open road

I am approached frequently with a question that vexes many: How can I eat healthy while traveling? My answer: It’s all about the restaurants you choose and the quality of the ingredients they serve. But, if you’re like me, that just won’t suffice. We want good quality organic fare that is healthy and delicious three meals a day, every day, and with equally wholesome snacks in between. Take a ride with me through the American landscape and we’ll see exactly how to eat like a true foodie, even on the road.

Recently, my mother and I were given the mission to deliver a little dog, Phoebe, and a ’98 Chevy Tahoe to Early Branch, South Carolina. This is not a short road trip; we live in Los Angeles. In total we would cover over 2,420 miles and travel through ten states, literally driving coast to coast. Now, that’s a road trip! We knew unforgettable adventures and memories awaited us, so we couldn’t wait to get started. What a great mother-daughter trip!

Having road tripped to Vail, Colorado a few months prior, I knew the quality of food on the road was not good (to say the least). And my mother has a long history of food allergies. She can’t eat anything out of a can, and she must stay away from the preservatives, additives, fake sweeteners and unnatural ingredients in most processed fare. And she’s gluten intolerant.

With such a restricted diet combined with my love affair with food, I knew I had to take things into my own hands. I couldn’t rely on restaurants or corporate chains to deliver us truly healthy and delicious food. I decided to pack enough food so we could eat three meals a day out of two coolers. How did I do it? Read on.

laura and her mom

I’m a Whole Foods shopper. I know many might object, throwing out the “whole paycheck” moniker, claiming it’s too expensive. And sure, Whole Foods – like any other corporation – is not perfect. But, if you compare them to the conventional grocery stores, they’re doing a lot of things right, like giving Americans a choice. At Whole Foods I can buy delicious, high quality and truly natural and organic foods. At conventional grocery stores, I simply cannot.

And by the way, the myth that everything is more expensive at Whole Foods, is just that – a myth (read Whole Foods ‘Whole Paycheck’ Myth Debunked?). Yes they sell pricier gourmet items, but when you compare staples to staples they are very competitive and sometimes cheaper. So I put together a list of foods that I could make ahead and would pack well in an ice cooler, and I went shopping.

I am a breakfast eater. I never miss it. My blood sugar tends to run low, so it’s critical I start the day with some sort of protein to set me up for success. And I’m not talking about a protein bar. I’m talking about real food. Eggs, avocadoes, steel cut oatmeal and homemade granola are a few easy and delicious favorites.

So, I hard boiled one dozen eggs and made my homemade superfood granola recipe. I figured I could eat an egg with an avocado, sprouts and wild, smoked Alaskan salmon (it stores well in a cooler on ice) or granola for breakfast (which is also great for snacking in the car). Not bad for eating breakfast out of a cooler!

I picked up a couple of premade things at Whole Foods like fresh pesto, gluten-free crackers, soft spreadable goat cheese and a goat gouda cheese for the evenings to have with my favorite chardonnay, and my mother brought her favorite vodka (we’re not sacrificing anything!).

For lunch my mother brought her gluten-free bread for sandwiches. I picked up some organic deli meats, sprouts, roasted bell peppers (I used a coupon that saved me $1, Whole Foods 365 brand) and soft spreadable herb goat cheese (again Whole Foods 365 brand). In fact I used several coupons at Whole Foods that saved me at least $5 each shopping trip and reused my bags so I saved another $.05 for each bag.

laura, mom, dog

For snacking I bought some organic blue corn tortilla chips (I threw in some salsa for the evenings), pink lady apples (they are a family favorite!), almonds, dried mangoes (and my homemade granola). I also bought five gallons of spring water. As you can tell, we were not short on food!

Little did I know that packing this ready-to-go food would make our trip effortless when it came to eating! We didn’t have to worry when we got to a motel or hotel (sometimes in the dark) where we would eat or what we would eat (I always think when I eat out, how was the food I’m about to eat raised?). In the mornings our prepacked coolers saved us on gas and money. We didn’t have to make an extra stop to find breakfast, and I knew I could eat right versus having to settle for a “continental breakfast” that’s usually full of pastries and fruits that set me up for blood sugar disaster (and weight gain), and is something my mother simply can’t eat.

For lunch (and we’d usually gas up mid-day and use the restrooms), I could easily access our cooler, and make my mom and myself delicious sandwiches. As you can tell, we didn’t have to sacrifice one bit. In fact, eating in restaurants would have been a sacrifice.

After making our first site seeing stop, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon, I made it a point to search my GPS for a Whole Foods in the next major city near the 40 freeway. Next stop, Albuquerque, New Mexico, but not after first seeing a stark naked lady walking down the freeway (I’m not joking!).

This time we were ready for a change in flavors. I invested in some pre-cooked, but fresh, foods like grilled wild Alaskan salmon, spring veggie cous cous, grilled asparagus, a whole roasted chicken (for us and Phoebe – she’s got to eat healthy too!) that came with a free side of cole slaw (yes from Whole Foods). All fit neatly and snuggly in our cooler. After all, we needed to keep up our energy and strength to see Elvis’ Graceland and the Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry. Tennessee here we come!

mom and dog

On a lunch break outside of Amarillo, Texas, we saw what looked like two statues of large black guns that welcomed visitors to a home at the entrance of a driveway. Upon closer inspection they turned out to be custom designed BBQ Guns for sale! Texans love their guns (you can see them in the photo above behind my mother’s head).

Our next two Whole Foods stops were in Little Rock, Arkansas and Asheville, North Carolina. Each time I restocked our cooler with delectable fresh made foods like salads, grilled veggies, fish and foodie items that took us all the way to our destination – Early Branch, South Carolina.

When we arrived to Early Branch in the early evening where everything is about an hour away, we were too pooped to go to eat. Once again, I turned to our deliciously packed coolers. I made a very tasty pasta (if I don’t say myself), what I now call Early Branch Peach Pesto Apricot Pasta (made with quinoa gluten-free pasta). It’s now a family fav!

As you can see, with a little planning, preparation and forethought, you truly can eat healthy while road tripping. Yes, it does take a little work and effort, but it’s so worth it! Not only did we eat healthy, we concluded we saved several hundred dollars on eating out (and let’s not forget the extra calories we saved from our waistline). Not bad for eating scrumptious, high quality and healthy food on the road!

Here’s a list of things I brought on the trip. I gathered some items from around my own kitchen and then it was off to the store to fill in the gaps (almost all organic!).

  • Alaskan smoked salmon
  • Avocados
  • Balsamic glaze
  • Basil
  • Bread
  • Cheese – soft goat cheese to spread on sandwiches, a hard goat cheese for the evenings
  • Coconut milk for granola and tea
  • Dates
  • Dried mango slices
  • Gluten free crackers
  • Hard boiled eggs (1 dozen)
  • Honey
  • Ice
  • Mayo
  • Mustard
  • My own sea salt and pepper
  • My superfood granola
  • Organic corn chips
  • Organic deli meats
  • Peaches
  • Pink Lady apples
  • Pesto, for breakfast and sandwiches
  • Raw Spirulina Superfood snacks – so delicious made with dates, bananas and spirulina (kids love them for their natural sweetness)
  • Roasted bell peppers
  • Salsas
  • Sprouts
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Tea
  • Water (I started with 5 gallons and picked up more on the road)

Other miscellaneous items you may need:

  • Acrylic plates
  • Knives (2)
  • Napkins
  • Reusable cups for hot tea
  • Reusable water bottles
  • Scissors
  • Sparkling water
  • Trash bags (at least 2)
  • Utensils
  • Vodka (optional)
  • Wine (optional, but less so!)

top image: Dr. DAD