10 Hacks for Large Family Road Trip Food

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!

For about a decade our family of 17 traveled frequently with our Daddy for His work. 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:

1.Brown Bag it

Snag some cheap lunch bags and fill them 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.

2.Keep 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!

3.Only Buy the Main Part of the Meal

If you find you need (or desire) some fast food, try purchasing only the burger or the taco or the chicken and use your own drinks and sides (such as chips). This way you will still enjoy the benefit of some warm food while saving a bunch of money on over-priced soft drinks and other unnecessary items.

3. Keep it Even-Steven With Baggies

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!

4.Cool, Clear Water…

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).

5.Keep Cleanup Easy

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.

6.Bring Along a Broom

Pack a small broom in the car for sweeping it out as the need arises. Car vacs are great on TV, but usually not powerful enough for a whole cup full of Cheerios. Besides, most brooms slide in easily along the seats or other storage areas so they don’t take up precious cargo room.

7.Don’t forget wet wipes, paper towels, and old grocery bags…

When you have 15 children you can never forget these essentials. They cover everything from bottom cleaning to nose cleaning to fixing the car up after an unfortunate bout of motion sickness (yech!)

8.Don’t Forget 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).

9.Remember, You Can Pick it Up Later

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.

10.Don’t Forget the Parents

Yep, that’s YOU and YOUR HUSBAND. After you’ve passed out the animal cookies and apples, surprise your man with a bag of his favorite chips or some other fancy-schmancy (healthy, of course) treat for yourself :).

10 Hacks for Large Family Road Trip Food

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


16 thoughts on “10 Hacks for Large Family Road Trip Food”

  1. Love this! Thanks for the easy checklist! Only thing I would add, related to 2-3, is that instead of prepacking baggies (using valuable packing time at home), we bring along a stack of small paper cups, which I can refill from big Costco treat containers as needed.

  2. This is awesome! We have a 2 day road trip coming up this fall (Canada to Florida!). I will be using all these tips for sure!

  3. A box of exam gloves. They save your hand when cleaning really big messes. Like when my toddler’s diaper leaked the whole way out of the restaurant 50 miles from home. The friend had the gloves, we had a new jug of water in the back of the truck from a recent tranny flush. Some wipes as a rag and JR. got a shower right on the tailgate. It was that bad. Since then I’ve always kept gloves in my rig. And since plastic grocery bags are no longer used here I get a couple rolls of pet poop scoop bags. They pack really small and work for all sorts of things.

    Loved Rivkah’s idea of paper cups. We are getting ready to drive from Alaska to southern NM and back with our crew. 8500 miles in 3 weeks and more than 1/3 will be through the wilderness where store are few, far between and more expensive than a convenient store in the 48 ever dreamed of being. So this post is a huge help for me planning this trip. Thanks so much!

  4. Hey ladies, any suggestions for milk cups while traveling? Since we are traveling straight through, driving night and day for about 4 days I don’t know how I’ll keep milk cups from getting smelly and nasty, nor do I want to have to heat water and wash them every day. You know how those valves and spout crevices get curdled milk in them when they get left under the couch a day or 2? I thought about the disposable sippies from Walmart but that would be A LOT of waste. Any other ideas? I may just have to carry bottle brushes and q tips and clean them anyway but if I can find a way to streamline this… Thanks for all the good ideas!

    • I would skip the milk — it’s only 4 days — and do cheese snacks instead and water. There are lots of reasons to skip milk on a long road trip, at least for my family 🙂

      If I *had* to do milk, I would buy paper cups and only let them have it at rest stations, outside of the car.

  5. I revisited this article as we headed out for a long holiday weekend this Thanksgiving. It really helped me to plan and prepare and gave us a much more peaceful and sane road trip. Thanks for the advice, Sherry.

  6. Travelling makes me batty so I do it as little as possible, but when I do have to travel…
    Make and freeze green smoothies and put those in the cooler instead of ice. They’ll save room, keep everything else cold, and you have an easy way to get a lot of veggies into your kids (our favorite smoothie: spinach, banana, pineapple, mango, coconut milk).

    Take your crockpot and eat in the hotel to save money. You can freeze individually wrapped servings of food (burritos, omelets, cheese and ham sandwiches and put them in the crockpot to warm and melt, or make simple meals: I had a lot of remodeling done on my house a couple years ago and my family of 7 lived in a hotel for a week. Some meals we enjoyed:
    1. Pasta + bag of frozen meatballs + jar of sauce + refill the sauce jar with water and pour in + parmesan cheese + spinach (add in the last few minutes of cooking).
    2. Crockpot Mac n cheese. Pasta, milk, a couple oz Velveeta, salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, bag of frozen broccoli, add cheddar cheese in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking.
    3. Chicken, frozen peas and carrots, frozen hash browns, can of cream of mushroom soup. If you run out of room in the mini fridge, this can all be kept in the cooler and you can use the hotel’s ice machine to refill the cooler.

    • Wow–these are such great ideas! I myself have used the crockie in hotels, one thing we did was to cook ahead some egg rolls individually wrapped. Thanks for the input 🙂

  7. After our last 1000 mile road trip, in which two of my kids got sick in the car with one hour to go, I invested in some seat covers from Amazon. The last thing I wanted to do when getting home at midnight with sick kids was clean the car as well as it should have been cleaned. There’s lots of different types and sizes for different types of cars and you can leave them in all the time or just put them for longer drives. Well worth $15!
    Also I keep old grocery bags, wet wipes, paper towel and toilet paper in the pocket behind the driver and passenger seats. They came in handy that night!

    Also before kids we used to like buying those Starbucks cold frap drinks from the gas station when going on trips. They’ve gotten so expensive, sometimes I’ll buy them from sams as a treat and pull them out for trips. It’s only a couple dollars more in total at sams for about 10 more drinks.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.