Let me start by saying that there has been a whole lot of trial and error in the road food department over the last 5 years. We took our first 12-hour road trip when the twins were 3 months old. Since then we have spent well over 100 nights in our RV.
So although we have had some epic food prep fails, I do feel like we have a working set of rules in place. If we follow the system, everyone tends to stay happy and healthy. Veer off the path too far, and we tend to have sugar highs and crashing melt down lows. Or worse yet, our vacation can become a series of power-struggle eating standoffs with the tiny totalitarians.
In order to avoid such a state of affairs, here are my current food commandments:
1. Do eat on the road similar to how you eat at home. Familiar foods will make traveling easier for your kids. I meal plan for the entire trip no matter how long it is, and then my grocery shopping trip looks a lot like an average weekly haul. Our breakfasts include yogurt, oatmeal, and cereal with fruit. Lunches are hummus with veggies, good ole’ PBJ, and tuna sandwiches. For dinners I think in terms of quick working night meals, easy grilling kabobs, or my favorite crock pot recipes. I don’t want to be worried about getting back to make dinner while I am on vacation. Rolling into the campground after a long, fun day of activity calls for low-key and easy meals.
2. Do feed your kids lots of fruits and veggies. If you are not careful while traveling, you can get to the end of the day and realize you didn’t put anything green into your body. A change of routine can be hard enough on some kids. When you change their diet dramatically as well, you can get those highs and lows that parents dread. One of the best ways to make sure that kids are eating well on the road is to pick whatever local produce is in season, or just visit the local farm stands. Our boys adore visiting a farm and stuffing as many blueberries/strawberries/raspberries/apples as they possibly can into their mouths. And there you have it folks– activity and nutrition in one fell swoop!
3. Do make compromises for convenience. I am one of those shoppers that HATES paying more for individually wrapped items. I think, why buy a cooked rotisserie when I make it myself for half the cost? I have learned that loosening up on this can actually help my family eat better while traveling. If I buy those salad kits with everything already chopped and diced, then I am more likely to get that salad on the table at night (this was a recent aha moment). If I get small cups of applesauce or packages of baby carrots, then our picnic lunches are easy and healthy. I earn my carbon credits at home using lunch boxes and tupperware. Then I spend them all on small baggies of Pirate Booty for the road.
4. Do reward your kids for being troopers in the world of family travel. Kids are creatures of habit and it can be a challenge to experience new and different things every day of a vacation. I promise you that you will never find a cheaper way to reward your kids than with camp store ice cream. When Max and Theo climb to that summit with us, they know what is waiting for them back at the campground. It keeps them motivated and excited, so that is worth it to us. They know that this is something special that only happens when we travel, and boy do they look forward to it.
5. Do experience the local food culture. We generally plan on eating out for dinner one night during our stay at any given place. Oftentimes, though, we end up eating out a few lunches instead. We try to make these meals really count, hoping that they highlight the best that the region has to offer. Another trick is to shop at local farm markets and festivals and bring the treats back to the campground. I have enjoyed artisan cheeses and homemade fudge around the camp fire at night. To be honest, they probably tasted a whole lot better since the kids were in bed.
6. Do eat outside whenever possible. This should be a no brainer, but I feel compelled to list it. If a place has picnic tables, it is for you, oh parent. If you want to really enjoy your food, then your kids need a little room to breathe [i.e. act like wild animals].
7. Do NOT make breakfast into a Thanksgiving dinner event. I had to include one negative, and this is worth it. I’m not sure why camping is associated with large breakfasts that take tons of time to prepare and even more time to clean up. We fell into the eggs, bacon, and pancake trap back in the early years, too. Then we realized half our day was gone, our bellies felt like lead balloons, and we were supposed to go for a hike. We will usually do the big breakfast deal one morning on each trip, but for all the other times, oatmeal, fruit, and nuts gets us out of the RV and exploring our surroundings without all the hoopla. And that’s why we do what we do in the first place.
Happy camping. Happy chowing.