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Road food done right. June 15, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s finally summer, road trip time. And you know what that means: road food. You know what that means—the snacks and drinks you take in the car to keep yourself from starving and dehydrating between stops. It seems like an easy excuse to indulge in greasy and/or sugary treats and sodas, since hey, how many road trips do you take a year? You’re on vacation! Go for the Big Gulp, M&Ms, and BBQ potato chips!

Our friend Ben and I love our road trips, and we love our road food. But we don’t love grease and sugar hangovers, and we don’t love spoiling our appetites for “real” food.

So before we hit the road, I go grocery shopping. My secret weapons: A cooler and a recyclable grocery bag, plus a disposable trash bag. We load up the cooler with “cool-paks” (which we can refreeze in those little hotel fridges on the way). Of course, the goal is “finger food” that can be unwrapped and easily eaten in a moving car. So here’s what I get to keep us feeling spoiled (but not sick) on our trips:

* String cheese and mini Cheddar cubes or squares. There’s nothing like a couple of these neatly wrapped cheeses to fill you up and give you a protein boost on the road. We like our cheese with flavor, so super-sharp Cheddar and string cheese with jalapeno is the way to go for us. Of course, these live in the cooler between snacks.

* Pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds), nuts, and/or trailmix. More protein and mineral powerhouses, assuming you don’t get “trailmix” that’s really candy in disguise. Stick to mixes of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, and skip anything with chocolate or yogurt coating or, God forbid, candies (sorry to hit on you again, M&Ms; I really love your almond version, but sheesh, I just can’t). Sunflower seeds would be great, too, we just prefer the nutty flavor of pepitas. If you’re counting calories, a handful of any of this stuff is plenty: It will fill you up (especially combined with a cheese stick or two).

* Crackers. I like to have my handful of pepitas or nuts with my cheese and apple slices, but OFB likes to alternate with crackers. So I make sure we have healthy versions on hand, like Rye Crisps and the new Triscuits made from brown rice and red beans. Yes, they’re good! Assuming you have cheese with them. (Otherwise, like any cracker, they’re a bit dry.)

* Apple slices. Sounds crazy, but groceries now carry containers of pre-sliced apples. I assume they’ve been treated with lemon juice or vitamin C or citric acid so they don’t brown, but they don’t. I’d never buy these at home, but for a road trip, I go for them. Juicy apple slices are perfect with cheese, nuts, and/or crackers. Yum! Obviously, these live in the cooler, too.

* Popcorn. I used to get the Smartfood popcorn with white Cheddar, and yes, it is really, really good. But now there’s a patriotic brand with three versions, featuring George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and (er, I forget the third). This popcorn is low-cal, super-good, and hey, as passionate fans of Colonial and Federal history, how could we resist? We tend to favor the version featuring our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, but George’s popcorn is really good, too.

* Veggie chips. These dried veggie crisps can range from Terra Chips’ excellent assortment of potato-chip-like slices to whole crispy, dehydrated green beans and okra. The key here is to make sure they’re adequately salted. See below.

* Salt and pepper. Travel-sized salt and pepper can be a lifesaver when dealing with road food. At home, we use high-end stuff like fresh-cracked pepper, Himalayan salt, Real Salt, and Trocomare, but on the road, I carry the simple picnic salt and pepper set available for 99 cents at any grocery. It can make all the difference between blah and yum.

* Ready-to-eat veggies. Broccoli florets, baby carrots, red, yellow and orange bell pepper strips, celery sticks, even bagged Romaine: Fresh veggies are the antidote to road bloat. I pack plenty in the cooler, and tend to eat them plain, but OFB prefers…

* Hummus. That would be a carton of hummus, your favorite brand (we tend to favor ones with roasted garlic or kalamata olives). Full of protein and good-for-you ingredients, hummus is a nutritional powerhouse, and it makes you feel full while you’re snacking on crudites. Yes, you could buy whole-wheat pita and eat it with your hummus. But really, fresh veggies are so refreshing when you’ve been on the road.

* Tzatziki. If you’re not so big on hummus, this luscious Greek yogurt-garlic dip is irresistible, and mercifully is available in groceries everywhere; look for it where the hummus abides. Great probiotics, protein, great flavor: Who could ask for more?! When I’m dining in a Greek restaurant, I like my tzatziki served with hot, buttery Greek pita, but on the road, it’s very refreshing and nourishing with your choice of veggies or greens. (Try dipping Romaine leaves in tzatziki, yum!!!) Obviously, hummus and tzatziki need to live in your cooler between snacks.

Oops, I’m forgetting the drinks. And trust me, I’m always thirsty. OFB’s a good guy when it comes to drinks: bottled water works just fine for him. Not so for me, I hate water (it’s tasteless). So I have to run around looking for unsweetened black or green tea with lemon before every trip. Ever try to find unsweetened tea in convenient holder-sized bottles in a grocery or convenience store? Good luck with that. Fortunately, it is possible in some health-food stores. It’s certainly not fun to pay the price, but at least you’re not dealing with sugar or artificial sweetener poisoning.

Finally, there are the extras: napkins, straws, and Kleenex. We’d never leave on a road trip without them. Yes, they’re disposables, but that’s why we always carry those disposable trash bags.

So, what do YOU eat on road trips?

‘Til next time,

Silence

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