Road Trip Meal Planning

I know some of you read that title and were like, “yeah, Kathryn, it’s called an oxymoron.” Most of the time when we travel, it’s a combination of food we take, food we buy and food we eat at friends’ houses.

Enter, a global pandemic.

When we decided to embark on a 9-day road trip from Texas to Utah, we felt like it was prudent (and more safe and affordable) to prepare all our meals, or at least take the food with us so we could prepare them while on the road. So, here’s the skinny on how we did it. I pray it helps you, too!

We made this simple: breakfast tacos. What can I say? We’re Texan! Our packing list included bacon, sausage, corn tortillas, shredded cheese, orange juice and milk. We bought the eggs at our first destination because traveling with those just did not sound smart. We froze the meat and thawed it out at our AirBNB. Most nights, we cooked the meat so the next morning all we had to do was heat it up. It made for must less stressful mornings since we were leaving early for morning hikes in national parks. We also brought along bread for toasting and even used leftover hamburger buns one morning. Ha!

Helloooooo, Costco. Seriously, we loaded up on every gluten-free snack they make (one of our kids is GF for medical reasons): gummi bears, fruit snacks, jerky, nuts, trail mix, rice krispy bars (come on, it’s a road trip!), chips, salsa, rice rollers, pirate’s booty, crackers and popcorn. Each morning, the kids each chose 4-5 snacks for the day. That way, I don’t serve as the flight attendant. It worked beautifully.

We made these the night before and just packed the staples: bread, peanut butter, honey, nutella, jelly, lunch meat/cheese, string cheese, fruit and chips. It needed to be easy and portable since we were hiking or driving every day. There was only one day we carried it with us in our backpacks. Typically, we packed it in our van coolers and drove to a picnic spot. I recommend packing a vinyl tablecloth (to cover those gross tables), baby wipes, hand sanitizer, a knife and paper towels.

Our dinner menu included: tacos, tostados, sausage/GF pasta with garlic bread, hamburgers, hotdogs and sheet pan nachos. We ate fast food two nights and sandwiches the other night. We cooked all the meat before we left and then froze it in plastic bags.

With the exception of 48 water bottles and two big water jugs, we brought all this with us: sparkling water, bottled water, four water jugs, Dr Pepper and Shiner beer. You can thank me later for that last one. The kids also brought their water bottles for the van and we used camel backs/water buffaloes for the hikes.

A few years ago, we finally got rid of our cheap coolers and saved for YETIs that actually keep things cold. It was an investment that made sense for us since we road trip often. We brought four coolers with us: YETI 110, two YETI 45s and one Hopper Flip 18. The key to keeping your food cold (or frozen) is to bring the coolers inside your house the morning before you leave, getting them to room temperature. Then, put in a “burner bag” of ice to really cool them down. Meanwhile, either freeze or put the items you’re packing in the fridge to get them cold. The morning you leave, pack the food/drinks, add more ice and lock them down. Don’t open them until you’re ready. The big 110 cooler we used 5 pounds of dry ice on the first day, then added another 5 pounds the following travel day and everything in there stayed ICE cold. We picked up our dry ice at the grocery store. We only opened the cooler to add more dry ice and then we locked it back down. I’m not a brand ambassador for YETI, but I sure could be because these things are legit and I’m a super fan! As for snacks, those just went into soft-sided resusable bags that we collapsed down at the end of the trip.

On long driving days, we tried to stop (or bring) at places for a fun treat, either using curbside delivery or online ordering. These are just a few treats we all enjoyed for great behavior in the van for all those hours!

Every family is different, but I just did a mental check of how much we ate in a single week, taking into account that we would probably eat a little less breakfast and a few more snacks. We’ve done this enough that I guessed about right. We threw out very little perishable food before driving home and we came home with about 10 snacks. My kids cleaned me out!

If there’s anything I missed, or you have other questions, just leave them in the comments. And remember, it’s not about being fancy on the trip, it’s about getting it done.


  1. Melissa Buttry on July 16, 2020 at 7:00 am

    What kind of gf bread do you all like? We are gf but only like ours toasted which stinks on a road trip.

    • Kathryn on July 16, 2020 at 9:54 am

      We use Genius and being our own GF toaster!

  2. Jo on July 16, 2020 at 9:32 am

    With the whole trunk full of food, where did you put the actual luggage? Do you have part of a row for suitcases?

    • Kathryn on July 16, 2020 at 9:55 am

      We took out the two seats in the very back row to stack our big cooler and two suitcases on top of it.

      • Kathryn L on July 18, 2020 at 1:17 pm

        Can you seal the Yeti coolers with dry ice without out-venting the gases as you travel? I’m afraid they’ll explode with dry ice! Is this an issue? Or am I freaked for nothing?

        • Kathryn on July 18, 2020 at 1:57 pm

          It wasn’t an issue for us!

  3. Nicole on July 16, 2020 at 9:37 am

    I love that you broke all this down. Our issue is that everyone starts complaining on about day 3 of the same thing (you mentioned similar breakfasts each day, similar lunches each day). Now, I am perfectly fine eating that same or nearly the same sandwich every day for lunch, and default to it on the regular when packing my lunch for work each day. Did you find that you had to get your kids onboard with the similarity day to day? And a burner bag… is that just a bag you expect to not last to bring on your trip?
    PS I am amazed at how efficiently the tetris of fitting all that in the back of your vehicle. Someone has mad skills there.

    • Kathryn on July 16, 2020 at 9:59 am

      We told them to like it or zip it – ha!! I think we’ve been doing it so long that they just got used to it. And it’s only for a few days. They got to choose their sandwich and chips. Not a lot of choices but there were still options. As for the burner bag, that’s the first bag of ice when we cool the cooler down. After that it’s in good shape and stays cold. I should’ve mentioned I’m the daughter of an Army man and a school teacher. Those Tetris skills are legit.

  4. Bailey on July 16, 2020 at 10:51 am

    This is very helpful- thanks! We are driving from Houston to Colorado in a few weeks. We usually stay in a rental when we travel and it’s never occurred to me to cook the meat beforehand! I’m definitely doing that this time so I don’t have to spend the whole week of “vacation” cooking.

  5. alby peters on July 16, 2020 at 11:20 am

    Typical Farnum fashion….planned and executed to the last detail with perfection. as with your sharing with all your readers. You are right up there with Martha Stewart if not above. Love to all.

  6. Kevin Ball on July 16, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    Can you clear out one more row and stuff Molly and I in it? Ham/mustard is perfect. Good work as always team Whitaker.

    • Kathryn on July 16, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      Bwahaha! We miss y’all!

  7. Maureen on July 16, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    We are gf too! (celiac). What rice crispy bars did you find? We miss those.
    I appreciate your post. As we travel with celiac and food allergies we always pack all our food. Thinking of those Yetis!

  8. Lauren on July 16, 2020 at 10:39 pm

    We bring our food on vacation, too. I only recently realized that some people don’t. A friend recently shared one of her hacks: she cooks chilis and casseroles ahead of time and freezes them. They bring them frozen along with a crock pot. Every morning, before they leave their cabin/hotel/Airbnb for the day’s adventure, she puts the frozen dinner in the crock pot and turns it on. Dinner is already hot and ready when they return. (This is particularly helpful when staying in a hotel without a kitchen.)

  9. Kristen Perreault on July 17, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    We camp every year (9 of us!) and this is how we do it, too! Make all the meats beforehand, freeze it, and we just keep buying more ice because we don’t have/can’t afford YETIS yet . . . but maybe someday?

    • Kathryn on July 18, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Even if you save up for one, it’s worth it!

  10. Dianne Field on July 18, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Hey Kathryn,

    I love how you guys travel – keeping it simple! We’re headed from the ATX to Colorado soon and will be packing most of our food, too. We own several Yeti hats and cups, but not a cooler – yet. For a family of 4, if you only bought one for road trips, which one would it be? Not ready to give up my rolling Longhorn cooler (Hook ’em), but I think a Yeti might be in order now. Thank you!

    • Kathryn on July 18, 2020 at 1:58 pm

      Long, overnight trips? The 110. Picnic lunches and day trips? The 45. Enjoy the cooler weather. Jealous!

  11. Martina on July 18, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    This all sounds great! So logical and worth the effort in planning. I recently saw an article that used a shower caddy as a car snack holder to keep snacks handy and easy to pass around! Now I just need a destination! 😁. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kathryn on July 18, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      Oh that’s so smart!

  12. […] wrote an entire post about packing and cooking food for our family of 8. That should answer all your food-related questions. Going to church while on […]

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