How to Prep a Gourmet Road Trip

By Holly Bieler
Updated on 27. Jul. 2020
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The coronavirus outbreak has made many traditional summer vacations all but impossible this year, with international travel largely banned and restaurants and hotels in many major cities still shuttered. As a result, more and more families are opting for creative, socially-distanced ways to travel this summer that don’t require a plane ticket or hotel stay. Road trips, namely, have emerged as a great way to get out of the house and enjoy new sights while mitigating potential spread and staying safe. And whether you’re heading out for a week-long, multi-state journey or a quick day trip to recharge, road trips offer a great opportunity for innovative cooking. Packing your car with delicious homemade foods made ahead of time not only saves money, but will keep contact with others at a minimum. What’s more, with a little planning you can stock up your car or RV with food that’s much more healthy and delicious than your standard roadside diner fare.

Check out our tips and tricks below for preparing your most delicious road trip yet.

Get a Cooler

If you’re not traveling by RV, it’s well worth investing in a small cooler for your next road trip. Being able to separate and keep ingredients cool will allow you to be more creative with the dishes you prepare ahead of time, expand the kinds of foods you can bring and will keep perishables like fruits and vegetables fresher for longer so you won’t have to stop at supermarkets along the way.

For shorter 1-2 day road trips, we like the Hardbody Cooler from Arctic Zone ($39.95), a compact but spacious portable cooler with multiple chambers that keeps ice cold for up to 3 days. The Coleman Soft Cooler Bag offers similar space at a more affordable price point ($20.81), but requires an ice refill after 24 hours.

For longer road trips, we like the Coleman Xtreme Cooler ($59.43), which has plenty of room for 4-5 days of meals and keeps ice cold for up to 5 days, or the RTIC 45 Tan ($199.99) which is slightly more durable and keeps ice cold for up to 10 days.

Start Canning

Canned and jarred goods travel incredibly well (usually without refrigeration), take up minimal space and can quickly transform a couple basic ingredients into delicious, flavor-packed meals.

Preparing a couple homemade fruit jams ahead of your next road trip will make for easy and delicious breakfasts each morning of the week. Our Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam recipe is simple to make and bursting with deep citrus flavor, or take advantage of stone fruit season by trying out our traditional Peach Jam or Apricot Jelly with Lavender.

Bake off a couple loaves of our easy Whole Wheat Bread or hearty Rye Sourdough and pair with your jam and some butter for a delicious light breakfast ready in just a few minutes. 

Rye Sourdough

TIP: Wrap your homemade bread in a slightly moist kitchen towel and store in your cooler to keep it fresh and moist for up to 5 days on the road.

And homemade jarred goods aren’t just for breakfast. This Marinated Peppers recipe is easy to make and yields a few substantial jars of delicious, vinegary peppers that add tons of flavor and texture to sandwiches or salads. Better yet, they don’t have to be refrigerated.

Try out our Pickled Vegetables With Red Pepper Flakes recipe for an easy, non-perishable snack or our Tomato and Orange Chutney for a crave-worthy savory spread that makes for a perfect light lunch paired with some cheese on homemade grain toast.

Make Your Own Junk Food

A road trip wouldn’t be a road trip without the prerequisite smorgasbord of salty, easy-to-snack-on munchies. However try skipping the gas station this time and instead stock up on some healthier, homemade versions of your favorites.

Our Colorful Potato Chips or Oven Baked Beet Chips are about as easy to prepare as walking into a store and buying a bag of Lay’s, but infinitely more tasty and nutritious, with way less oil and sodium and none of the preservatives found in store-bought varieties. If you’re looking for something a bit more indulgent, our Crispy Parmesan Chips or chocolatey Trail Mix Cookies should do the trick.

Stock Up On Dips

Non-dairy dips travel well, keep for days and can quickly take any meal or snack to the next level. Our Chile Hummus makes for a gourmet snack when paired with sliced vegetables or one of our homemade chips above, and is packed with clean protein to keep you fueled during a multi-hour drive.

Chile Hummus

This Pineapple Cucumber Salsa is bursting with refreshing, summery flavor and keeps well in the cooler for up to 4 days. Try it with chips for an easy snack or on top of quinoa and raw vegetables for a super quick and nutritious light vegetarian lunch.

Our classic guacamole recipe is another great road trip dip, though remember not to prepare it beforehand, as it doesn’t hold well in the cooler. Instead stock up on the ingredients, and combine in a bowl right before eating for an antioxidant and flavor-packed addition to any meal or snack.

Fresh Meals Don’t Have to Be Freshly Prepared

The lack of a cooking surface might seem like it would impede your ability to prepare fresh, satiating lunches and dinners on the road. With the right planning, however, you can easily stock up your cooler with everything you’ll need to enjoy tasty and filling meals without any additional cooking and minimal preparation you can easily execute from the trunk of a car.

Grain or legume-based salads are a particularly good option for road trips, as they can be prepared entirely at home, are easy to separate into individual portions and travel extremely well, often developing in flavor after a couple days in the cooler.

Our Couscous Salad with Tomato and Zucchini is packed with nutrients and flavor, and can be easily adapted depending on your taste. Toss in a little crumbled feta or some cubed grilled chicken to instantly turn this into a satiating, vitamin and protein-packed dinner. This Mediterranean Pasta Salad is a beautiful twist on a traditional pasta salad and travels well in the cooler for a few days. Looking for an energizing vegetarian meal? This Zesty Marinated Bean Salad tastes even better the longer it sits and makes for a beautiful vegan dinner base. Toss some chopped fresh vegetables on top for a little freshness and you have a clean, protein-packed dinner in under a few minutes.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Shop Smart

Prepping a successful road trip pantry will require some strategic planning not just in the kitchen, but at the supermarket as well. A stock of homemade dips, snacks, canned and jarred goods and vegetable and grain bases make up a strong foundation for a trip’s worth of delicious meals, but adding some key market ingredients to your cooler will ensure you can repurpose your homemade food to its full extent and enjoy different flavors throughout your trip.

Make sure to buy at least a few fresh herbs to vary flavor and add freshness and color to each meal. Basil and cilantro, for example, will brighten up any dish and pack in tons of fresh flavor, and stay good in the cooler for up to 5 days when packed in plastic bags with a moist paper towel. Seasonings such as salt and pepper are also vital, as well as any other spices you love. A little cumin or curry powder can instantly add new flavor to your hummus or couscous salad.

A supply of fresh, ready-to-eat vegetables, cheese and grilled meats also greatly expands what you can do with your prepared dishes. The day before you head out, we suggest buying 3-4 of your favorite hearty vegetables (carrots, red bell peppers, broccoli and green beans are particularly good as they will stay fresh in the cooler for a few days), and a meat such as chicken, turkey, steak, or tofu if you’re vegetarian. Chop the vegetables and store them in separate containers, and cook the meats simply with salt and pepper and chop and store them the same way. These ingredients will stay good in the cooler for 3-4 days, and will allow you to change up the flavor of each meal, depending on your cravings and how hungry you are. Some crumbly mild cheese like feta or goat cheese is also a great, flavorful addition to your cooler.

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