Tips for Trips: Real Food While Traveling

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
4th of July Real Food Recipe Roundup! 11

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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59 thoughts on “Tips for Trips: Real Food While Traveling”

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  1. I use the coffee pot just to heat water and use it for instant oatmeal for breakfast in my hotel room. I know, instant. But remember – flexibility! I bring my own loaf of bread, plus a jar of peanut butter, and a brand new small jar of jelly. Wha-la – lunch! (Jelly goes in the mini frig). Bring your own fruit or buy local. And I always have almonds on me for a snack, even when not on vacay. I keep them in my purse. Dinners – always out. Just eat reasonably.

  2. So, what about a trip to Disney World with only a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee maker for one week? Am I missing a post that might lead me in the right direction?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Most of Lisa’s suggestions will work in that situation, too. You might add an electric griddle into the mix for more cooking options. :)

  3. Hi you have to try “daging dendeng” for your food travel. You can eat daging dendeng with bread or tortillas . You will love it! Only Usd 3.00

  4. When we travel it’s often from the Canada to (or through) the States which means we have to go through US customs straight after security before we even get on our flight. And they are super picky about food — no fruit allowed (I’ve had to throw out American apples!), sandwich meat — it’s insane! I swear they’ve got some kind of agreement with the few shops on the other side of security. I will now forever associate flying to visit my parents with cream cheese bagels from Tim Hortons — the cheapest thing on the other side of customs that I can tolerate.

  5. We frequently travel internationally with two young daughters (24 hours door-to-door) and we completed a 38 day road trip around Argentina earlier this year. Our family loves raw veggies and nuts, along with homemade breads and muffins. I will often prep a gallon ziplock each full of sliced cucumber, carrot sticks, almonds, cashews, banana bread, boiled eggs, homemade crackers, healthy nut carrot cake, nutty pancakes and/or homemade granola. We’re cutting back on dried fruits, but sometimes we include dates and dried figs for a bit of sweetness (and since they are so easy to pack in a carry-on!) The girls love it and I am much more comfortable having things prepared, rather than having to hunt for healthier options along the way.

  6. Sorry but the title through me off; so thought I’d add a few ideas.

    Eggs can stay out for days without going bad (contrary to what most think), so nice to bring brown organic with you if you’re driving. Food for air travel? No good. :( All the mass radiation they’ll go through. Milk? It’s one of the first our family switched over to when we went organic… terrible stuff on the market(CAFO); plus it has the potential to make one tired so fruit is a great fit-in for breakfast.

    BTW, can’t imagine living without my granola either. ;) Keep up the good work.

  7. This is giving me good ideas. We rented a townhouse in fenwick island DE (by ocean city MD)- One of my rules for this vacation was no cooking dinner – I do it every day at home – Mama needs a break. So luckily all of us love seafood and we are going to be in a great fresh seafood spot for dinner. It won’t be perfect but it will work. I think I will however make some of my own muffins ahead of time to bring with us – and granola bars, trail mix, etc – to cover most snacks. Then buy fruits & veggies in the grocery store there – and pray they carry organic! :) I just love this website- really great info!! Great recipes!

  8. great post and super suggestions from everyone…i make breakfast breads (cranberry, banana, blueberry etc) before any trip with a hotel stay. Those hotel breakfasts are scary. Hubby has dye and preservative allergies and dye is everywhere… who needs orange cheese in scrambled eggs? He even brings his own ground coffee, bottled water and a mini coffeemaker….perhaps that is going a bit far- we pack pretzels without MSG (yes some pretzels have MSG!), fruit and sandwiches for car trips–never do we eat road food. If you read Trip Advisor you can find restaurants that are “safe”. its like being a Girl Scout again and packing for the Camporee!

  9. We just got back from an Orlando vacation where, sadly, we did eat too much sugar and preservatives but I think we did ok and better than what we could’ve eaten! I started trying to switch a couple months to more real foods. We did stay in a condo with a kitchen so we were able to prepare breakfasts and some suppers. I made a beef stew with beef, carrots, potato and sweet potato. We had steamed broccoli and roasted potato with chicken legs (although the BBQ/ketchup sauce wasn’t organic or sugar free :( but it saved some $$ over dining out). I brought pancake mix from home for a couple breakfasts as well as oatmeal and gluten-free pasta for spaghetti. We had scrambled eggs with cheese and peppers most mornings. We bought milk, OJ, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, fruit/veggies, meats, salsa and tortilla chips. Luckily, Target sells some organic items cheaper than we are used to at home but we did find meats more expensive.

    The biggest thing that came of our trip was when we returned home. I had left half a loaf of WW bread out on the counter for the 12 days we were gone. We have been trying to make our own WW bread in a breadmaker, but to be honest, it goes hard and dense much more quickly than we eat it so we were finding it difficult and expensive to make. So, anyway, we got home and that processed loaf of WW bread after 12 days had NOT ONE SPOT OF MOULD! My husband instantly said OMG and now we buy bakery WW bread with the normal ingredients even if it is about $1 more expensive…he saw the proof and I don’t get hassled now! LOL

  10. My husband and I travel abroad year-round. Our nomadic lifestyle could be the perfect excuse not to eat real food but I am too stubborn. I really enjoy checking out farmers markets in different countries. You can practice the local language, expose yourself to the culture, and try new foods! Plus you will save money- restaurant meals every day can be so expensive.

  11. 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.

    1. Love it! Your parents and mine are probably the same generation. They ate poorly and at their current old age always say “well, I ate XXX and it hasn’t killed me yet!”

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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!!

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

    1. 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 !

  18. 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.

    1. Thank you for sharing! I was just thinking I needed to find a website like this for my upcoming family road trip.

  19. Laura in Florida

    About the 1st portion of this blog … I knew your blog was big, and I’ve been enjoying reading it for several months. But I didn’t realize how popular it was until yesterday … I was sitting in a diner I’ve never been to before, 6:30 in the morning, and a table next to me of (unfamiliar to me) 3 moms wearing tennis gear started saying to each other, “I’ve been following this blog, you’ve got to check it out, my family and I are going to try their 100-day pledge!” And then they started apologizing to each other about how “un-real” their diner breakfasts were!! ha!!

  20. I love these ideas! I just recently started make changes, tho we haven’t made a 100% switch, and some weeks are better than others. But we live in Germany and plan to do ALOT of travel in the next few years. We have another road trip in a few weeks, and I was looking for ideas of food to pack and take. Our hotel will have a really small fridge, but a grocery store near by. So I’m going to invest in a small cooler and try some of these ideas. Thanks for sharing!!

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  22. My husband and I are going to be moving from Portland, Oregon to Dallas, Texas where Im actually from and we are taking the Greyhound (almost a 3-day bus ride.) I was looking into a few healthy foods we could eat on the bus without having to buy alot of stuff at convenience stores on the way. I hate junk food and those stores are the worst lol. The comments actually gave me so many of ideas of what to bring. Thanks for all of the help!! Im really going to need it lol.

  23. Now that our family is larger, we have begun renting a room with a small kitchen at an extended stay hotel. Not much more expensive than a regular hotel room and it has a fridge, stove/oven, microwave, kitchen utensils and even a dishwasher in addition to separate bedroom areas. Totally worth the few extra dollars.

  24. One of the best things that we do when we travel is find LOCAL restaurants when we go out to eat. No chains. More often than not we get great food, often organic and/or locally raised and we are supporting the local economy. If I’m going to invest money in going out to eat (I cook a lot of our food ahead of time when I travel too!), I want it to support local businesses and I want it to be the best food I can find for my money.

  25. Thanks for these great ideas! We are going on vacation next week, and I have been getting nervous about finding real food options. We did book a hotel that has a refrigerator and microwave in the room. The fridge was mostly for our “adult” beverages ;), but it will be nice to keep some cheese and milk in there, too. I’ve already informed my husband that I will be packing lunch for the car ride there, and he is really excited about it. He told me he would rather do this. Fifteen years of marriage and now he tells me! Also, we can make paper bag popcorn right in our own room! I have also enlisted my 13 year-old son to help me plan snacks to take. It looks like dried fruit and pistachios are his new favorites!

    Thank you so much for opening my eyes to the junk I was eating before. Three days in, and I feel better already!

  26. I had a yogurt from breakfast at my hotel in my carry on bag to eat while waiting almost 3 hours for my flight. Security at Logan Airport in Boston confisated it. They acted like I had bomb making materials in my bag and even checked it for gun powder residue!

  27. Could you please PLEASE post the recipe for your whole wheat bread? I’m trying to find a recipe online and it’s confusing. Thanks!

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I’ve been playing around with a recipe for my bread machine, and I finally think I’ve got it right. I’m not home at the moment so this is from memory: 3.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 1/3 cups warm water, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 4 tablespoons honey, 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast. Good luck!

      1. I’ve been working on my recipe too and this is what I use for my Zojirushi bread machine: 1.5 cup water, 1.5 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp blackstrap molasses (is this real-food friendly??), 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup dark rye flour, 3 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 2 tbsp ground flax, 1 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp yeast.

  28. Perfect timing! We’re leaving next week for 11 days with people who don’t recognize fruits and vegetables. LOL Thanks for the suggestions, and reminder to PREPARE AHEAD!

  29. I’m just wondering how you feel about Subway? I’m just new to this whole foods journey. I’m trying to take baby steps towards moving my family away from processed foods to whole foods. We are traveling by van from Florida to Indiana. I can definitely pack some snack foods, but generally the entire family likes and accepts Subway. Remember I’m just taking baby steps here…

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I agree…Subway has a long list of ingredients that wouldn’t be considered “real” by any stretch of the imagination. Plus their meats are far from local (and humanely raised)! I think you would be better off stopping at a Chipotle (which is also a chain) because at least some of their ingredients are local and/or organic although their tortillas are unfortunately still refined.

  30. We recently drove from SC to AR with our little ice chest filled with goodies. my favorite was a sprouted grain tortilla with a hummus spread, then filled with sauteed veggies (onions, peppers, squash, spinach, cabbage..etc.) and ground turkey. It’s great warm, but equally good cold. I made one for all of us in the car. Also had plenty of apples and peanut butter, and almonds and raisins. We are about to go to Hilton Head for a couple of it was great seeing your post. It reminded me to not wait until the last minute to prepare! Congrats on the JO award!! awesome!!

  31. Congrats on your blog of the month award from Jamie Oliver, he is awesome. You are doing a great thing here, love all the ideas and help. Good luck on your trip.

  32. THANK YOU for this post. It’s full of practical ideas that I’m sure will come in handy soon. We have a 6 month old baby & are making his baby food at home with organic stuff as much as we can, and just returned from a two day trip. By planning ahead, we were able to pack food for him to eat without having to buy any processed stuff!

  33. Hi,
    I just discovered your blog. Our family has been trying to eat on the cheap this year while still consuming largely unprocessed (okay, we have a sugar and chocolate problem, but otherwise…) foods. One of the great things about real foods is that they’re often so much cheaper. People talk about how expensive local food is, yet they’ll go drop a bunch of money for frozen dinners or whatever. Looking forward to following your site.

  34. We also use the water bottle trick. I started doing that when my son was still using sippy cups- I would bring a leak proof thermos for him and put his drinks in that instead of the plastic cup that was too big for little hands. I take an insulated tote bag/ backpack and pack as well for the plane trip. It kept food cool but not as cold as I liked. I read a tip to use frozen blueberries in lieu of an icepack. I’m going to do that this summer. A cold “cooler” on the plane expands my dining options: chicken salad, pasta salad, cheese sticks…

    We’re traveling in about 20 days (Seattle to Charlotte), so I’ll update on the Facebook page about getting through security, what I bring, ect.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      Let us know how it goes…I successfully got grapes through security yesterday. I was a little worried since they are somewhat “liquidy” but there were no issues!

  35. I saw that your blog was listed this morning in the my email from Jamie Oliver! That was really exciting, because your local and I subscribe to yours!!! Congrats, that is pretty big exposure!Thanks for all the great travel tips.

  36. Great ideas. I cook all the time in hotel rooms, even without kitchens. I travel with a Hot Pot and the smallest George Foreman grill. You learn so much about an area when you are shopping for ingredients, rather than in restaurants. People are friendlier, too. If you have a GPS, use it to find grocery stores close to where you are. I have found the strangest, most wonderful sources for food using my GPS. The best places are always off the beaten track, but often listed in the GPS.

    1. I have a small butane single burner that they use in fancy hotels for making omelettes. It is totally safe to use indoors or out–if you have a small cookset for camping, you’d easily be able to cook in a hotel room!

    2. I have heard lots of people who pre assemble food, ziploc, freeze and then cook in crockpots all day while at Disney and such. The Forman Grill is a great touch too!

  37. I love these ideas. We will be traveling by car over 400 hundred miles each way next month. A family reunion with 30 of my favorite in-laws and I won’t have any say in the food while there for 3 days — flexibility :). But we will be eating real food coming and going. Thanks for the ideas! :)