My idea of good “road food” has shifted dramatically in the last few years. It used to mean lots of crunchy snacks and possibly some candy to eat while driving; lunch stops at A&W or Burger King for burgers, fries and floats—the kinds of “treats” I didn’t usually eat at any other time—and some kind of easy camp dinner, usually involving large amounts of processed carbs. And possibly Spam (but that was a REALLY long time ago). Road food was kind of like fair food: you knew it wasn’t good for you, and you might be really sorry later, but it tasted so good that you didn’t care.
Since adopting a clean, whole foods, low-carb way of eating (I won’t call it a “diet”; it’s simply the way I eat), I have experienced such a huge improvement in every area of my health, energy levels and body composition, that I no longer view a road trip as an excuse to eat junk.
Rick and I are both committed to eating just as well while traveling as we do at home, and are happy to go to whatever extra trouble it takes to make that happen. We like feeling good, we like having great bloodwork, and we like the way our pants fit.
Fortunately, we also like to cook. Our normal diet includes lots and lots of fresh vegetables, pasture-raised meat, butter, and eggs, a little bit of high-quality cheese, a variety of nuts, and healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil. We eat no grains (other than rice once in a great while), no sugar, except the occasional piece of very dark chocolate and whatever small amount is in the ketchup we buy (and it’s NOT high-fructose corn syrup). So, no soft drinks, cookies, cereal, crackers, chips, Hamburger Helper, Spam, instant mashed potatoes, McDonalds, etc.
This approach allows us to maintain healthy weight (even during my long months of inactivity due to stress fractures and a shoulder injury this winter, I didn’t gain weight, though I lost muscle and put on some fat.); Rick’s blood pressure and lipid profile are now great; I have none of the wild blood sugar swings I used to experience on a diet high in “healthy” whole grains, and I no longer feel that murderous craving for food every three or four hours. We just feel pretty darn good all the time, and we love the foods we eat. Also, sticking to such a clean diet allows us to enjoy a moderate amount of wine without weight gain. There are periods of time when we abstain completely; I know that a “perfect” diet probably doesn’t include alcohol. But we aren’t trying or claiming to be perfect, and the whole wine experience is a lot of fun for us.
We are extremely fortunate to have easy access to farmer’s markets and an abundant array of grocery stores at home, as well as a large freezer for the meat we buy directly from the farmers. I knew that being on an extended road trip in a small trailer was going to present some interesting challenges in terms of meal planning and preparation, but I was determined not to let that become an excuse for spiraling into crappy eating habits and potentially compromising our health.
So, how the heck are we managing to avoid fast-food meals (okay, Rick did go to In-N-Out Burger once for old times’ sake) and the convenience foods that so often predominate in situations like this?
Given that we’d be living with a small fridge and downright tiny freezer, as well as nothing remotely resembling a pantry, this required some serious pre-planning. Sometimes we have access to power, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we are close to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco and a farmer’s market, most of the time we are not. We have room for only the minimum of cooking tools, so I needed to think carefully about what would be most useful.
Here is what we ended up bringing for food prep:
- A large saucepan and lid
- A medium-sized cast-iron frying pan and lid
- A smaller stainless-steel frying pan (because it’s Rick’s favorite); the same lid fits both
- A crockpot for making bone broth, chili, etc
- A small tea kettle for heating water (next time, we’re bringing the big enamelware coffee pot – it’s easier to fill)
- A stick blender for making mayonnaise – I knew that tuna salad was going to be a go-to lunch, and I love my avocado oil mayo, which takes all of about two minutes to make.
- A small electric coffee grinder
- A hand coffee grinder for times when we find ourselves camped somewhere without power and have run out of ground coffee
- Two Aero-Presses (kind of an indulgence to have two, but they take up little space and it has been a nice convenience to have his ’n’ hers)
- Three pint glass jars; one in which to make and store mayonnaise, one for fermenting sauerkraut, and one for the sauerkraut I’m currently eating
- A Kraut Kap airlock and lid for the fermenting operation
- Three nested mixing bowls with lids
- A basic assortment of implements
- A small Weber tabletop BBQ and a Coleman stove – we have a propane stove in the Casita, but prefer to cook outside whenever possible.
That’s it. So far, it’s been the right mix. I have yet to use the crockpot, but I’m pretty sure I will. Everything else is getting used regularly, and I can’t think of anything I am really missing.
As far as actual food supplies, here is what we brought from home:
- Canned tuna
- A tube of tomato paste
- Rice vinegar (so Rick can replenish his beloved pickled red onion supply)
- Olive oil. Quite a lot of olive oil.
- Coconut oil
- Coconut oil spray (for the BBQ)
- Avocado oil (for mayonnaise)
- Canned tomatoes
- Coconut milk and coconut cream
- Smoked oysters in olive oil
- Beef jerky
- Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Bone Broth – no sugar or other unnecessary ingredients
- Nuts – macadamias, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, a couple packets of almond butter
- A couple of small dry salamis from Olympia Provisions
- A jar of pickled onions
- Coconut aminos (a nice, soy sauce-like condiment)
- Hot sauce
- Duck Spicy Ketchup
- White Balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt
- A variety of our favorite herbs and spices in little plastic bottles that snap onto a clever arrangement of clips on the inside of the cupboard door.
- Whole-bean coffee from our favorite Portland roaster, Spella Caffe
I dehydrated some stuff before we left home: several bunches of kale for soups and such; some chopped leeks ditto; and TWELVE POUNDS of grass-fed ground beef. It ends up like Grape Nuts and one cup equals about a pound. Perfect for soup and chili. Why I thought we’d go through twelve pounds of it in eight weeks, I’m not sure, though. I think I was envisioning days on end of remote camping without access to fresh meat, which has not yet happened. I also brought a couple of dehydrated vegetable/meat/seasoning meals that I’d made for backpacking—these make great soup.
I was amazed at the amount of food I was able to cram into our little fridge and freezer before we left. I tried to choose an assortment of fresh things that would get us through at least the first few days of traveling without having to shop, in addition to pre-cooked items, condiments, and frozen stuff as backup.
In the freezer:
- A package of short ribs
- A pound of ground lamb
- A couple of steaks
- A container of Rick’s fabulous marinara, made from our own tomatoes
- Two pounds of Kerrigold butter
- Two packages of bacon
- Some Italian sausages
In the fridge:
- A dozen hard-boiled eggs
- Bacon that I pre-cooked
- Homemade bone broth
- Two dozen fresh eggs
- A cauliflower
- A leek
- Assorted greens – arugula, mixed salad, radicchio
- Sweet peppers, carrots, pea pods
- A lemon
- Leftover vegetables from the previous night’s dinner
- Sliced meatloaf
- Cooked and sliced pork tenderloin
- Several kinds of cheese
- My fermented sauerkraut (it might sound crazy, but I’ll be making more on the road)
- Rick’s pickled red onions (we plan to just add more onions and vinegar to that jar as we go)
- Condiments such as ketchup and hot sauce
- Chicken salad
- White wine and champagne!
So that’s what we started with. We’ve been pretty happy with how it’s working out. In the Palm Desert area, of course, we had easy access to shopping (and a farmers market!) and were able to find great quality meats and vegetables. Since leaving there, we’ve dipped into the freezer and the pantry a bit more, and have had no trouble concocting excellent meals.
I’ll post a Part Two soon (no promises about HOW soon—it takes me forever to finish writing anything!) that details some of what we are actually eating. I hope some of you find this helpful!