early; drive to the Oasis stop outside of Twin Falls, refuel, and wiggle/eat breakfast in the small grassy area there. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom jumping around.
Commence driving and get as far as Mountain Home, where there’s a very nice visitor’s center with lots of grass and a hill. Have a snack. The children avert their eyes, so as not to be embarrassed by Mom rolling down the hills (wearing long sleeves… I’m allergic to grass.) Eventually, they will all roll with me.
Commence driving, and get through Boise and into Ontario with a minimum of whining (from me). Refuel, and eat a light lunch. Cavorting ensues.
Commence driving, and listen to Mom wax excitable as we hit “home territories”. That means it’s only another 3.5 hours! Make it as far as Brogan, and stop for a toilet break, light snack, and purchased drinks at the Brogan store. We stop there, as they don’t look at you funny if you use the bathroom and don’t buy something. Since they don’t mind if we don’t, we always buy drinks. Nice people!
Eventually, we get to Grandma’s house, she feeds us, and we try to re-set and get on the Home time zone. Usually, we’ll take over several meals during our stay, so along with road foods, we need to plan for visiting food, too, but that’s another blog post.
So, what exactly is Road Food?
For some families, it might mean Fast Food Restaurant Food. However, this is the West, where distances are distant, if you’ll recall. Sometimes, a required stop for fuel and bathrooms doesn’t coincide with Fast Food Franchise plans. Even if it did, our family is large enough that each fast food stop will cost $20 to $30, and for a ten-hour drive, we’re looking at between two and four stops, so that’s not happening with our trip budget.
My kids once tried to wheedle me into buying stacks of Lunchables for a trip. We did buy one, and took it home to taste test. It did not pass muster with the kids, either on flavor, quality, or quantity. (“Why is this meat slimy? Where’s the rest of it? Six crackers? Are they kidding? Why is this cheese rubbery? How come everything is so salty? This drink pack is gross!” My children do not have futures as test subjects for the Industrial Food Complex.)
Then we took advantage of Reason to Homeschool #567: All Life Is Learning, and priced out what else we could buy. That turned out to be Quite a Lot, and they immediately began plans to convince me that any saved money should really be diverted to the Souvenirs Fund. (They didn’t happen to win this entirely, but they did prevail on one trip through the Tillamook Cheese factory, wherein they requested ice cream, got permission for said ice cream, noticed the per-scoop cost of said ice cream, and volunteered to fore-go said ice cream if they could each buy a pocket knife with their name on it instead. I couldn’t really resist that sort of decision-making. And, since the Eldest can easily resist ice cream, and the Boy cannot easily resist adding to his pocket knife arsenal, it worked for them, too.)
Instead of prepared foods or chain restaurants, we pack a wide variety of family favorites in a cooler and shopping bags, already prepped for easy consumption, and really enjoy our road food. It’s filling, but light enough that we don’t have car-sick incidents in most cases, and it’s all fairly non-mess-making, too. Our “standard” Road Food includes:
- Home-sliced cheeses, generally including provolone, cheddar, or colby-jack, but sometimes including an herbed cheese spread we make ourselves, or goat cheese from the Farmer’s Market (in season).
- a box or two of Really Nice Crackers. Right now, those are the Multi-Grain Toppers, but I’ve been watching Alton Brown, and am getting brave about making our own crackers! For the “Goldfish” crowd, I can substitute my darling Mother-in-Law’s famous cheese biscuits, which are home-baked cheese cookies that very much meet the needs of little kids, and are flat-out addictive for everyone else.
- Home-sliced real ham and turkey
- Child-selected fresh fruits in season, which are then “broken down” at home and bagged for easier eating. Apples get sliced and cored, then bagged with pineapple juice or lemon juice to prevent them browning. Bananas are kept whole. Oranges are sliced at home. Grapes are sectioned off into small clusters. A big fat Asian pear is more likely to be kept intact, but we’ll pack the small cutting board and the little corer/slicer thingy to take care of it on the road.
- Raw veg, cut and bagged at home. Why spend more on pre-bagged veggies? It takes only a few minutes to slice up carrot coins and celery sticks, or de-floret some broccoli and cauliflower. Snap peas need no further treatment. My Eldest usually packs a small bag of raw spinach to munch or add to crackers.
- Dried fruits and nuts from the bulk foods section, with each trip participant choosing one item. This gives variety, and allows us to try something new each time, too. Because it’s all bought in bulk, the price point is quite low.
- Rolls. Not all the kids eat bread, but for those who do, quick sandwiches can be made with meat, cheese, veg, and a roll.
- Small Bits of Good Stuff, like a little jar of marinated artichoke hearts, a few pepperoncini, a bag of black olives, and another of sour dill pickles. We’ll also include small re-usable jars of various mustards, nut-butters, and jams that don’t require refrigeration.
- Homemade cookies or granola for sweet snacks
- Our own water bottles, filled and frozen the night before, plus several gallons of drinking water for the car.
So, we’re not exactly talking bread-and-water privation here. It’s really good food, and in some cases, gourmet food. Anything that’s best kept cold goes into a small cooler, and everything else is stored in reusable shopping bags. Because the cooler needs are quite small (really, only the cold meats require it, and we could entirely skip meats for a trip without any problems), our ice needs are minimal. Eating foods that don’t require refrigeration for safety is inherently safer all around. We’re not going to be surprised by “not quite adequately refrigerated deli pasta salad” at any point.
The actual quantities of any one food are fairly small; the wide variety allows for this. We also try to limit snacks to break stops, which puts a bit of the kibosh on “I’m bored” snacking during the drive, and definitely cuts down on the mess. (We also bring along plastic grocery sacks as disposable trash bags, and clear out the car with every single stop. It keeps The Mom from going entirely smack out of her tiny mind, or wanting to barf from smelling banana peel for the next two hours.)
The thing I like best about our Road Food is how it makes me feel. I get a good balance of sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy; a good balance of carbs, proteins, and fats; a lot of water and water-rich foods to keep me hydrated. So, I show up tired, but not groggy, and not bloated and slightly greasy from soda and chips. And since I’m already nearly dead of boredom, and ready to take up a second career as the kind of scientist who develops teleportation machines, that’s rather a nice thing.