Last summer, I did something crazy. Well, for me. I walked into a McDonald’s and ordered an Egg McMuffin for breakfast.
As I kid, I ate at the fast food giant all the time. I loved quarter pounders with cheese, and always got so excited during the Monopoly promotions, when you got to peel the stickers off your soda cups and French fry containers. Remembering how much I used to enjoy these meals, and thinking about how many people eat at McDonald’s every day (billions and billions served!), I expected this Egg McMuffin to be insanely delicious. But it wasn’t! Not at all. To say that it tasted like cardboard would be to make use of a worn-out cliché, but it’s the best descriptor I can think of.
I know. Why did I even stop there in the first place? Sam and I were driving from Austin back home to New Jersey for a summer visit. That’s a 27 hour trip, which we complete over two days. Which sounds crazy, but we’ve done it so many times now that it doesn’t feel like a big thing. Usually I pack food and restock at Whole Foods once along the way. But this trip, there wasn’t enough time to do any of that (long story!). “We’ll just get stuff on the road,” I said.
Such a mistake, especially that bland Egg McMuffin. I swore I’d never do it again, and now that we’re getting ready to drive home for the holidays, I’m starting to think about what meals and snacks to pack. Last summer aside, I always stick by a few rules that make the healthy-eating-while-traveling thing pretty easy. They’ve always served me well on our long drive, but also work for travel on planes, trains, you get the idea.
Remember, you need your hands to drive. We always stop driving to break for lunch, but breakfast is usually eaten on the road. That can be difficult and messy: Cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, or any other liquidy thing requiring a spoon is out for obvious reasons. So are crumbly foods that you have to pick at like muffins. Hard-boiled eggs are OK if they’re already peeled, but they don’t taste great without salt, and it’s not easy to keep shaking salt onto an egg while you’re steering a car. What’s left? A fruity breakfast sandwich, which you can eat with one hand and almost zero mess. Make it the night before with whole grain bread, nut butter or cream cheese, and slices of whatever fruit you have on hand, maybe with a dusting of cinnamon or brown sugar to keep things interesting.
Think spa food. You know, healthy stuff like whole grains, nuts and beans, and fruits and vegetables. They’re the base of many meals that are easy to pack and eat, and that will keep without refrigeration: A wheatberry salad with kale, roasted beets, and sunflower seeds; whole wheat hummus wraps with avocado, lettuce, and shredded carrot; or if you’re feeling ambitious, brown rice veggie sushi. I like to prep meals myself when I can, but you can just as easily pick this kind of stuff up at Whole Foods. The point is lethargy is the last thing you want to feel when you’re driving long distances, and these foods will give you energy without dragging you down an hour later.
Snack on popcorn. I’m not normally one to advocate using food to alleviate boredom, but the monotony of the road when you’re driving across the country can be mind-numbingly dull. Snacks (plus a good book on tape) really do give you something to look forward to and help break up the time. I like popcorn because you can keep eating it forever, which offers at least some mental stimulation when you’re staring at the road and your spouse is asleep and you’ve listened to your entire music library twice already. It works just as well for shorter trips, too, because it’s light and relatively good for you, so you won’t feel icky after you finish it.
Pack what you’ll eat—not more. When you’re embarking on a long trip, you might get the urge to stock up on tons of food. Resist this. Either you’ll end up wasting it by not eating it, or you’ll be so bored from your drive that you’ll eat everything and get a stomachache. (I’ve done both.) Better to pack whatever meals you’ll be eating on the road, one snack you really like, and water. That’s all you probably need—and if you get crazy hungry and have nothing left, there’s always gas station peanuts!