My brother and I attended the same university, so we embarked on countless road trips between school in Chicago and our home outside of Denver. We made a lot of memories, mostly good ones, as we crisscrossed the Midwest. We listened to mixed tapes—decades before podcasts were a thing–and filled up on whatever food we could find at the gas stations along the way.
Chips, donut holes, soda pop. Nutrition was not top of mind; quick salty and sweet things were consumed with abandon. It wasn’t delicious and it didn’t feel great, to be honest—especially the last time we chose to eat like that.
It’s a long story involving a hitchhiker who turned out to be a terrible car mate, an iced-over interstate that slowed us to a crawl, and many, many cans of Mountain Dew and more junk food than you’d think a small sports car could fit.
By the time we passed the “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign, about three hours from our destination, my brother had to pull over as we rushed out of the car and got sick. When we got home our mother actually gasped. We looked positively green.
Twenty years later, my family takes a lot of road trips, and we eat really well while on the road. We do eat well at home, and it’s almost more important when far from home. Traveling with a heavy, greasy gut or an over-caffeinated system feels just plain awful. It’s not about losing weight or being too strict with snacks: It truly is about arriving at our destination feeling just as healthy as we felt at home. We load up a cooler with fruit and water, and we have a few favorite, easy meals that don’t slow us down. For one, we simply bring a Ziploc bag of marinating vegetables to throw on a grill (either at a campsite or roadside picnic stand.) A baguette and some cheeses can round out the meal.
Another family favorite is room-temperature pasta salads. Make them the night before you leave and put them in a cooler. My simplest recipe: One pound of whole wheat pasta tossed with six ounces of oil-packed tuna (don’t drain it), a tablespoon of your best grainy mustard, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. It’s surprisingly good for something so simple. It also gets you to where you’re going without turning green.