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Food for the road

June 1st, 2011

There are three basic needs: food, shelter, and clothing.  Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to satisfy the first of those while on the road: what should I eat?

The easy path would find me going from fast-food joint to fast-food joint, never cooking for myself and swelling up like a beach ball.  That would be disgusting, not to mention expensive.  Instead, I have three requirements when it comes to supplying myself with metabolic fuel on the trip:

  1. Inexpensive
  2. Reasonably healthy
  3. Easily prepared

Inexpensive.  Eating nothing but restaurant food would quickly wipe out my budget.  When I can make a really nice sandwich for $1.00 that would cost me $6.00 in a place like Panera, the motivation to do it myself is very strong.  Sandwiches, stir-fry, eggs, cold cereal, burritos — these are all things that can be prepared on the cheap.

I’ll have to be careful about the costs of raw ingredients, since I won’t have the facilities to keep much fresh food from going bad.  The prevalence of supermarkets will help.

I will still stop at restaurants every now and then, particularly to search for the world’s best cinnamon roll, but I plan to limit such decadence to a handful of times per week.

Reasonably healthy.  I want to stay healthy on the trip, and an important part of that will be filling my belly with good foods.  That means minimally processed shelf-stable items and plenty of fresh foods.  I’ll have to be careful to time my purchases around my numerous transits of the US-Canada border, since bringing across most unprocessed foods is forbidden, but that’s an easily managed task.

It turns out that eggs, hard cheeses, and many fruits and vegetables don’t really require refrigeration, so as long as I don’t leave them in my car, they should all be good options.  Thus, a cooler may or may not make the cut.  If I bring one, I’ll have to deal with getting ice and emptying water, which I consider a hassle.  Those reusable cold packs won’t be an option since I won’t have a way to freeze them, and the common thermoelectric coolers don’t work very well.  The main reason I’d want a cooler would be for milk, which would otherwise spoil quickly, but it might end up being less of a headache to simply buy pints of milk for immediate consumption.

I’m going to try very hard to avoid eating in the car.  That shouldn’t be too difficult, since I almost never eat in the car anyway. (In fact, I can’t remember the last time I ate in a car.) By avoiding in-car consumption, I will be forced to interact more with my surroundings and minimize boredom eating — not to mentioning removing the source for irritating crumbs and stains.  Drinking in the car will be fine, but only water, coffee, or tea.

Easily prepared. I’ve learned to be reasonably competent around a kitchen over the past few years, so the prospect of preparing meals for myself is not only comfortable but also enjoyable.

Now, I will not have the kitchen sink for this journey.  What I will have is my MSR backpacking stove, my MSR Blacklite cookset, and my favorite chef’s knife.  Oh, and probably a polycarbonate storage container and a spatula. Compared to my normal cooking tools, that’s a minimalist set, but it should be sufficient.

I’ve been practicing cooking with these limitations for the past few weeks, and I think it will work.  The biggest change is the size of the pan in the cookset compared to my normal big, heavy saute pan.

All of this presumes that I’m in a place where I can cook, which will probably be a campground.  Most motels would frown upon the use of a backpacking stove indoors.

That about sums it up. Worth noting is that most of the above won’t apply when I’m putting together food for the backpacking legs of the trip.  For those, the main considerations are energy density, simplicity, and cost (in that order), which typically leads to highly processed sugary, salty, and fatty food-like substances.  But that’s a post for another time.

  1. Matthew Kato
    June 3rd, 2011 at 00:18 | #1

    Hey Jeff,

    Great blog!

    Small food suggestion. I know there is no shortage of energy/snack bars out there, but if you’re into food in bar form, might I suggest Larabars. The great thing about them is that they taste good, and yet they are all made from only five natural ingredients.

    Again, love the blog.

  2. Jeff
    June 3rd, 2011 at 01:14 | #2

    The Larabars look interesting. Do you know of any local stores that sell them, or are they exclusively mail-order?

  3. Matthew Kato
    June 3rd, 2011 at 11:56 | #3

    I’m pretty sure you can get them at most places like Target, etc. Let me double check…

  4. Matthew Kato
    June 3rd, 2011 at 12:52 | #4

    @Matthew Kato
    Yeah, they’re are Target, although apparently Whole Foods has a better selection.

  5. June 17th, 2011 at 22:51 | #5

    12 Volt Travel Cooler? http://goo.gl/MhIqC. and eat whatever you want as you can always exercise: http://goo.gl/rO7Lf. watch out for blood clots!! http://goo.gl/I4hwV. maybe get one of these? http://goo.gl/PsWTe. and definitely one of these: http://goo.gl/FP5tb.

    have a great trip. i’ll be watching you on the interwebs.

  6. Jeff
    June 18th, 2011 at 00:50 | #6

    @Matthew Kato

    I found the Larabars at REI and gave them a try. They’re good! Thanks for the suggestion.


    You know, it’s never occurred to me to exercise while driving. Seems obvious in hindsight, but then, the good ideas usually do. I’ll give those a try during the trek. Might even help prevent those super-scary blood clots!

  7. June 19th, 2011 at 18:23 | #7

    Trader Joe’s also sells LaraBars for another source while on the road.

    Ultra-pasteurized milk is actually shelf-stable, but people were creeped out buying tetrapaks on a shelf. That’s why stores refrigerate it.

    I promise to feed you when you get here.

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