Large Family Road Trip Food: Tips from a Mom of 15

Family road trip food does not have to mean a messy, junk-food, free-for-all. There are ways to pack snacks and meals that save money, time and mess!

Large Family Travel- Eating on a Road Trip

If you have been keeping up with my series on traveling as a large family, you will remember that we started our small army back when we had nine children and a limited budget. Over the years I learned, with a whole lot of prayer and a bit of ingenuity, just how to keep us all satisfied and happy while keeping mess and expense to a minimum.

Here are a few practices I put into place:

Sack lunches.

These can be filled with frozen sandwiches (that will thaw as you ride, click here for guidelines and ideas), cut veggies (the sandwiches keep things cool), a salty snack that is not too messy such as pretzels, and a pre-baked cookie or two that is not crumbly (fig bars are great for this, and you can purchase them in healthy configurations). You could even include a “prize” in each sack, such as a page of stickers or a balloon to blow up–you could purchase a whole bag of party favors for a dollar and place one in each bag, or you could keep these as a reward for any child who eats quickly and without mess.

Loose snacks.

This is best when dealing with very small children. The trick is to keep a cooler easily accessible (we kept ours between the two seats in the front of the van) that is filled with things like cheese sticks, baby carrots, wrapped sandwiches, grapes, milk for the tiny ones, etc. Another box can house dry snacks such as stick pretzels, beef jerky, dried fruit, and some home-baked treats.

Purchase your special snacks in advance locally so that you aren’t tempted to buy some along the way. This is when your shopping skills can come in! If you have time to plan ahead, watch for those sales after holidays and squirrel some special treats, like chocolate, away. Look for coupons, buy in bulk, watch the mark-down bins. Make sure and include a few yummy treats that are special to your family (such as a bag of mini candy bars or some licorice sticks or fruit leathers, and sugarless BUBBLE GUM!) so that no one feels deprived; after all, it is supposed to be FUN!


Prepackage everything in small zip-style bags so that you can pass them out evenly among your children. There is something about divvying up a bag of pretzels on the road that brings out the monster in siblings!


While traveling (actually at any time) this is our preferred beverage–if you have a spill, you don’t have to worry about sticky messes, and it doesn’t add extra sugar, etc. into the mix (even juice and milk, except for babies, are no-no’s). You can purchase bottled water enough for everyone, which can be just another huge, heavy item to lug around, or you can purchase sippy-cups and water bottles enough for everyone and simply fill them up as you go along (the dollar store usually has such a variety of these that there should be a way to ensure that each family member has his/her own distinctive color and style).


If you can, cover the seats with old sheets that you don’t mind putting holes in for the seat belts. This way, you can just take the whole sheet out and shake it when you need to.


Pack a small broom in the car for sweeping it out as the need arises.


Wet wipes are a must! So are paper towels for spills and grocery bags for trash.

Oh, and make sure the driver (Daddy) is well-equipped with all of the things he likes best!

Also, don’t forget to plan for the trip back. Having an extra stash of pre-packaged dry snacks in a box sealed with tape is a good idea (you may need to keep this one inaccessible to those who would sneak).

Unless you are traveling to some remote part of the country, you can shop at your destination for the necessary chilled items such as milk, etc.

I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything–what are some of your tips and tricks?


12 thoughts on “Large Family Road Trip Food: Tips from a Mom of 15”

  1. We like to choose bite-sized snacks like oyster crackers, dry cereal, or teddy bear graham crackers. There’s less mess when taking bites doesn’t produce more and more crumbs like full size crackers or cookies.

      • I like to buy ice at a gas station and fill everyone’s water bottles with ice and a tiny bit of water. The ice helps keep everyone cool and melts slowly so kids aren’t drinking too much and needing to pee all the time. If anyone needs more water, they can have some right before we stop.

  2. When traveling long distances as a large family, I find it necessary to get us all on similar eating and bathroom schedules. I do not start the trip with food, but introduce snacks after an hour or two. Drinks are given last and we usually need to stop within an hour of giving those. This gets us in a nice rhythm with the fueling stops. If I allow free reign, we stop almost hourly!

  3. I was so proud of myself at vacation time last year. I bought each of the 6 middle kids a shoe box sized tote. In it I put fun stuff to do (crayons and coloring books, activity pads, etc.) as well as ziploc bags of snacks. We had an 8 hour trip and every hour they were allowed to eat a snack. It worked very well for the first 4 hours of the trip. Then our 15 passenger van broke down and we sat for over three hours in a gas station parking lot while a good Samaritan drove my dh and the oldest daughter on a two hour round trip to get a couple rental cars. After a few hours of sitting there no one cared about the snacks! It was a good idea while it lasted though 🙂

    • Great idea–even the best of plans can be way-laid, that’s when God’s gift of patience comes in most handy! 🙂

  4. My mom taught me to make sandwiches in hot dog buns for car trips. For some reason, the “filling” stays in better than it does when little hands are holding bread and doesn’t soak through. Buns just hold up better for awkward meals!

  5. We give our younger kids a mix of cereal with holes in them and a string in a small bag to make a necklace they can eat. We also go to the dollar store or goodwill and pick up small toys and wrap them up and hand them out for good behavior on long road trips( 1 per day ). They love the surprises


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