Driving during mealtimes doesn’t have to mean the expense of drive through meals or monotonous cold sandwiches. Packing delicious, healthy and budget-friendly hot meals that you can eat on the road is easier than you think!
Make-Ahead Warm Meals for Drivers and Road Trips
My husband has been on the road a lot for work this past year – all locally. One month his fast food bills nearly broke our food budget! Lots of fast food can not only be bad for your budget, it can also be bad for your health. So we got on top of packing lunches and dinners on the go. We started with the basic sandwich lunch, but as the weather turned cooler and a sandwich just wouldn’t cut it at dinner time, I got creative. With a few easy-to-find and inexpensive supplies, and a little creativity and planning ahead, you too can have delicious – and warm – meals on the road!
Step 1: Assemble your supplies.
Don’t worry – this step doesn’t have to cost a lot! In fact, I would bet that if you shop around, you could get all these supplies for LESS than two trips through the drive through. (Maybe even less than one trip.)
Get a thermos big enough to fit a serving of a warm dish.
I found 12 oz. containers on sale at a local store, buy one get one free – that was two for $8! You can also pick one up on Amazon. We started with two, one for each child, and then added another for these road meals. Since I have access to a full lunchroom at the office, I don’t need one at this point. But for summer road trips, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to have one for each person.
You probably already have aluminum foil, but if not, pick some up. It’s handy to wrap sandwiches and wraps that need to stay warm.
Get a small cooler or insulated lunch bag or box.
Hot and cold items alike need insulation. If you’re packing a bottle of water or a can of soda, make sure it stays cold. We’ve collected a few of these over the years, both by buying our own and then being gifted freebies at various work events. A small, soft-sided cooler like the one below will work too – and if you’ll be gone for the full day, you may need the extra space for more than one meal.
Pick up some inexpensive utensils.
I learned years ago never to trust my spouse or my kids with our nice flatware away from home. (Sorry honey, but it’s true – you’re in that group, too.) Sometimes you just can’t count on it coming back home. Luckily, sturdy, inexpensive and reusable plastic utensils are easily found at your local big box store, outdoor stores that sell camping supplies, and online. At one of the big box stores near us, they’ve also got some really cheap sets of metal spoons, forks and knives that run $1 for four spoons, etc. At that price, they’re cheaper and more earth friendly than disposable plastic utensils, and they’re far more likely to come home. But at $1 for four, it’s not the end of the world if one or two get lost over the course of the school year. For four each – spoons, forks and knives, you’ll only spend about $3.
Step 2: Make a list of meal options
Now that you’ve got your supplies together, consider the trip(s). Do you plan to pull over and stop to eat, or do you need true meals on the go that you can eat while driving? Here are some ideas to get you started for each option. Try wrapping the warm sandwiches in foil, and just make sure separate them from anything cold. You might need an extra layer around it, such as a hand towel or cloth napkin. A wrap, burrito or tamale may be the right size to be wrapped in foil and then popped into the thermos for extra insulation. Get creative!
Hand-held meals you can eat while driving:
- Breakfast burritos and egg sandwiches (if you need breakfast options)
- Sandwiches & Wraps
- Hot Dogs & Sausages on a bun
Meals requiring a stop or better coordination at the wheel:
- Oatmeal or Overnight Oats (if you need breakfast)
- Hearty Salads: Taco Salad, etc.
- Walking Tacos (taco meat, cheese & fixings, with crushed tortilla/corn chips mixed in)
- Turkey, Chicken or Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
- Cheeseburger Pie (yummy burger taste, minus the bun)
- Lasagna, Spaghetti, Macaroni & Cheese (or any casserole)
- Santa Fe-style Rice & Beans
- Soup (unless you can drink it)
- Stir Fry (meat, veggies, rice or noodles)
- Quinoa or other Grain Bowl (no need to stop at the salad place, make your own!)
Pretty much any leftovers will work, as long as you can cut them into bite-sized pieces and fit them into the thermos. Sometimes you might be able to include your protein and vegetable in one container (mixing peas in with your macaroni, for example), and other times you might want to pack the fruit and vegetables on the side. It all depends.
While my husband and I can safely eat each of the items below while at the wheel, even those needing more coordination, do what’s safe for you. If you need to pull over and park for a few minutes to eat, you’re still getting a healthy, delicious meal that’s also inexpensive. I’d love to hear your creative ideas for warm meals on the road.