on cars and food.

July 21, 2009
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today we are making another journey northward to celebrate the wedding of james’s sister in new york’s finger lakes! the car is packed, and we’re leaving in the wee hours of the morning to arrive in new york by the late afternoon. having lived in north carolina for the past two years, we have made this journey more times than i care to remember. the bad news is, the ride never gets any shorter. the good news is, we are better prepared each time. and by better prepared, i mean, of course, we have better food. because, let’s be honest, the food consumed on a car trip can make or break the experience.
 
growing up, my family took a lot of road trips. four kids meant that flying was out of the question, but with relatives in toronto and raleigh, we had some traveling to do. before each journey, my dear, dear mother would lovingly pack all manner of healthy choices for us to munch on in the car–carrot sticks, grapes, cheese, crackers, apple&eve juice boxes–all of which was utterly and completely unappreciated by her four, darling daughters. what we really wanted was a bag of bugles (to stick on our fingers), a fistful of chips ahoy cookies, and hi-c juice boxes. but to no avail. no, our trusty igloo cooler was packed to the brim with blue ice-packs and my mom’s choice of healthy snacks.
 
my parents drove the hoard of us around in a blue mini-van and i sat in the “way-back” with my sister caitlin. the twins, laura and devan, comandeered the front seat (a position that became coveted later in life when we got a second-generation van, this one with “bucket-seats”). but even after the little bench was replaced with the ever-more desirable buckets, i enjoyed my seat in the back for one, ugly reason. it meant that i would not be responsible for doling out the goods from the cooler. there, i said it. the effort of having to lift my gaze from the ramona quimby i was in the midst of devouring so that i could reach my hand into the cooler, plastic bags wet with melted ice, and distribute 100% juice, juice boxes and stale crackers to my sisters, was far more than i was willing to expend, and i was never very good at pretending to be asleep.
 
well, a lot of time has passed since those days, and i’ve learned a few things. namely, how to get james to fish for things in the cooler now that my sisters aren’t always handy. just kidding. mostly. no, but seriously, i’ve wised up a bit, and now that i pack my own cooler, i have a few car-trip must-haves.
 
1. water: plenty of it.
2. dried mango: no need to keep it cold, thereby eliminating need for icepacks. so, so tasty.
3. fresh fruit: apples are preferable. not sticky or messy.
4. chocolate: for obvious reasons.
5. cashews: salty. tasty. no messy shells.
 
and two good rules to live by:
 
1. rest-stops should be used for peeing and buying the occasional cup of hot coffee. never for eating.
 
2. dried mango will only get you so far. if you stumble upon a little local eatery, stop the car. get out. enjoy a real meal. you will arrive all the happier.
 
so, let’s have it, what are your favorite car-trip foods?

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25 Comments

  • Reply Lisa-Marie July 21, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Even for a 3 hour drive I pack food, because I can't drive, and I know the husband will get hungry. We take sandwiches – usually cheese and ham or pastrami, sushi, little oranges, a 6 pack of little bottles of flavoured water or juice, and a bag of crisps, usually Doritos. We also do 1 stop to get the husband a coffee, and me a tea. for a 3 hour drive, this is enough for there and back, when we do a a 5 or 10 hour, we add stops and make food for the way back!

  • Reply Olivia Rae July 21, 2009 at 11:02 am

    loved reading this because I am packing and getting ready to leave for dc right now! food really does make or break the experience… what else is there to look forward to driving all day (besides getting there!). i'm going to go pack some yummy dried fruit and definitely chocolate. have a good trip!

  • Reply Rebecca July 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    i'm a fan of finding local ma and pa joints too. in the car, we usually stock up on foods that can go in wraps…cheese, spinach, pre-sliced vegs, some meats for allan. a wrap is so simple and so satisfying. happy travels.

  • Reply naturally nina July 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    music! 🙂

    great post, erin.

  • Reply Beth July 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Big bag o' pretzels! In the past couple years, I've taken more long plane flights than car trips…for some reason I love having Mike n' Ikes about halfway through a long flight.

  • Reply blue moss July 21, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    a bag of red twizzlers…that have been been opened before the trip so that they are slightly stale and chewier. ….and i have to stop at dairy queen for a reeses p-nut buttercup blizzard….have to!!

  • Reply knack July 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    oh my word this post made me laugh so hard! We used to drive across country to visit relatives and one year we did it in our friends bright orange volkswagon vanagon! Wish I had that sucker now!

    We laugh about how my mom would pack a cooler full of food and we would stop in a Mcdonalds parking lot and pull out our picnic and eat it …..or at a rest stop! Oh my……those were the days!

    We love road trips now as a family….but we stop at fun places to eat! There are plenty of snacks because my husband is all about the snack bag and it consists of skitttles , mike and ikes, chex mix, fruit snacks, chips, and juice and sodas! Maybe we need to be a little healthier:)

  • Reply Julia July 21, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    First off, loved the description of you and your family's road trips 🙂

    Second: Mike 'n Ikes

  • Reply Julia (Color Me Green) July 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    you two certainly take a lot of long car trips! i just drove to a finger lakes wedding a couple weekends ago and it was a long haul even from nyc with the traffic. i like to pack sandwiches so we don't have to stop for an overpriced lunch, chips, bananas, and LOTS of water.

  • Reply Meghan July 21, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    This post totally took me back to the road trips of my childhood. 🙂

    I rarely travel without some kind of (healthy-ish) snack mix. It keeps the temptations at bay when we stop at the gas station!

  • Reply our little love nest July 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    The best idea for a post ever. I love car trip memories in the wood paneled station wagon from the 70's with my sister and brother in the back seat all squishied up. Our favourite snacks were Canadian smarties (kind of like m&ms only better), pretzels, trail mix and lots of water…Many years later with 4 kiddos and a hubby, we pick up cajun peanuts (deep fried badness..goodness…however you want to look at it), dried fruit, pretzels and dark chocolate with loads of water.
    I wish we could live on the road with a vintage wood paneled station wagon and an Airstream. Maybe we should look into busking for a living. 😉
    Hoping you have the best road trip ever.xoxo

  • Reply Caroline July 21, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Ah yes, my childhood car trips also consisted of many apple and eve juice boxes (I always begged fro Ecto Cooler instead) and fights with my sister over who had to pass the food up to my parents and whose feet the cooler bag should be under. There is a great deli en route to my grandparents house (Rein's) for those of you from CT, and my sister and hated it so much for years because it meant that there was no way we would get to eat at McDonald's (a special treat that we only got on road trips and airports). Eating at Rein's recently, I was surprised at how good it is.

  • Reply Stacey July 21, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    So enjoyed reading your post.

    Many summers my sisters and I were packed in the station wagon for several hours at a time, filled with excitement at the adventure that lay ahead, keeping busy with books and drawing supplies.

    My road trip snack, trail mix among other things.

  • Reply Stephanie Nikolopoulos July 21, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    I've been hearing a lot about the wine in the Finger Lakes….

  • Reply adrienne July 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Boy always drives and I'm in charge of the food. He loves Sun Chips, but I bring the fruit and nuts (pistachios or almonds). If we're going to the beach, we'll pack a cooler with goat cheese, avocado, tomato baugette to split!

  • Reply Amy@OldSweetSong July 21, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Travel safely, friend! I like anything with peanut butter (ants on a log would be good) and also, sunflower seeds.

  • Reply cindy q July 21, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    safe travels! we love pretzels!

  • Reply Amanda Nicole July 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Bugles! I think my parents vetoed Bugles on our road trips because my sister and I had to toot (doo-doo-doo-doooo!) every time we ate one. We had plenty of juice boxes, but we'd wait until we got across the border to get Tim's potato chips or Thundercrunch chips. Man, those were tasty.

    Now that I'm grown up, though, I prefer a trail mix with lots of sunflower seeds and raisins, and some Twizzlers.

  • Reply Joslyn July 21, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    we take a little insulated bag with ice packs and fill it with cheese sticks…my girlies love those. I also keep a big bag with Almonds for me, TLC bars, grapes, apples, annies cheddar bunnies and some chocolate for when the girlies are good 😉 + everyone gets a sigg bottle with lemonaid.

  • Reply cupcake July 21, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Dried mango is possibly the best dried fruit I've ever had! Good call.

    When I was a kid back in the UK there was an awesome diner called 'big al's' that did awesome diner food and gave out major portions. Now I live in Canada I'm still hunting for an equivalent… especially as I'm about to make a 15 hour trip to BC from Alberta! A good diner is a road trip must have for sure 🙂

  • Reply Jonathan July 22, 2009 at 2:37 am

    I like to snack on a mixture of halved pecans and raisins. So yummy.

    Cashews, timbits, celery with peanut butter, and bubble teas would be fun to have on road trips.

  • Reply Erin July 22, 2009 at 4:07 am

    yum! you guys have the most awesome car trip food, ever! we arrived safely–a bit later than expected, but happy all the same! and nothing, not nothing beats a homecooked meal. xo.

  • Reply denise July 23, 2009 at 12:30 am

    My dad usually packed sandwiches (I liked ham & cheese and my sister liked PB&J), chips (Jay's BBQ chips!), and lots of fruit. He often packed sticky juicy fruit like plums and peaches. I guess we made a mess, but no one seemed to mind.

  • Reply Vicky July 19, 2013 at 7:33 am

    Very old post, but I just read it and since I love road-trips and everything that pertains to them, here's my best tip: trail mix (especially from trader joe's) The most fun part about it: when it gets dark, you can'T see what you're getting so every handful is a surprise! Ah, the small things in life.

  • Reply Momofthree October 29, 2014 at 3:05 am

    2 people have mentioned Mike and Ikes and I have no idea what they are. I'm off to google them now.

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