In July of 2019, we took a 10-day 8-state road trip, on which we took 90% of our GF/DF food with us. Why?? Well, I have 5 kids and a budget. I wanted to spend our budget on the trip and the memories, not on eating out every meal or even every day. You don’t have to be great at math to know that 7 times anything adds up fast! Plus, though we have no food allergies, most of our family has specific unfavorable reactions to dairy, gluten, and too much sugar (acne, hard time staying awake, moody/cranky, poor sleep at night, behavior problems in my kids) experiencing on vacation didn’t sound like a heck of a lot of fun.
How I prepared
I started preparing food four days before we left. If you can start earlier, even better. My goal was to prep and freeze many of our meals. This meant all we had to do was find a way to heat and eat. Plus, frozen meals stay cold longer in a cooler than refrigerated. And, as most of them were frozen before hand, I could have started prepping them weeks in advance. But, I tend to be one who does well under pressure, so 4 days ahead was pretty darn good for me.
I made a list ahead of time of the breakfast, lunches, and dinners we would eat. It wasn’t an exact day by day layout so much a making sure we had like 7ish breakfast and dinner options, with smattering of cold lunches. I was taking our large 90 quart cooler that I would restock with ice every morning from the hotels. Most of our hotels did have mini fridges as well, that I could put the most perishable items in (i.e. meat).
And, moment of honesty and insanity – I did take my airfryer and electric skillet with me. I know, it’s borderline crazy/brilliant, but I was determined. Neither of those involve flames and both are very portable.
Each day for four days prior to the trip, I made 5-6 needed food items. This could be done in one all-out meal prep session, but that’s not my style. When I was already in the kitchen for dinner, I made those extra things. It probably took about an extra hour a day for 4 days, so 4-5 hours total to prepare our trip food. Each meal I aimed to have protein, veggies, healthy fat, + sometimes a GF carb for the kids, but it definitely was far from a perfect execution. At minimum, I wanted to at least have protein and fat with carby meals so they weren’t hungry and cranky again an hour later when their blood sugar came crashing back down!
So what gluten-free, dairy-free meals did I plan take?
(Note: items with * in this post are Whole30 compatible, the rest are at least GF/DF)
- Jones All Natural Pork Sausage links (precooked and mostly awesome ingredients, small amount of sugar)
- Beef Smoked Sausage
- Aidells Chicken and Apple Sausage*
- Hard boiled eggs* (pre-packaged from Costco)
- My baked granola, keto-style (made with Lakanto Sweetener, for my keto-preferring hubby)
- My chocolate-chip freezer granola, so full of healthy fats that really helps my kids stay full!
- Lots of almond milk:
- Members Mark Unsweetened Vanilla from Sam’s Club* (my all-time fave!)
- Almond Breeze Banana Milk* (the best Whole30 compliant flavored almond milk!)
- Silk Reduced Sugar Vanilla
- Various dairy-free yogurts like So Delicious and these new Daiya Duets in my photo
- Canyon Bakehouse GF Bagels (found in the GF section of Walmart)
- OJ* (juice is technically Whole30 compatible, but not the best Whole30 drink option – all the sweetness with out the volume or fiber)
- Birchbender Banana Paleo and Chocolate Chip Keto just add water pancake mixes – these are SO easy for camping or on the go, as you just need a container, water, and something to mix with to make these come together. These I cooked on my skillet, but you could probably also make ahead of time, freeze, and then toast up on the road!
- Homemade muffins like my Flourless Chunky Monkey Muffins and Flourless Chocolate Muffins – I buy the pictured 1 cup resuable plastic containers from the Dollar Store to bring my muffins in for travel. Seems like overkill to individually package, but I have had SO many muffins over the years get smushed…just not worth it and this is how my kids take muffins in their lunches too. Never smooshed = winning.
- Individual chocolate Almond Breeze milks – not an often food for us, but a fun trip option!
- Homemade Cauliflower Oatmeal
- GF Corn Chex and Rice Chex – we never have these at home, as I feel they have very little nutrition or satiety in them, but we will get them when we travel for a fun variety.
- Rice Krispies – DISCLAIMER: These are not GF as the small amount of malt flavor has gluten in it, but works for our family.
Our lunches are very snack-y when we travel. I try to make sure we have all the components (protein, veggies, healthy fat), but it’s definitely more like an unassembled charcuterie board, if you catch my drift. Here are those components –
- Jerky sticks – Chomps Original* (my fave), Chomps Jalapeno Turkey* (hubby’s fave), and The New Primal Chomplings (little man’s favorite)
- Jerky – hard to find super clean affordable options in my area, so we get a type that all enjoy, though it does have some sugar in it (Pacific Gold Original). If you are on a Whole30, The New Primal Beef Thins are my favorite! My husband also liked the Zero Sugar Tillamook Jerky, though it’s too salty for me.
- Tuna salad* – Homemade mayo + tuna, which I make “fancy” by topping with hemp seeds, Everything Bagel Seasoning, and garlic salt. I don’t love tuna, but I really enjoy this stuff, especially when I eat it with plantain chips as a spoon.
- Chicken Salad
- Whole30 Great Value Walmart Freezer Meals* – these could obviously be dinner as well, but we used them for lunch one day. Almost every gas station has a microwave! So, we used one to heat these bad boys up while refueling. Easy peasy!
- Green salad + chicken* – an easy way to prep salads is to put all the dry ingredient into a ziplock bag, tossing in Tessemaes portable dressing packs (avocado ranch is my fave!). Mix in the bag by adding dressing, sealing, and shaking, then eat right out of the bag. We also do this on hikes and then reuse the bag to hike our trash out.
- Lunch meat*
- Avocado and dressing in our salads*
- Lots of nuts, including a family favorite of my easy perfectly roasted pecans
- Rx bar portable nut butter (love these also have protein in them!)*
- Mini guac packs*
- Snap Peas*
- Cutie oranges*
- 100% juice fruit cups*
- Homemade kale chips*
- Apples (go great with that almond butter!)*
- Applesauce pouches*
- Target fruit leathers, bites, and twists*
- Dried fruit*
Snacky stuff –
- Simple Mills sea salt crackers (one of the few crackers that work for us, but only on the go and school lunches, as the are pricey)
- Clean-ish Kettle potato chips
- Tortilla chips + salsa
- Individual Sabra hummus packs (my 7 year old eats like one a day, he loves them!)
- Siete grain-free tortilla chips
- Enjoy Life Lentil Chips (I don’t love lentils but, seriously, give these a try!)
- Enjoy Life and Simple Mills cookies
- Thrive Market Paleo Snack Mix
- Paleo Puffs – my kids call the “cheese” ones “Paleo Cheetos”
- Smart Sweet candy and Torie & Howard fruit chews (kinda like starbursts) – mostly used to bring extra fun to long drives and hikes
- Chocolate Rice Cakes
- Taco meat for tacos and taco salad* – I made 3 lbs, which lasted for one dinner and some leftovers. Heated it up in a microwave our hotel room had.
- The Whole Smith’s Popcorn chicken* – I made a quadruple batch, which lasted for two dinners
- Chili* – I made a batch that filled my 8qt Instant pot, which lasted for 2 dinners and some leftovers
- Hebrew National All Natural Hot dogs* – Cooked these on my skillet and served in GF Canyon Bakehouse buns (hubby and I went bunless)
- Homemade pizza – we use this dough recipe from Nuture My Gut for the dough for our pizzas. I shaped the dough into individual sized crusts and baked them at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Then my kids each topped their own pizza with toppings of choice (we use So Delicious cheese for a dairy-free cheese option). Once topped, we wrapped with double foil and froze. To cook in the hotel, we took the foil off and used it to line the airfryer, putting the pizza into the airfryer on top of the foil. It didn’t lay flat, but it worked. Cooked at 350 for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. This one was a big hit!
- Burgers – precooked at home and reheated in airfryer (airfried reheat = not dried out and gross). Served in GF Canyon Bakehouse buns for the kids, hubby and I lettuce wrapped. Ate with Cascadian farms tots and sweet potatoes, cooked in the airfryer.
- 2 leftover nights – I didn’t want any food to go to waste, so we ate leftovers twice to eat everything up.
- Sides – salad, fruit, muffins, steam in a bag veggies (cooked in the airfryer)
Did we have to buy any food along the way? Did you eat it all?
Yes, which I planned on. It wasn’t worth lugging 6-8 cartons of almond milk or allll the fresh produce with us, when I knew there were grocery stores and cilvilzation where we could re-stock. We did so twice, buying mostly almond milk and produce, but also the occasional new snack or treat like DF ice cream. We ate out meals twice – once we bought acai bowls for breakfast, once we went out to dinner on our next to the last day of the trip, and once bought some DF ice cream at a local ice cream parlor.
And yes, we ate 95% of it, thanks to re-using leftovers for dinners. I did throw out a few things that just never were appetizing, but for the most part, we ate what we brought!
How the heck did you fit all of this in your car?!
We do have a car topper and hitch rack for our Ford Expedition…but didn’t use either, surprisingly. We only packed 4 days of clothes, and just washed halfway to minimize that. We stayed in hotels, so that minimized bringing extra bedding you would need for camping. The large cooler took up a lot of the trunk space, for sure. The one extra seat in our 8-passenger car was definitely FULL of food. I very carefully arranged the food in the car and put the food we wouldn’t need for lunch/snacks in the trunk, and the lunch/snacks went up in the car passenger cabin with us. We were pretty darn full as we drove out of town, but you eat your way through it as you go!
Was it worth it?
For us, yes, for the reasons I shared at the beginning of this post. It’s absolutely more work before and during. It would have been nice to stay at VBROs or airbnbs with kitchens, but the remote areas we were traveling to didn’t have them or they cost way too much. Yes, it doesn’t feel as “fun” on vacation to not go out to eat all the time…but it’s not “fun” to be in debt either. This approach made this amazing 6 National Parks road trip possible for us. So, take part of this or all of this, but realize it IS possible to bring your food with you, even with a large family.
Want more Whole30, Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free travel food ideas?
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