Fact: Jerky sticks and cellophane-wrapped cinnamon buns only taste good for the first 40 miles of a road trip. After that, good snacks are still possible if you train yourself to use the gas station minimart a little more resourcefully. Hidden next to the pots of burnt coffee, energy drinks, and sweaty, slow-turning hot dogs is actually a decent selection of ingredients that can be the foundation for some surprisingly healthy, tasty snacks. We combined some of these items with a few extras brought from home, for supereasy ideas to use on your next road trip. All you’ll need to do is enlist the person riding shotgun to act as car chef.
Check out our road-trip cooking survival tips, then try our recipes.
4 KEYS FOR SUCCESSFUL ROAD-TRIP COOKING
Keep It Fresh. Store produce, bread, and other perishables in a cooler lined with ice packs. For short trips, swap out the ice packs with a few frozen water bottles, then drink them when they thaw. Bring food inside at night, and refreeze your ice packs in the motel minifreezer. If you can’t refreeze your ice packs, double-bag ice cubes from the gas station in zip-top bags, and replenish as needed.
Create a Car Pantry. Stick condiments and spices in the slots of a cardboard six-pack caddy to keep them from rolling under the seats. Liberate old condiment packets from the back of your silverware drawer and bring them along for a squeeze of extra flavor.
Pack the Right Tools. You don’t need to schlep your entire kitchen with you. Here’s what you do need: a can opener, a couple of lightweight bowls, a set or two of cutlery, a small sturdy plastic cutting board, and a sharp knife wrapped in a kitchen towel so no one shanks themselves.
Keep It Clean and Safe! Knives and moving cars don’t mix well, so whenever possible, save ingredient-chopping for the rest stops. In case of sudden turbulence while cooking or eating, pack baby wipes, napkins or paper towels, and hand sanitizer. And for easy cleanup, bring along a roll of small garbage bags or that sack of plastic grocery-store bags you’ve been hoarding.
ROAD TRIP RECIPES
From the Minimart: Cream cheese, almonds (or any nut of your choice)
From Home: Pitted dates (sometimes can be found at the gas station too), cinnamon
Assembly: Split the dates lengthwise without cutting all the way through; spread with cream cheese; top with an almond and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
From the Minimart: Cream cheese, crackers, string cheese
From Home: Cherry tomatoes, dried oregano and/or basil
Assembly: Spread the crackers with a thin layer of cream cheese and sprinkle lightly with the dried herbs. Slice the string cheese into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and arrange on top of the cream cheese. Top with a halved cherry tomato or two.
Pretzels with Honey-Mustard Dip
From the Minimart: Honey (check the coffee area for free honey packets before buying a honey bear), mayonnaise packet, mustard packet, pretzel sticks
Assembly: Stir together the honey, mayonnaise, and mustard to taste. Use as a dipping sauce for the pretzels.
Sweet and Salty Chocolate Grahams
From the Minimart: Graham crackers, peanut butter, hulled sunflower seeds, a dark chocolate bar
From Home: If you are a chocolate snob, an upgraded bar
Assembly: Spread a graham cracker with peanut butter and sprinkle sunflower seeds on top so they stick. Top with a square of chocolate. Note: This snack gets crumbly and makes a big mess if you add a top graham cracker, so enjoy it open-faced. Variation: Add thinly sliced banana if you see one at the gas station.
From the Minimart: Plain yogurt, apple, honey, almonds, dried fruit
From Home: Cinnamon
Assembly: Put the yogurt in a cup and layer in sliced apple, cinnamon, almonds, dried fruit, and honey to taste.
Carrots with Peanut Dippin’ Sauce
From the Minimart: A honey packet, peanut butter
From Home: A squeeze bottle of lime juice, a soy sauce packet, garlic powder, baby carrots
Assembly: Stir together the honey, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, and garlic powder to taste in a cup. Thin with water if desired. Serve with the carrots.
From the Minimart: Canned or packaged tuna (drain the water before getting into the car), a mayonnaise packet
From Home: Flour tortillas, avocado, garlic powder, a squeeze bottle of lime juice
Assembly: Stir together the tuna, mayo, garlic powder, and lime juice to taste in a small bowl. Spread the tuna salad on a tortilla and top with sliced avocado, then roll up the tortilla. Veggie alternative: Swap the tuna for canned white beans that you’ve drained and smashed with the back of a spoon.
Fruit Cup Spritzer
From the Minimart: A bottle of seltzer, cups of ice from the soda machine, a fruit cup or can of fruit
From Home: If you prefer, hedge your fruit bet by bringing along your favorite canned fruit (we like finely chopped pineapple) or fruit cup
Assembly: Add the fruit chunks with their juice to the cups of ice. Slowly pour in seltzer to taste.