Needing a summer break at the beach, despite media hype about dirty rest stops and potentially infectious hotel rooms along American highways, our family of four took a 48-hour (4-hour drive with mid-week traffic) trip to the beach in Virginia. As we usually do when we travel, we took all our food with us in the car. The readout: we stopped at several “clean looking” restaurants for bathroom pit stops and the hotel was as clean as could be expected, so, a non-issue. But we did bring all our own food and water. Here’s how we did it.
What To Bring For the Road: A Tale of Two Coolers
Pack a big cooler for the trunk with ice packs and a smaller cooler for the car with lunch and snacks. The small cooler goes between the kids in the back to maintain car seat real estate lines and proper physical distancing. As every mom knows, kids who are close enough to touch elbows don’t last long on car trips. A picnic lunch for a park bench at an outdoor rest stop might consist of already cubed cheese and sausage or ham and chopped raw vegetable sticks. Maybe some chips, if you don’t eat bread, but most chips are made with industrial vegetable seed oils, so read the label before you buy. Canola oil among the ingredients? No. Put it back on the shelf. Safflower oil? Nyet. Soybean or corn oil? Nein! Same goes for any bread you might consume. Check the label. Danke.
Dessert BYOF Ideas
For dessert we travel with chopped fruit (and picks or forks), raisins, peanuts, and dried prunes, apples, oranges, and homemade date bars (chopped dates, chocolate, nuts and seeds flattened with a rolling pin and cut into squares – no expensive packaging or industry messaging needed.) Pack napkins or paper towels, cutlery, either plastic or real, and an extra trash bag or two. We pack individual water bottles and large refill water bottles, no soda. Ever. Remember your wallet? What about your blood sugar levels? And let’s not kid ourselves about “diet,” sugar-free chemical sodas.
Okay, So Let’s Get To The Meat Of The Meals!
Pack that big cooler with prepared food from home as well as raw and frozen ingredients, preferably organic where possible, voting with your dollar for food and soil not treated with synthetic, hormone-disrupting chemicals. Here are some ideas and what I packed on our trip, besides what I have already mentioned above: Frozen Russian ravioli (pilmeni), grass-fed beef hot dogs, frozen grass-fed ground beef, frozen homemade broth, pork and duck leftovers from various meals (packed in glass Pyrex bowls), along with a small container of duck fat, three cans of tuna, Kerrygold butter, Polyface Farms pastured eggs in the carton, small bottles of avocado oil and olive oil, salt and pepper shakers, half a bulb of garlic, sour cream, macaroni noodles, small container of homemade sauerkraut, several organic tea bags, organic ketchup, in-season cherries, a box of organic mixed greens, whole mushrooms, ice cream (which inevitably melted in the cooler by dinner time), grass-fed milk, and cream (for my tea!)
What?! No Mayo?!
Most store-bought mayonnaise is made with industrial seed oils. So I make my own! It’s so easy you’ll cry: Separate one egg, use the white for scrambled with the other eggs you brought, and whisk the yolk in a measuring cup (which was packed along with the whisk), while slowly adding a third of a cup of avocado oil. Presto! No industrial seed oils here, either. And just enough for those three cans of tuna. (Yes, the eggs are raw. If you are sourcing your eggs from a trusted farmer, you will not get salmonella. Instead, you will be supporting a small farmer while nourishing yourself with real, whole food. A win-win.)
Hello, How Am I Going to Cook All These Meats and Eggs in a Hotel Room?
Easy: Pack a good quality Cuisinart hot plate, the answer to all your eating in problems. Plus, call ahead to get a room with a refrigerator, or else make sure the ice machines are working in the hotel to refill you cooler! We used the hotel microwave only once – to heat up a pork chop because we had run out of pans and to save time. Other items you will need: A small pot and a medium pot, a medium frying pan, one or two small cutting boards, several good cutting knives of different sizes for slicing and paring, four real (unbreakable Corelle-style) plates and bowls, three kitchen towels, a wooden spatula, a small bottle of dish liquid, and a sponge.
By eating in, BYOF traveling or not, corona or not, you are saving money, saving time, and eating when and where you want to without making others “serve” you. (Yes, the restaurant industry is huge, but it is overfed, so to speak, while the concept of cooking at home is disproportionately underrated in the US, in my opinion.) Eating in also produces much less waste of resources. Think about carbon footprints of the restaurant supply chain versus a family meal at home. By eating in you are also avoiding the involuntary consumption of inflammatory industrial vegetable seed oils (you know the kind – canola or safflower oil, with the halo around their necks), ubiquitously used in restaurants, from cheapest to glamorous. (Dr. Catherine Shanahan, who wrote the foreword to my book, The Bordeaux Kitchen, goes into the biology of the century-long damage these oils have incurred on Americans in her books, so I won’t go into it here. Look up The Fatburn Fix and Deep Nutrition.) Restaurants rely on cheap oils to remain profitable. The consumer is the one who pays the price in health bills after eating the cheap food. Granted, our family doesn’t eat out (pretty much ever), and I cook daily, even on vacation, but taking your food with you on vacation is doable and definitely healthier (for you and your wallet) than eating out.
But Yes, We Ate Out
The hotel served breakfast: terrible scrambled eggs and alluring, extreme-sugar sausages, along with waffles, bagels, cereal, and OJ, which my kids loaded up on because they don’t get much of these at home. (Sue me.) I made eggs in our frying pan in the room on the second morning. And on the way out of town we stopped for lunch under an outdoor tent to taste the local broiled seafood (no industrial oils, hopefully, in the broiling process). It was mostly worth the wait, though the waitress was stressed with all the tables of tourists like us she had to serve. We thanked her effusively. We had also stopped for Mr. Whippy’s soft serve once or twice and again on the way out of town. It was July, after all.
Had I Overpacked?
Yes. We did not use the garlic, ground beef, or bit of duck fat, but I used them for a quick dinner upon arrival at home.
Am I Crazy?
No. Well, maybe a little. But this is what we do. (And I am talking about taking pork roasts and containers of fruit on international travel! We learned our lesson with broth, though. TSA will confiscate it.) Yes, there is clean up. Yes, my husband kindly did the dishes in the hotel bathroom sink. Nevertheless, we found we had more good, high quality food, more time to play and read and argue and discuss things, and more time to generally be “on vacation,” rather than having to go out and spend money on low quality, expensive food at every meal. We went home with empty coolers, two souvenir t-shirts, and slight sunburns from all the extra time we had to play in the sun! BYOF!
(These are my own opinions, which is why I am posting them here on my own blog. You may disagree, and that’s okay! Thanks for taking the time to read!)
…And now a little plug for my Etsy store of handmade pastured tallow and lard soaps and creams…