Culinary Confessions: How we Eat when we Travel

Travel Food Snacks Illustration
We always take food with us when we explore across America, and we always seem to come home with a sticker to adorn our old picnic basket.

“Culinary Confessions” is a series that opens the books on our eating habits and shares our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you.

Food occupies a major portion of the itinerary when we travel. Sometimes entire days are scheduled around where and when we’re eating.

Culinary ConfessionsBut here’s the issue with dining while on vacation: All that great food can amount to a big cost, both in dollars and in calories. So we take a very specific approach to planning our meals while we’re away from home, and we’re going to share our secrets with you to help you consider how to control the toll on your waistline and your wallet next time you travel.

Here are our rules for the road!

#1: KEEP BREAKFAST HEALTHY AND SIMPLE. Whether we stay in a traditional hotel, a bed-and-breakfast, or an Airbnb, it’s rare we go out to a restaurant to eat breakfast. If we’re staying in a hotel or a B&B, we take advantage of the complimentary breakfast which typically includes a few healthy items, too, like fresh fruit and yogurt. When we stay in an Airbnb, we take simple breakfast items with us that we can just open or heat and eat. Matthew specifically prefers to keep his breakfast routine similar to what he eats at home, so he packs pre-measured oatmeal servings in seal-able sandwich bags for microwaving. We also take pre-measured ground coffee to brew or pods for instant makers. For us, it’s nice to rise slowly, eat a simple, filling breakfast and then get ready for the day, instead of waking up and immediately leaving for a restaurant. It also saves money—and many, many calories—because we’re not hitting the drive-through lines for biscuits and hash browns or the convenience store for pre-packaged snacks every day.

#2: PACK SNACKS FROM HOME.  Speaking of snacks, we always take convenience foods from home on our trips. For starters, it’s always a good idea to take easy bottled water and an occasional sports drink or two with you while traveling to stay hydrated. When you’re in a hotel or someone else’s home space, you don’t always have access to the same refrigerated amenities you keep at home. So we take a cooler with drinks in the car. We also pack a bag or a picnic basket full of healthy-ish snacks we can eat between meals or as light meals themselves to balance out all the great food we eat on our travels. We take things like canned tuna and crackers, homemade trail mixes of nuts and pretzels and berries, dry cereals (Molly loves frosted shredded wheat) and granola bars. These foods help curb hunger if you’re out exploring. And planning those snacks keeps you from being as likely to stop at a gas station for a bag of chips and a soda. (Bonus points if you label the calorie count on each snack bag!)

Travel Food Snacks
In 2017, when we took a June and July road trip to 20+ states, we carried a picnic basket full of these and other snacks with us. With plans to visit more remote locations such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah, we didn’t want to get stranded and find ourselves hungry in the middle of nowhere.

#3: ONE RESTAURANT MEAL A DAY. If you look at our blog, you probably think we visit multiple restaurants every day. That couldn’t be further from the truth. During most of the year, we only eat about one restaurant meal each week. When we’re on vacation, we do dine out more often, but we still strive to hold our stomachs to only one restaurant meal a day. Of course, that’s important for the wallet because you can spend a lot of money eating out. For two people, a $30 meal every day for seven days quickly adds up to more than $200 for the week. So, we try to be very strategic about visiting the restaurants we most want to eat at, and we try to plan our visits according to what else we’re doing that day. For example, if we’re visiting a museum in a downtown and a restaurant we want to visit is just a couple blocks away, we’ll park in a central location and hit both the museum and the restaurant in the same day. This plan of attack keeps us from needlessly initiating stress by driving all over the map every day we travel. Restaurant meals are also heavy on the stomach, so we usually try to dine out for lunch and make that our heaviest meal of the day. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally visit a dessert place like a pie or ice cream shop later, but we don’t eat lunch at one restaurant and dinner at another in the same day. That gets very expensive and literally costs a ton of calories, too.

#4: LEFTOVERS ARE TOMORROW’S DINNER. When we eat that one restaurant meal a day, we often receive portion sizes that are far too large to finish all at once. So, we stop when we’re full, but that doesn’t mean we leave the food we paid for on the plate and allow it to hit the trash when we leave. Even when we travel, we take leftovers with us, deposit them in the cooler in the car (the same one we brought bottled water from home in) and take it back to the place we’re staying, which usually has at least a mini-fridge and microwave. Oftentimes, what we couldn’t finish at lunch one day becomes a small dinner the next day. That helps us enjoy all our food, and it cuts down on the number of new meals we need to buy. (It also cuts down on our daily calorie intake!) We know many people don’t like leftovers, but they don’t bother us one bit. Our view: If you liked a restaurant enough to make it a vacation destination, the food should be good enough to enjoy twice.

It’s an extreme example, but we ate this three-pound cinnamon roll from Lulu’s Bakery & Cafe in San Antonio all the way through Dallas, out of Texas into Little Rock and Hot Springs in Arkansas, and we finally finished it near Birmingham, Alabama.

Vacations are fun, but they’re even better when you get home and don’t have regrets while looking at your scale or your bank account. We hope these tips can help you simplify and enjoy your travels just a little bit more! Thanks for reading!

Do you have your own strategies for eating while traveling? We’d love to hear about them! Comment on this post, send us an email or tell us on Facebook!


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