Tips for Trips: Real Food while Traveling

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As our family gears up to skip town this summer I know we aren’t the only ones with travel plans on the agenda. Packing up an entire family is a lot of work, and since our switch to real food I have yet one more travel detail to “stress” over: food of course. I not only have to consider what we will eat while on the road (or plane), but also what we’ll eat once we get there…both at our “home away from home” and out at restaurants. As I learned during our “100 Days of Real Food” pledge last summer eating 100% real food while traveling is a lot of work, but luckily we have a little more flexibility now that our official pledge is over. And being out of town is definitely one of those times where we want and use that flexibility.

Now just because we can “break the rules” on our trips this summer doesn’t mean I won’t still be bending over backwards to prepare plenty of food and snacks to bring along. Even though we no longer “have to” we still plan to do everything we can on our vacation – within reason – to stick to the real food we’ve come to love and prefer. So just in case “real food” is on your travel agenda as well here are some ideas on how to make it work:

Plan ahead

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is important to think through the location of your upcoming trip. Are you staying with family? Renting a beach house? Staying in a hotel? Now the first two options are a little easier to plan for because you will most likely have access to a full kitchen once you get there. Hotels can be a little trickier, but did you know most hotels offer small refrigerators by request? This is a pretty important feature for guests who need to keep certain medications or their baby’s milk cold…oh and for us high maintenance foodies too. :) Sure, there is usually a fee involved in getting a mini-fridge, but think how much money you’ll save on the breakfast buffet if you bring along your own cereal to eat with milk that you can buy from the drug store next to the hotel. Now it certainly won’t be the local non-homogenized milk you might be used to home, but don’t forget: flexibility.

Cook ahead


No matter where my travels take me…my parents’ house, a rental house, or a hotel, I like to bring some food along. Here are some of the key items I almost always prepared in advance:

  • Whole-wheat sandwich bread: Whether I make it myself or buy it from our local bakery, I bring decent (good-tasting) 100% whole-wheat low-processed bread along because it is one of the hardest “real food” items to come by. So rather than missing out on that first day relaxing at the beach while I drive around looking for bakeries I just bring one or two loaves of bread with us.
  • Whole-wheat tortillas (pictured): I like to make this bread alternative in advance, put them in the freezer, and then slowly let them defrost all day long in my suitcase while we travel to our destination. Sure I could make them in the kitchen (if there is one) once we get there, but again – I am on vacation and might want to actually relax instead.
  • Homemade granola: I love to start my day with a bowl of my beloved homemade granola cereal no matter where I am. Now my parents will buy the ingredients for me and sometimes even make the granola before we arrive (they are coming around!), but if I am going anywhere else I usually make a big batch in advance and throw it in a large zip lock bag in my suitcase.
  • Snacks: We love to homemade trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and popcorn), LOTS of pre-packaged Lara Bars or homemade granola bars, applesauce squeezers, and fruit leathers. If you are in the mood you can also make (and freeze/defrost in the suitcase like the tortillas) things like whole-wheat banana bread, zucchini bread, breakfast cookies and/or muffins. Bring more snacks than you think you’ll need because you’d rather be safe than sorry.

As you can imagine I usually have a small suitcase dedicated to all this food, but there is honestly no other way if you want to actually relax on your trip and not have to cave in to processed junk. (Airport tip: If your suitcase is small enough to fit through security you can check it at the gate for free! It will come out at the baggage claim with your other stuff.)

If we will be staying at a location that has a full kitchen I usually go shopping once we get there to pick up some of the following items to supplement the “harder to come by” items I’ve already prepared in advance. Now I can’t always find my favorite organic brands, but again you must remember: flexibility.

  • Milk: For my beloved granola cereal of course.
  • Fruit and vegetables: It depends on how many meals we plan to cook, but I always like fruit with my cereal and it is also nice to stock up on bananas for an easy snack.
  • Smoothie ingredients: Frozen (organic) berries, plain yogurt, and more bananas.
  • Hummus and 100% whole-wheat crackers (like Triscuits): Both items can be found in most stores.
  • Cheese: All four of us are cheese lovers…we’ve gotta have cheese.
  • Eggs: They won’t be farmer’s market quality, but I get the best I can find.
  • PB&J: We need something to put on our good bread that we brought!
  • Ingredients for easy dinners (if you plan to “eat in”): Whole-wheat pasta dish, seafood, quiche, or quesadillas – made on those traveling tortillas!
  • Butter and other staples


Now if you won’t be traveling far you’ll have the luxury of taking a cooler in your car so here are some other perishable foods that would be great prepared in advance and brought along:

Call ahead

If you plan to eat at restaurants while on vacation you can either decide you’ll just wing it or you can spend some time researching options in advance. When eating at restaurants in general we like to find places that support local farms. That’s about as “real” as we can get in the restaurant world, because most venues will never stop using white flour and sugar! The easiest way to do some research is to first find out what farmer’s markets are in the area and then call them to see what restaurants they supply. Or you can do a Google search for “restaurants serving local food” or some other similar search term, but that doesn’t always work as well for me. Here are some other tips on eating whole foods at restaurants:

Pack it up

Our family does most of our traveling on airplanes, and I have one hard and fast rule: never spend a dime at the airport. This is not only good advice from a real food perspective, but from a budget perspective as well. Okay, I occasionally buy a latte from Starbucks, but why pay $2 for a bottle of the same water that is free out of the tap? It just doesn’t make sense to me. So aside from packing up all the wonderful, transportable real food to eat once we get there I also like to pack all the food we’ll need until we get to our final destination…and then some. You never know when you will be delayed due to flight issues or traffic.

So this is how I work it for airport travel. I bring empty water bottles that will easily pass through security. I also pack non-liquid lunches and snacks like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, apple slices, popcorn, raisins, nuts, crackers, Lara Bars, fruit leathers, etc. Once we get through security I ask one of the airport restaurants to kindly fill up our empty bottles with ice and water. They never mind or charge me anything for this service. You could also fill up at a drinking fountain. We usually take mid-day flights so once we are in the air I cover my kids’ dirty-looking airplane trays with clean placemats (you caught me I use the disposable plastic ones, which are super convenient!) and let them eat. It’s nice that this takes up some of the travel time and also fills everyone up at the same time. Oh and don’t forget an empty bag to collect all the trash.

I hope some of these tips will be helpful as you head out on your adventures this summer, but I’d also love to hear your “real food” travel tips as well. Please leave them in the comments below!


Related posts:
How to eat whole foods at restaurants
Day 35: Our biggest challenge yet
(trip planning during our real food pledge)

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50 comments to Tips for Trips: Real Food while Traveling

  • Zan

    I also pack whole wheat crackers ( i use 3 whole fresh ground wheat then follow the recipe as is) if you can pack a cold pack slice your favorite natural cheese and we usually pack some homemade jerky slice beef natural good soysauce (not low salt) and coarse black pepper soak overnight and dehydrate.
    also check out dehydrated sandwich bag cooking. This might be a good way to get meals all you have to do is add hot water from the coffee pot. This is meant for backpacking. Here is a good site to start looking
    this post is using homemade tomato sauce or salsa and dehydrating it to rehydrate later for recipes used in camp. You can also make your own minute rice and noodles. You keep food in freezer till ready to use so you don’t loose as many nutrients while getting things ready for your trip.
    just and Idea that some might be able to use.

  • Jamie

    I was hoping to find a post like this. We went on a day trip on Tuesday and I packed a crock pot with steaming hot water and filled 5 mason jars with hot chili I had made the night before. I placed the jars in the hot water and sealed my crock pot. We left for the day and had a hot lunch to eat during our travels in an unexpected blizzard! The mason jars were ready-serve bowls and fit perfectly in little boys’ laps to eat in the van during a stop. I had also packed peanut butter sandwiches and fruit salad to eat for dinner and it was still cold when we were ready for supper. No overpriced, yucky fast food for my family of 6. I was pretty proud of myself!

    • Rosemary

      Genius !! What an awesome idea with the chili in the mason jars ! I’m gonna try that ….I have a locking lid traveling crock that will well !

  • Mieke Giles

    How do the homemade bread and tortillas hold up in your luggage? Do you bring it in a carry on bag or in your checked luggage? My entire family is headed to Texas (from Michigan) in a couple weeks and the real food issue while traveling has definitely been on my mind. I have already said that I will plan the meals for while we are there, make the shopping lists, etc.

  • I love the idea of researching “local food” restaurants before you travel. If anyone has plans to visit Disney World this summer, here are some real food tips before you go. My restaurant suggestions and some general real food guidelines for Disney

  • The last couple of times that I flew, I packed food in my regular lunch bag and tucked it into my carry on bag. I brought whole wheat crackers, Boursin Shallot & Chive cheese, a lovely pear, a crispy apple, a packet of graham crackers (1/3 of a box), and some boxes of raisins. The graham crackers and raisins are in case there are fussy kids nearby (sanity for me and their parents). The cheese, crackers and fruit pair perfectly with a small bottle of airplane wine, and there’s always enough to share with those seated around me – which makes it a nicer trip for all of us.

  • polishacorn

    Such great suggestions, especially love the crock pot idea for hotels! We don’t hotel it much, but do love to camp in a secluded resort town 4 hours from us. Eating out is atrociously expensive and we DO have a stove and refrigerator in our small camper to help, but no electricity or oven. Many of our staple foods we need to prepare ahead and bring. We incubate our yogurt in quart jars and bring those along in a cooler where we have frozen jugs of our favorite milk, several other quart jars of grain/bean type salads, homemade hummus, and 1/2 dozen frozen loaves of homemade bread. We tote bags of homemade trail mix and granola, too, along with homemade pancake and soup mixes. We shop before leaving for our local, fresh eggs and bring whatever veggies and herbs we can from the garden. Then when we get there, I can set up shop with all the familiar eats. We managed to camp for 11 days with our 3 young kids 2 years ago and didn’t eat out once. It is a bit exhausting getting everything ready, but I do not miss the camper packed with overpriced, unhealthy convenience foods that nobody wants anyway b/c they’re not “momma’s cooking”. Thanks for all the wonderful ideas you post!!

  • Michelle

    Thank you so much for sharing these tips! This year I have switched to giving my family unprocessed and oraganic food. I have really been panicking about what we will eat with our family road trip coming up. All these tips make me feel much calmer and more prepared for! Thank you!

  • Pam

    I live in NJ and I start every day with a green smoothie. When I traveled to California last year, I brought my Blendtec with me. I packed it in my luggage and checked it since I read that it wouldn’t be allowed as carry on because of the blade. When we arrived in California, we found a Whole Foods and I bought all the things I needed to make a smoothie in my hotel room.

  • Louise

    I struggle so much when we travel. None, I mean NONE, of our family members eat real food.

    When I make something for dinner they all complain about the taste(my husband says I am a great cook so I’m pretty sure it isn’t the food). Once my father told me he had severe intestinal distress after eating my whole wheat, organic chicken and veggie lasagna. I simply told him he body was in shock from eating a chemical free meal. :) When I tell them not to cook for us we will cook our own, they are insulted. Where is the balance? Do we eat lousy for a week to avoid hurting feeling, cook for ourselves and insult them or shorten our visits? The closest family we have is 6 hours away.

    Oh you should see the snack food drawer at the grandparents houses just for the kids. Our kids are 6 and 3 and the 6 year old understands healthy vs junk food as was very apparent when he opened the snack drawer and asked where the fruit and yogurt was. the grandparents were shocked when our kids didn’t want the drawer of processed junk.

    I have even tried explaining labels and ingredients to them and why they shouldn’t eat it but they just don’t seem to care.

    When we travel alone (not to visit family) we eat the same as if we were home. We love to seek out local fresh fruits and veggies that are not typically available in our area. My 6 year old thinks the greatest treat in the world is to be let loose in the farmers market with his own basket.

    When my kids want a treat we find a way to make it with healthy ingredients and since our son love science this is just another experiment to him, and we eat the results.

  • [...] over till the next meal or even to supplement a mediocre meal. For more ideas check out our “Tips for Trips“ post and also our detailed list of what real food meals you could order at some popular [...]

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