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How to Avoid the Drive Through on a Road Trip

Road trips are a hallmark of a family vacation. What’s better than being in a car with the people you love for 4, 6, 8 hours or even longer? There’s no need to answer that question – but one big question to answer is: What are you going to eat?

By: Kelly Atyeo, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

Road trips are a hallmark of a family vacation. What’s better than being in a car with the people you love for 4, 6, 8 hours or even longer? There’s no need to answer that question – but one big question to answer is: What are you going to eat?

On top of all that family car-ride joy, you also have people that are going to get hungry. Hungry and sitting for a long period usually results in whining, arguments, and grumpiness (and we haven’t even started describing what the kids are acting like)!

Make your car rides enjoyable with the following tips that will help you avoid the Drive Through AND reduce the chances of crankiness on your summer road trips.

Plan Your Meals

Before you leave on your road trip, think about what and where you are going to eat. Think about the distance you are travelling, the weather, and any interesting restaurants that you hoped to stop at on the way to your destination. These factors will impact what you plan for meals.

Finger Foods

Make simple meals that won’t make a mess in the car and that can be easily eaten. Bagels, wraps, and sandwiches/paninis are great because they can be made with lots of nutritious ingredients.

Here is a simple chicken salad recipe that you can make in advance, and add to a wrap or whole grain bun for the road:


2 chicken breasts
¼ cup (60 mL) diced red onion
¼ cup (60 mL) diced celery
¼ cup (60 mL) diced carrots
¼ (60 mL) cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp (30 mL) honey Dijon mustard (or Dijon)
2 tsp (10 mL) black pepper
Pinch of sea salt


  1. Chop 2 chicken breasts. If you’re using leftover chicken you can add white and dark meat.
  2. Dice red onions, celery, and carrots. Add mayonnaise and mustard. Coat chicken and add seasoning.
  3. Enjoy on a whole grain bun.

Note: If you are using Dijon mustard you can add cranberries or raisins for a touch of sweetness.

Healthy Compact Snacks

I guess you can consider chips and cookies to be compact, but why not try some healthier snacks on your road trip? The benefit to eating healthy snacks is they help keep blood sugar levels balanced, which makes people less irritable. Also, you won’t be getting extra calories that you don’t need, since you’ll be sitting for a long time and not expending a lot of energy.

Try these healthy compact snacks below:

  • Cut up vegetables & dip
  • Trail mix (dried cranberries, nuts/seeds, and pretzels)
  • Apples & bananas


Who wants to be stuck in a car when the weather is nice? Plan a picnic as a rest stop during your road trip. This is a great way for the family to get outside, stretch, move around and expend some energy before the rest of the journey. It’s also a great time to eat a nutritious meal.

Enjoy these chicken pasta salads as the entrée in your picnic menu. Make them ahead of time so you aren’t rushed the morning of your trip!

Chicken Pasta Salad with Saskatoon Berries

Mediterranean Chicken Pasta Salad


1 cup (250 mL) tricoloured rotini pasta
2 diced chicken breast (boneless, skinless)
1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil 3 cloves chopped garlic
2/3 cup (160 mL) crumbled light feta
6 black kalamata olives
4 sundried tomatoes
½ tsp (2.5 mL) pepper
½ tsp (2.5 mL) oregano
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice


  1. In a medium sized pot, boil lightly salted water. Add tricoloured rotini pasta. Cook until al dente (use package instructions).Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add oil, garlic, and diced chicken breast. Season with pepper. Cook chicken to an internal temperature of 74°C.
  3. In a separate bowel, add chicken mixture to the drained pasta. Add crumbled feta, sundried tomatoes, oregano, and lemon juice. Season with about ½ tsp of pepper. Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Travelling Food Safe

Food safety is very important when you are packing food for a road trip. Foods that are moist and/or high in protein are called potentially hazardous foods because they readily support the growth of bacteria.1

Some examples include: dairy products, meat & poultry, fish, shelled eggs, cut up fruit, raw seeds, garlic and oil mixtures (i.e. salad dressings).1

If you are packing any meals made with potentially hazardous foods two key things to control are: temperature and time.1


The Temperature Danger Zone is between 4°C and 60°C.1 This is where bacteria can easily grow and multiply on food. It’s difficult to keep foods hot when you are on a road trip, so the best bet is to use a cooler to keep foods below 4°C. Have a thermometer in the cooler to make sure it is functioning properly. Remember that a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled.2 Also, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of your car, rather than in a hot trunk.2


Once you take the food out of the cooler make sure to eat it within 2 hours. Throw away leftovers.1

With proper planning, road trips can become a food journey for the family as well. Enjoy the drive!


  1.  Krewen, M. & Douglas-Farache, M. (2011). Advanced FST Manager Certification Coursebook (3rd Edition). Toronto, ON: TRAINCAN.
  2. Food Safety Tips Fact Sheet: Chill. Hitting the Road.


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