15 October 2007

Food in Cars

The absolute best way to have food for a long roadtrip is to have a small fridge that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Unfortunately, this requires both a large, roomy car and a small fridge that can plug into a cigarette lighter. Many people don't have one or both of these, and nowadays there are many more uses for the cigarette lighter than having it occupied the whole time by a fridge, so the next best thing is a good cooler.

Mine has a flat-top hinge lid, which is easier to open and close while driving than the pushbutton swivel kind. I have a water bottle that screws into the lid, which starts the trip frozen. I also have several small gelpacks that thaw slower and can last up to 12 hours, which I place at either end and along the bottom. They make soda-can-shaped freezepacks meant to be placed between cans, but in my opinion those take up too much room that could be better filled with edibles. The cooler itself is large enough to hold up to eight cans of soda (or juice, or other non-alcoholic beverages) and leave a small bit of space at the top. Usually I bring four drinks at most and fill the rest with food.

The best road food comes in bite-sized pieces that can be eaten one-handed, requires no utensils, and is not too messy. Anything with a runny sauce is right out. Good choices are carrot and celery sticks, bananas, dried fruit (raisins, craisins), most nuts (not pistachios still in the shell), some types of chips that aren't too crumbly, pretzel sticks, popcorn, meat jerkies. (I'm not sure candy counts as "food.") Sandwiches work better cut into quarters and with nothing in them that will drip. Pepperoni or salami are better than other meats because those won't spoil instantly if left in the sun on the dashboard or passenger seat instead of properly put back in the cooler while not actively being eaten. I often bring a bag of pizza-sized slices to eat by themselves instead of bothering with a whole sandwich. Some wet fruits will work, such as strawberries or apples if there is a paper towel to catch any drips. Oranges will not; too much peeling. Yogurt will work if there is a good cupholder to put it down during bad traffic.

Hot food can also be bought on the road. Plain (no sauce) chicken nuggets and french fries are good. If it's something that can't be put down on an unstable surface or in a cupholder between bites, park the car somewhere first.

Aside from the food itself, bring a whole roll of paper towels. They're good as napkins and you never know if you might spill something. Have an empty paper bag for trash - paper because those are easier to reach into one-handed without looking, as they stand open all by themselves. If there will be a lot of wet trash, put the paper bag in a plastic bag. Place the cooler, paper towels, and trash bag all within easy reach of the driver seat.

All of the above, of course, is intended for long road trips with only the driver in the car who is trying to cover the maximum possible distance in a minimum amount of time (that is, no stops longer than 10 minutes). A much wider variety of food is possible if there is someone else to open packages and keep things unlittered, or if meal stops are planned in. Also, much of what I do is geared toward not making a mess in the first place rather than having to clean up afterward.

This post is dedicated to bakho, who thinks I post too much about food, and Rebelcat, who thinks I post too much about cars. :)


Jim Wright said...

What? No astronaut diapers?

MWT said...

Hey now, this post was about food. ;)

Not to worry though - I'm sure I'll be covering more aspects of road trips in the week ahead...

Anonymous said...

yay! Me got myself my own post! (you made me laugh with that post...when I read the heading, I knew this was meant to harass me:D

Anonymous said...

Aww...I never said you post too much about cars. I just pointed out that you often post about cars.

It is your blog. And you can write about anything you like in here ;).

MWT said...

Yeah, but it's funnier the other way. ;)

And I was good for two whole weeks of not talking about either food OR the car!

Anne C. said...

I love planning road trip food. I make sure I have the full range of tastes (salty and sweet, fruit and meat, liquid and dry, chocolate and chocolate), 'cause you never know what you're gonna need. I enjoy road trip food *almost* as much as camping food -- which is food + fire. In both cases, they are prepared and ready to go beforehand. Almost like having a chef. Almost.

MWT said...

Hmmm... I hadn't planned any chocolate, but I could bring along a few of my snack-sized Snickers. My list for this trip is: carrot sticks, craisins, can of mixed nuts, roast beef and cheddar sandwiches (because I happen to have all the ingredients and they might not still be good when I get back), bag of Flat Earth chips, two bags of deep-fried noodles from a Chinese takeout (not the one I work at), one can Sunkist (caffeine!) and three cans of other sodas (Sierra Mist, Orange Crush, and Squirt are all possibilities). Should be good for the 12 hours I'll be on the road. :)

As for camping food, hobo stew has endless variations. ;)

Shawn Powers said...

I thought the only viable travel food was coffee. If you're extra hungry, maybe some flavored creamer for filler.

That said, I like Corn Nuts to eat, because they crunch loud and keep you awake while driving. You know, if your entire friggen family happens to fall asleep and you're alone in a snore-zone.

Anne C. said...

"As for camping food, hobo stew has endless variations. ;)"

So true. I love hobo meals. :)

MWT said...

Coffee = frequent pee stops though. :( I didn't end up eating all that much - I never do. Driving puts me into a state of suspended animation or something.

And I have many fond memories of family road trips where my father did all the driving while the rest of us zonked out. ;) I guess that's what dads are supposed to be for. In the later ones, though, he did start pulling over at rest stops when he was too sleepy to continue. Safer that way all around.