Road trip food packing guide: How to save money by bringing your own meals

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

With Memorial Day approaching and schools out, millions of Americans will soon hit the road. With gas prices at record highs and inflation driving up restaurant tabs, it's worth it to pack some meals for the drive.

Packing food for long trips takes strategy, however. You'll need handheld things that won't make a ton of mess and also hold up well to being packed in a cooler for hours. Here are some of Southern Kitchen's best tips for road trip food. 

How to pack the perfect sandwich

Crafting a sandwich that will survive a road trip in your cooler begins with the bread. A light toast is the first step in creating a moisture barrier for your sandwich and also introduces more texture. 

To further head off sogginess before it happens, pat dry produce such as lettuce, tomatoes and onions after washing and slicing. Pay special attention to tomato slices and the crevices in leaf lettuce. 

Condiments add moisture too. While it may go against every fiber of your sandwich-making being, you'll want to put patted-dry meat on one slice of bread, cheese on the other, then apply condiments to the meat and cheese. Next, add your tomatoes, onions, what-have-you, and put your sandwiches together.

When it comes to protecting your sandwich, wrapping is as important as construction. You'll want to create a barrier from the moisture of your ice packs. Take a clue from sub shops and wrap your sandwich first in parchment paper, and then seal it in a plastic bag.

How to pack for breakfast

To make a granola parfait, place a layer of yogurt on the bottom of a Tupperware or half-quart container (jars are prettier, but could break). Next, add patted-dry fruit such as berries and sliced bananas. Top with granola and seal. Tape a spoon to the lid. Granola jars are kid-friendly only if your kids are old enough not to spill.

More:Adaptable frittatas and overnight oats: Make-ahead breakfast ideas for the morning rush

Egg wraps are a driver-friendly choice and are fine cold. Cook scrambled eggs so that they form a single layer rather than small curds and layer that with cheese in a toasted wrap or large tortilla. You can add sliced vegetables, bacon or deli ham. Don't forget a squeeze of hot sauce. Wrap this tightly and then roll it in foil. If you've left the top open and the bottom folded, mark the foil with an arrow to show which end to open first.

Make a breakfast box of hard-boiled eggs, sliced summer sausage and sliced cheese. Dried fruit and nuts are a mess-free addition. This also works well for a snack.

More:Perfect hard-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes and other tips every cook should know

Apples can be sliced into wedges and then held, sliced sides together, with a rubber band to prevent browning. Pack this with hard cheese.

If you have plenty of time to plan, baked goods are a perfect road trip choice. Think banana bread and peanut butter sandwiches or blueberry muffins. Biscuits are sturdy choices for breakfast sandwiches (see recipe below).

Other road trip packing tips

  • Tupperware containers in the cooler help keep everything from getting squished.
  • Sliced vegetables are best kept in plastic sandwich containers. Toss in individual packs of hummus, and you have a meal.
  • Place cheese sticks upright in sealed quart containers..
  • Ice packs are your best bet for keeping everything cold but not soggy. Frozen water bottles are great too.
  • Pack a box with crushable things such as chips and pretzels. Here's where to keep your paper towels. You'll need those.
  • Pack another small box with utensils, wet wipes, and a small blanket in case you want to eat at a picnic area.
  • Don't forget drinks! Canned sparkling water, bottled water and juice pouches are great choices.
  • Have small kids? Apple sauce pouches are your friend. 
  • For longer road trips, buy bulk snacks in individual snack bags. It's a life-saver.
  • Wrapped sandwiches go on top of everything else in your cooler. 
Bacon-Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Bacon-cheddar drop biscuits

Biscuits make sturdy sandwiches, and these drop biscuits come together quickly. You can layer them with ham, spread them with cream cheese or eat them just the way they are. 

Take extra care not to overwork the dough, which will make them too tough. 

Serves: 12

Total time: 30 minutes


2 cups self-rising flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

2/3 cup sour cream

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup cooked chopped bacon

3 tablespoons chopped scallions


Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet generously with nonstick oil spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Whisk in the buttermilk, sour cream and oil.

Fold in the cheese, bacon and scallions. Use a large spoon to drop spoonfuls of dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space between each biscuit. Bake until risen and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

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Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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