4 Moms: Eating inexpensively on the road


So…funny story here.  I painstakingly squeezed one hour out of a very busy day because I had to do this week’s 4 Moms post.

I worked on the post, even though there were other things I probably should have been doing.  These weekly posts are important to me, and I feel obligated.  I am obligated, right?  The 4 of us are a team, and our readers depend on us to dispense wisdom.  Wisdom.  hah.

So I carved out an hour and worked very hard not to get distracted.  These posts usually take more than an hour, but I was diligent.  I was focused.  I knew what I wanted to say, and I was determined to make the most of my time.  When I was almost done, I rewarded myself with some chocolate.  I think better with chocolate.  Don’t you?

A few minutes later I finished my post and scrolled down to update the info at the bottom.  You know the part where we list upcoming topics and past ones?

That must be when the chocolate kicked in because I suddenly felt something happening in my brain.  I saw that this week’s topic was not about keeping children still and quiet in church.

See?  Funny story, huh?  Well, I’m ahead of schedule.  I’ve got next week’s post all ready for ya.

So now that you’ve heard this week’s excuse for why I’m a disorganized unprepared slacker, I’ll tell you how we eat when we’re on the road.

First, let me say that the word inexpensive is subject to a wide range of interpretation.  To some, it means not eating steak or seafood.  To others, it means eating somewhere you aren’t expected to tip.  It may mean eating from a grocery store instead of a restaurant.  Some think it applies only to eating food you brought from home in an ice chest.

To me, it means spending about what we would spend at home for a normal meal.  We all know that the tradeoff is often convenience, and on a road trip we might be willing to spend a little more on food than we do at home.  The idea is not to go broke or spend our gas budget on food.

We like to pack foods that can easily be served and eaten in a moving vehicle with a minimum of grease and crumbs.  Some of our favorite inexpensive meals on the road:

  • Hard boiled eggs – A cheap source of protein, easy to eat in the car.  Just don’t store them too long, and never hand one to a toddler in a carseat.
  • Roll-ups – My 4yo calls these Robots.  Like sandwiches but with tortillas instead.  No crumbs!  This lends itself well to a variety of fillings – tuna, PB&J, bologne or deli meat & cheese, egg salad.  A tortilla also frees you of the expectation of mayo or other spreads which can be both difficult and messy in a moving vehicle.
  • Snackage – Lunch on the road may very well be more like a snack: items like carrot sticks, apples, almonds, raisins, bananas, animal crackers and PB, pretzel sticks (cheaper than potato chips and no grease), and grapes are easy to pack, easy to serve, and plenty filling.  They’re also easy to dole out in small portions during a long road trip.
  • Dollar burgers – Nobody said this was limited to health food.  After a day or two on the road, everybody is longing for a hot meal and this really isn’t such a bad way to go.  If we’re pinching pennies, we skip the fries (or split a couple of large orders among the 12 of us), drink free ice water, and order a big pile of double cheeseburgers or something similarly substantial from a dollar menu.  It really is a lot of food for the money and doesn’t cost much more than a home-cooked dinner that includes plenty of meat and cheese.
  • Green smoothies – Believe it or not, green smoothies travel well – if you’re into that sort of thing.  Just make them ahead of time and store in quart jars in the ice chest.  Drink directly from the mason jar like country folk.
  • Water – Except for adult drivers who may need a dose of caffeine now and then, we rarely drink anything but water on road trips.  To avoid buying bottles one at a time at the gas station, we like to buy a couple of gallon jugs and use them to refill individual bottles.  Don’t worry about bringing a funnel.  It’s fun trying to pour water from a jug into the tiny mouth of a bottle in a moving vehicle, and on a summer road trip in the south nobody minds if their clothes get wet.  It’s just a free boost for the a/c, right?

Those are some of our favorite road eats.  What are yours?

The other moms:

Upcoming topics:

  • April 21 – Large family & church, part 2: Being still and quiet during worship
  • April 28 – Q and A: leave your question here.

Recent topics:

  • April 7 – 4 Moms teach history
  • March 17 – Bread baking linky
  • March 10 – Spring cleaning
  • March 3 – Books for early readers
  • February 24 – 4 Moms Q&A: my first audio blog on potty training and more
  • February 17 – Individual time with children: scary stuff here.  Just kidding.  Let go of the guilt.
  • February 10Cooking with little ones without losing your sanity
  • February 3 –Teaching reading, because it’s so much easier than teaching them to use the toilet.  Do not request a 4 Moms post about potty training, do you hear me?
  • January 27 – Q&A: Must-have baby equipment and other nitty gritty stuff
  • January 20 – Top 10 Books for Preschoolers
  • January 13 – Soups and Stews
  • January 6 – Teaching Bible


    1. We recently traveled cross country on the train and ate out only once for breakfast at McDonalds. Dollar menu even adds up when there is a lot of us. We had a stop in DC and a stop in Chicago. We replenished our supplies of fruit, nuts, jerky, granola bars, and some muffins for the next day on our stops. (Muffins were a bad idea as they got smashed and were a big package of crumbs.) We did get some sandwiches and chocolate milk at a Walgreens in Chicago, so that was kind of eating out, but not quite as expensive. There was plenty of water on the train so we didn’t have to get drinks. It would have been nice to eat in the dining car, but at about $8 per person it was just too much.

    2. Madrilee says:

      Our staple is apples and cheese. Prewashed apples and sliced cheddar is what we usually do. 😀

    3. Hi!
      Love your ideas! We’ve found that regular stops to let them run in circles so they can then eat and then snooze is really the key to a successful road trip. And entertainment- we play BunnyBop! on my phone from youtube! It’s family friendly, free and the kids LOVE it! AND it’s a labor of love 🙂
      Thank you for your site!

    4. Ah, we also prefer the adventurous life and pour water from large jugs into tiny mouthed bottles while the van is rumbling and bumping along.

    5. One question on the hard boiled eggs, do you peel at home or in the car? I usually can’t decide so don’t take them even though my family likes them.

      • Kathy,
        I always peel the eggs first. I don’t want to mess with egg shells in the van. That way every bit of the egg disappears – at least, in my ideal world. In reality, somebody always decides to give the baby a bite of yolk and it’s everywhere.

        Our van is far from airtight, so maybe that’s why we don’t have a problem with lingering banana odors. Besides, most families with babies and toddlers generate far worse odors. If odors lingered in the van, bananas would *not* be at the top of my list of concerns.

    6. This sounds like our menus when on the road. Although you are braver serving hardboiled eggs than I am. One tiny, miniscule dropped crumb of a yolk has been known to wipe out many a shirt front even on the older members of the excursion!
      Bananas do not travel well in vehicles. The entire space will smell like bananas for the duration until a good airing occurs.
      You need to look at writing next week’s post not as a mistake but as Providential.

    7. Baguettes and cheese are a quick easy food.
      We usually take the first few caffeine doses in a steel Thermos flask. This has saved us so much money over the years. Buying a steel flask is worthwhile as it doesn’t break easily.
      Cold pizza also travels well-people either love or hate this!

      • Sarah,
        We love cold pizza and would grab it in a heartbeat for a road trip if there was any in the fridge while we were packing. I never thought to plan for it, though. Brilliant!

    Don't just think it: say it!

    %d bloggers like this: