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Travel food

We will be going on a 3 week road trip with kids to the National Parks. We want to bring food, BUT won't have access to a fridge, micro, or stove. Any ideas on lunch and dinners that we can have without refrigeration? I don't want to be on PB&J the whole trip!! We will bring a cooler to keep a few things in but I don't know about access to ice either. HELP is appreciated! Thanks

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  1. Is it food for lunches, or suppers as well? will you have any cooking equipment with you?

    1. lunch and supper. We will be staying in the cabins in the park and you aren't supposed to "cook" in them. I have heard ideas to bring an electric kettle so maybe we could do that. I guess we could bring a camp stove and find a place outside to use that? We will also be staying in "camping cabins" along the way that are basically just cabins with beds - no bathroom, etc.

        1. Beef jerky or any jerky. Jerky is full of protein and is compact. Of course, jerky shouldn't be your only meals, but they are great compact foods, especially for snack.

          1. Isn't ice readily available in camping areas? It might be a little more expensive than at hometown grocery stores, though.
            The deli counter at some large supermarkets might have salads and sliced meats available for quite suppers. And our neighborhood Safeway has hot soup -- have you considered taking thermos bottles? Or even an inexpensive microwave?
            Friends of mine take an immersion heater when they travel, and therefore are able to make tea, coffee, hot oatmeal cereal, instant soup...
            What is the main motivation for wanting to bring your own meals? Economics or food allergies, or...?

            2 Replies
            1. re: KarenDW

              The main reason is economics. There are 6 of us. Also, the reviews of the park food are not great at all, so I hate spending more money on sub-par food. I am thinking of taking a micro and will look into the immersion heater.

              1. re: skemaj

                You do want to avoid the foods at the parks - they are WAY overpriced and not that good - Captive audience, kwim?

                Even a cold bologna sandwich and chips would be better. Go with prepared fruits, cut up vegetables, chips, crackers, dips, cheeses, granola bars, sandwiches. Good ideas on the dehydrated, jerky as posted above. If the weather is warm, depending on when you go, foil wrapped burritos can be heated up on the dashboard.

                You said your trip is going to be three weeks? At some point, you'll need to re-stock not just on ice but on perishables as well. Don't forget the easy stuff like cold cereal and milk or yogurt. I'd be more concerned about how you're going to get clean dishes than a menu. Good luck and let us know about your agenda!

            2. Especially if there is a picnic table outside, I'd bring a camp stove, skillet, and pot, and cook outside. You can make grilled cheese sandwiches, heat up canned soups, pasta with jarred sauces, eggs, and lots of other simple meals made with "pantry" ingredients. In fact there is a thread on the Home Cooking board about pantry dinners, focused on cooking at a home, that may give you some other ideas.

              You can keep vegetables, milk, and other items that need refrigeration in the cooler, and stop every few days when you are traveling between parks to replenish the supplies and get fresh ice. Indeed you could pick up boneless chicken breasts, ground chuck,etc in such stops and use it for dinner that evening. I would also anticipate that you would be able to replenish your supply of ice within the parks, as most have some sort of convenience store.

              1 Reply
              1. re: masha

                Have you checked as to whether the cabins have fire pits or outdoor grills? Even if its just a fire pit, you can bake potatoes and use foil packets to cook vegetables. Or you could even bring a small kettle grill with you.

                As to bringing your microwave, just bear in mind that, even though the cabins are electrified, the circuitry may not be sufficient to handle the electrical draw of the 'wave.

              2. I live on a boat with no refrigeration, so there are some basics you have to embrace.

                A variety of canned beans, veggies, and meats are now your staples. Cheeses and long shelf life cartons of milk are your new dairy products. Both will last a week or two after opening with no refridgeration. Cans of refried beans are awesome for quick meals. Aerosal cheese lasts for ever, while jams and jellies start growing things in 5 days or less after opening. Flour tortillas in relockable bags have just solved all your bread requirements.

                Develop a menu plan. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks. 7 days a week. I number the days and then throw a die to see what I will have that day. I plan on eating dinner out once a week. Breakfast is individual box of cereal with Parmalat milk, small can fruit cocktail, coffee. Lunch I usually skip but this is where I get the greatest use of wrapping anything in a soft taco. Sardines are great. So are vienna sausages. With some cream cheese. Dinner is canned chicken with curry powder and finelly shredded cabbage and onions. My favorite dessert is fruit cocktail with rum and sweetened condensed milk.

                If you belong to a wholesale club, look for individual servings of jellies and mayo. Ketchup and mustard last forever with no cooling. The same with pickled everything. And hot sauce. Unlike salsa. And have at least one splurge surprise meal per week.

                You will need to take an immersion heater with you. Just a thought, get everybody their own personalised oversize mug. This allows for the making of soups and stews and a great memory later.

                Big Lots and Dollar General are my first places to start loading the boat for extended cruising. I plan on replenishing perishables along the way, just as you can between parks.

                Google "provisioning for a cruise" and you will have a wealth of information.

                1. Certainly, trail mixes, dried fruits, fresh fruit, fresh veggies etc, I'd stick to canned items, tuna, prepared chic tenders, soups (they can be heated under the hood of you car). Bottled water, juice packs, cheeses, crackers, chips etc. Hope this helps.

                  1. I am really curious about which park(s) you will be visiting. My family has been to a number of them but we never stayed in the cabins, we were always camping, first with a tent and then a camper trailer.

                    1. Do you have friends/coworkers who are "campers". Camping has changed over the years, but they may have suggestions.

                      Years ago (40 or so) damissus and I made a similar trip through Natl Parks with 4 kids age 11 - 5. An ice chest, and a small propane grill worked OK.

                      Now adays, we travel with a 12 volt cooler, works well, and our car (?) has 12 volt outlets, plus 110 inverter. For such a trip, see if you can hook up a 12 volt cooler (about $90, Wal Mart). A good mechanic could tell you what such would cost on your vehicle. Our present car has 110 volt inverter. Haven't tried it out yet, but ...12 volts run off a "cigarette outlet.

                      Just plan to stop at a supermarket en route to resupply every 2 - 3 days. OH, don't bring your fancy cookware. Shop the yard sales for dented and old pots and pans. Trust me.

                      Even now, 40+ years later, our kids still tell us that the trip was a highlight in their life. Keep a sense of humor, tell the kids if they don't behave they can always walk back home, and snuggle nightly with your honey.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: AZGrandpa

                        I immediately thought of the coolers that plug into a vehicle. I have one I got at Costco a few years ago and I love it. It is useful outside if camping though; I hit mine to make multiple errands involving cold food in hot days.

                      2. How often can you shop, and what time of year is it? That will affect how long perishable foods will keep. Really hot weather will make things more difficult.

                        With nothing more than a kettle you could do -

                        A wide variety of fruits. Many vegetables - lettuce will depend on how hot it is, though. Salads (oil and vinegar keeps without refrigeration, which gives you your dressing).

                        Sandwiches - hard cheeses and hard salamis keep for a fairly long time without refrigeration. Mustard, ketchup and pickles don't need to be refrigerated. Make fillings with canned tuna and chicken either with single serve mayo packes, or a vinegar based dressing.

                        Get instant ramen, and spice it up with chopped green vegetables (bok choy, green onions, bean sprouts etc).

                        Instant mashed potatoes (you can get cup of soup types, or make your own seasoned mixes).

                        Instant oatmeal for breakfast, with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and sugar. Or take UHT shelf stabilized milk and/or cream for cereal.

                        Couscous, as a side dish or salad. Instant rice.

                        Pickles keep for a long time without refrigeration.

                        Use canned chickpeas or canned beans for salads or dips like hummus.

                        You can buy freeze dried camping food that just needs hot water added. It's pricy for the amount of food, but if you're desperate, it could make for a change of pace.

                        Granola bars, breakfast bars, home-made trail mix, cookies, crackers.

                        Tetra bricks of juice, hot chocolate, coffee, tea.

                        If you can take a small camp stove (the kind that runs off of gas canisters, for example), you can include things like pasta with jarred sauce, canned soups, boiled potatoes or rice, boiled vegetables, boil-in-a-bag type foods, etc.

                        1. I can't imagine a gas station that didn't have ice, plus convenience stores, grocery stores - you'll be fine on the ice. I would suggest two coolers, one larger than the other for long-term storage and the other for snacking, necessary for the youths.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: lemons

                            You can bring an electrical skillet with a lid. You can heat up soups, make grilled cheese sandwiches. Or make spaghetti with jar sauces. Ramen with canned vegetables and canned meats.
                            Sandwiches with canned tuna, ham. Hamburger helper type meals.
                            If you are going in winter, would be a lot easier. For the first few days, bring rotisserie chicken from local supermarket.
                            Skillet allows you to boil water for oatmeal, hot chocolate, coffee.
                            We did it at Yosemite mostly because restaurants outside of park were limited and expensive.

                          2. If you are using a "regular" cooler with ice, think about how you want to package your food/ice to keep it separate. I found (on a 4.5-week trip) that ziplocs do NOT keep the water out with "normal" use..... We ended up using lock-n-locks to put our food into and then used loose ice in the cooler. We had good luck finding ice (hotels or purchased by the bag from the store/gas station). (I wasn't able to find places to re-freeze the reusable ice so that didn't work for us.) A cooler you can plug into the car/wall outlet eliminates the "water-in-the-food" problem but it might not work if you are changing locations regularly and leaving your items in your car for the entire day while playing tourist.

                            I strongly recommend planning to visit grocery stores along the way rather than trying to go too specialty/dried/canned foods, etc. We found that while our trip was enjoyable, it was also stressful to be away from home and fixing "normal" foods for the kids was a way to make things more familiar.

                            Enjoy your trip!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: _jj_

                              Also, visiting grocery stores in new places is often an enjoyable thing in itself for foir food-focused folks. Local products, different kinds of things, all very interesting. (But then I'm one of those folks who buy gifts for folks at home at grocery stores when I travel.)

                            2. Thanks for the replies! So helpful! For those who asked...
                              We are visiting the Black Hills area (Mt. Rushmore NM, Badlands NP, Custer SP, Crazy Horse, Wind Cave NP, Jewel Cave NM) and Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP, and Cody. We are going in late spring. We will stay in the Frontier Cabins at Yellowstone and in "camper cabins" at campgrounds in Cody and the Black Hills. We thought about renting a pop up, but after the cost of rental and then the campsite fee it actually cost more than the cabins.
                              Yes, Ice will be available, I guess I am concerned about how quickly it will melt and the mess of all that.
                              I love the kettle and 12V cooler ideas!
                              You guys are really helping so much - THANKS

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: skemaj

                                I have been to all of those parks multiple times in my lifetime starting as a little kid in the 60s to taking my own family as an adult. There are towns with grocery stores and there will be grills and fire rings. We also used a Coleman camp stove that burned white gas. There are picnic tables as well. I wouldn't worry so much about the ice melting as much as I recommend you bring warm enough bedding and clothing. It gets cold in those locations, especially overnight. Bring at least two coolers, one for food and another for beverages. Plan on doing a lot of grilling. (I'd buy a chimney fire starter for charcoal. They actually are faster and more effective than lighter fluid).

                                You should also check out the website for each park. Something we did not have back in the day.

                                (When I was a kid most of our camping was rustic with no electricity and the campgrounds didn't have electricity or showers/plumbing. We hated the dreaded 'dugouts').

                                1. re: John E.

                                  Yes, cold! They should bring lots of warm clothing and sleeping bags/blankets!

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    I grew up in that area up North and it will indeed be cold. One thing to mention off of John E's comments is to bring TP! You do not want to run out and use . . . other things. Have fun!

                                    I envy you - You will have a great time and regardless of the food, Skemaj it will be a trip of a lifetime.

                                  2. re: skemaj

                                    Late spring? What dates? Things won't melt very fast at that time of year in Wyoming.
                                    Also, depending on our current state of drought, there may not be fires allowed.
                                    There are plenty of grocery stores and delis in the areas you are visiting. Once you get into Yellowstone, though, it's all park concessions.
                                    Hope you don't get snowed out!

                                  3. Saw this post about shelf staple cooking and recipes for a storm and thought it might give you some additional ideas for your trip. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/889751

                                    1. I've done this. We would eat from our supplies 2 meals per day and eat at a restaurant one meal. Later we camped and had access to a heat source, usually a fire in a barbecue pit at a campsite.

                                      For breakfast, the heat source helps you get coffee first thing, which I think is important, but otherwise, milk and/or juice from your cooler gets you a drink and at least a bowl of cereal. But with a pit or camp stove, you can make coffee, and make pancakes if you want. Fry bacon, or whatever. I remember I liked bringing bagels and round crackers along because bread loaves got too smashed. If you are staying in motels with kitchenettes, you can either have the comp breakfast alone, as a supplement to a more nutritious breakfast or make something in the room and skip the comp.

                                      For lunch, bagels, canned tuna and chicken, locally purchased lunchmeats, and fruit make an acceptable lunch. I remember feeding my family sardines and crackers at the beach once. You can often find local fruit if its in season on the road. And our family liked granola bars.

                                      I don't recommend trying for gourmet fare from your cooler and packaged things. But you can control the quality with quality products. Steer clear of Spam and Vienna sausages. The latter are low in protein. And I'd go easy on the salty chips too. Go for protein and fruit, with some sturdy carb.

                                      Have fun on your trip.

                                      PS Try to treat your family to at least one really nice restaurant meal on the trip.