My family has spent a lot of time in the car this summer. One PCS, one visit to the grandparents, one visit to Dad, who was TDY, plus various shorter trips to see other relatives and friends. Along the way, there have been a lot of meals and snacks. I understand that eating is necessary. However, I get frustrated because it tends to be expensive. We've been experimenting with various ways to have tasty, easy and enjoyable food on the go. There are three basic choices: bringing food with you, buying restaurant food, or buying fresh foods. Let's explore each one:
Food From HomePros: Can be inexpensive. Can use food that might spoil while you're gone. Doesn't require stopping while driving (though you may choose to stop).
Cons: Requires preparation. May need to be refrigerated. Takes up space in the car. May result in car trash (ugh!)
Ideas: Sandwiches, fresh fruit & veggies, dried fruit, nuts, popcorn, crackers, rice cakes, pretzels, bagels, granola bars.
Thoughts: We finally purchased a small cooler that plugs into the car. It has kept our cold things cold and made bringing our own food more practical. It does take up room in the car, however, and you have to be careful to make sure not to run down your battery. (Yes, I've done that.)
Buying Restaurant FoodPros: Can provide a break from the car. Doesn't require pre-planning. Easy to please a variety of tastes. Usually clean restrooms.
Cons: Expensive. Time consuming. Often unhealthy. Disagreement over restaurant choices (in populated areas) or difficulty finding a restaurant (in less populated places.)
Ideas: Local restaurants can provide variety to the usual fare. However, picky kids can be comforted by familiar choices. The choices are endless: national chains, Chinese buffets, pizza parlors, BBQ restaurants, delis, or local favorites.
Thoughts: Whether a sit-down restaurant or a speedy drive-thru, restaurant food can be expensive and unhealthy. Consider picking one meal a day for your big break from driving.
Buying Fresh FoodPros: Fresh food. Doesn't require refrigeration. No preparation before leaving home. Excellent variety available.
Cons: May require supplies (utensils, cutting board, knife, napkins.) Can still be expensive. Time consuming if you don't have a plan. You may have leftovers - what will you do with them?
Ideas: Veggie trays, salad bar items, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese, sushi, ice cream treats.
Thoughts: My family love to go groceries for snacks or meals. I think that we usually make good choices and don't rely too much on junk-type food. Splurge on Pre-cut fruits and vegetables or single-serve size products. Consider keeping a stash of paper goods, a cutting board & a good knife in the car.
I'm sure there are lots of ideas that I haven't even considered. Please share your frugal strategies for eating on the road. Together we can keep those meals from breaking the budget.