Eating out is such a fun way to discover a town. There is always a lot to learn about a destination through its food. But sometimes…eating out is a little painful on the wallet. Which is why I’ve organized a few make ahead, easy road trip meals you can prepare and bring along.
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If you’re wondering how to make travel more affordable, this is an easy way to start.
This post covers meals you can make ahead and bring on a trip with you to your rental (or hotel).
We love to take weekend getaways and rent a condo up in the mountains. We have found that if we cut out restaurants as much as possible, we are able to have these getaways more often.
Recently, we went out of town and ate out only 1 time. It cost us about $100. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant and we didn’t order drinks or appetizers. Ouch. We’ll eat out once or twice as a special treat, but we’ve found that packing easy meals for our trips to make or heat-up at our rental is way cheaper!
Here are a few easy road trip meals to make ahead and bring on vacation!
(Note: this is only possible if you are staying close, or in other words driving and not flying. Also, a rental home or condo is best so you have a full kitchen to work with, though some of these can work at a hotel with a microwave and a mini fridge!)
Check out more tips on saving money when you travel with the whole family.
Easy Breakfasts to Take on a Trip
To make breakfast easy on vacation at a rental home, you could grab some easy road trip meals like frozen waffles, bagels, cereal and milk, or other quick items. Here are a few other options for slightly more homemade taste in the morning!
Banana Pancakes (make ahead)
I like to make these from scratch (using this banana pancake recipe that is oh so good), but you can also use a box mix if you prefer. Make the pancakes completely ahead of time, then cool them and put them in a freezer bag (Ziploc or reusable). When it’s breakfast time, it’s so easy to pop one or two out and stick them in the microwave. It’s cheap and saves a ton of time when you really just want to be out exploring!
Make your favorite muffins and freeze them!
Breakfast Muffins (make ahead)
My kids love these chocolate zucchini muffins (and they usually hate zucchini). I make them in mini muffin pans. Then I freeze them. Once they are frozen, throw them into a container or Ziploc bag and keep them frozen. By the time you get to your destination, they will be thawed and fresh tasting. It’s a perfect breakfast because kids like that there is chocolate in them; mom loves that there is a vegetable in them.
Really, any of your favorite muffin recipes should work fine. Or just buy some muffins from the bakery and bring them. Either way makes for perfect, easy road trip meals.
Grocery Store Breakfast (purchase)
Yep, we’ve done this many times. Even if we have taken a plane somewhere and are staying in a hotel with nothing but a microwave, we go to the nearest grocery store (or go before you leave town if you’re driving) and pick up a pack of Jimmy Dean Sausage Sandwiches for the kids.
They love these things, and all you need is a microwave to heat them up. It fills them with protein for the morning.
I’m not a huge sausage fan, so I will grab a yogurt and some oatmeal cups for the trip. There are plenty of grocery store items that are healthy (or healthier) that you can easily take back to your rental, or in this case, even your hotel room.
Lunches You Can Bring For Easy Road Trip Meals
Sandwiches (pack and make fresh)
Whether its PB&J or deli meats and cheese, it’s easy to throw some bread and fixings into a cooler for the ride. Making sandwiches is quick and easy. Plus, what you spend on making sandwiches for a week for the whole family is going to be a lot cheaper than just ONE meal out. If we plan on being out for the day, we make up some sandwiches in the morning, wrap them and throw them in a cooler. They are still plenty fresh by lunch!
Hack: Some grocery stores will sell tomato, lettuce, and onion already sliced and wrapped on a small platter. This really helps, especially if you’re in a hotel, so you don’t have to cut anything. Or of course just slice all your fixings at home before you go and put them in a container.
“Favorite Lunch” (make ahead)
My kids named this, not me, so you know it’s kid-friendly. Plus, it’s really healthy and an easy meal to take on a trip if you just pop it in a cooler. Here’s how I make it:
- 1 chopped up cucumber (small diced)
- 1 container grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 2 avocados, diced
- 1 ball fresh mozzarella, diced
- olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- Garlic powder, salt, pepper
Put the first 4 ingredients into a large bowl. Drizzle on oil and vinegar to your liking. Mix well. Give a few shakes or garlic powder, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix again. Done.
To take this as an easy road tirp meal, put it in a large container and throw it in a cooler till you arrive. It’ll be even better by then because the flavors will all soak up and marinate.
Vitamins, protein, flavor, fresh mozzarella…what’s not to love!?
Loaded Nachos (pack and make fresh)
This meal can include so many food groups and feed a ton of people with minimal effort. For it to be a true lunch, just make sure you do more than just chips and cheese.
Chop up a few ingredients and put them in containers and in the cooler/fridge. Then when you’re ready for lunch, throw the toppings on the chips on a large plate and microwave (or stick it in the oven on a cookie sheet) Here are a few suggestions:
- Tortilla Chips
- Shredded chicken, cooked
- Ground beef, cooked
- Diced red onions
- can of green chiles
- Olives, sliced
- Refried beans or Black Beans
- Shredded cheddar or colby/chedddar blend
To add after it’s heated up:
- Shredded Lettuce
- Chopped tomatoes
- Sour Cream
- Green onions, chopped
Grocery Store Lunch (purchase)
While you’re at the grocery store picking up easy breakfast items, you can also head near the deli where you’ll most-likely find pre-made hoagies. My kids love being able to pick their own type of sandwich. It’s such a special treat, and only around $3-4! Just another great way to save money on a trip.
The produce section also has lunch packs in the refrigerated area. Usually there are crackers, grapes, apples, cheese, carrots/ranch, or other healthier options in these packs. We’ve seen generic packs, Mickey Mouse packs, and Paw Patrol packs.
One thing my kids really look forward to on vacation is that we usually let them pick out a Oscar Meyer Lunchable for one lunch. These are usually 2 bucks or less and wow does it make them happy. A couple dollars can buy you parent-of-the-year.
Looking to travel on a budget? Check out these posts!
Here are a few helpful supplies for making easy road trip meals pack easily
The third, large container is 14-cups capacity and great for packing/freezing soups or pasta
Make Ahead Dinners to Take on a Trip to Save Money
The really easy, obvious meals that are affordable and quick to make at a rental would be spaghetti and sauce, chicken nuggets, taquitos, frozen lasagna (maybe not quick, but easy), or frozen pizza with a bag salad. But if you’re wanting something slightly more homemade, check out these easy meals to bring on a trip.
When making these meals (or even to carry ingredients), I recommend these storage containers. We use these and love that they are durable, reusable, and stack easily to take up less space once you’ve used up the contents.
Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice (make ahead)
This one-pot dish is so simple to make. I use Together as a Family’s recipe, but I use shredded rotisserie chicken to make it quicker and much easier. It’s indulgent, comforting, and one of the best, easy road tirp meals. You’ll need:
Rotisserie chicken, shredded (Costco and Walmart sell it already shredded, and I assume many grocery stores as well)
Broccoli (the link above calls for frozen, I just use fresh)
Cheddar cheese– shredded
salt and pepper
See here for the full instructions. It’s really easy to make, and once it’s cooled down a bit, just load it into a couple large containers. Pack it in a cooler when you’re ready to go, and simply heat it up in the individual dishes in the microwave when you’re ready to eat!
One Pot Chili (pack ahead, make fresh)
This makes for an easy road trip meal to take on vacation because it hardly requires any preparation beforehand or when it’s time to eat! I’m not big on beef, so I make a bean chili that the whole family loves. Here’s all you need:
- 2 Cans of Beans
- 2 Cans of Tomatoes
- 1 Can on chopped green chiles (the little tiny cans)
- 1 can of corn
- Cumin (a few shakes)
- 1 chopped onion and 1-1/2 to 2 Tbsp Olive oil
I chop the onion before we leave and put it in a container with 2 tablespoons of oil. I throw everything else in a bag, still in the cans. When you get to your destination and are ready for dinner, dump the chopped onions and oil into a large pan. Sauté until onions are tender. Then open all the cans and throw everything remaining (including cumin) into the pan and stir. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, and you’re done!
I’ll make this when we come back to the rental for the day and my kids go to shower. By the time they’re done getting jammied, I’m done making dinner! It’s a quick and easy meal to make on vacation.
Noodles and Veggies (make ahead)
- Ramen/Rice noodles
- Veggies (your choice! Carrots, zucchini, squash, etc.)
- Chicken Broth
- Soy Sauce
Before you head on your trip, grab some Rice or Ramen Noodles (in the Asian Food section, not those little packs of Ramen soup). Cook the noodles according to the box. Then cut up whatever veggies are left in your fridge and cook them in the stove top with some oil.
Add 1/2 – 1 cup broth and a couple shakes of soy sauce to the veggies, then add the noodles. Mix everything together well, then let cool. Put it in a container, then into a cooler for the ride up.
Refrigerate when you get there until you’re ready to eat. Then just portion it out into bowls and microwave.
This is another easy road trip meal to make for vacation, as well as being easy to transport and re-heat.
This meal was inspired by a recipe in this healthy, budget cookbook, which is all about eating vegetarian on a budget. There’s plenty more recipes in the book that are easy and yummy…and cheap!
Red Chicken Curry
I make this red curry recipe (from Carlsbad Cravings) even at home when we are not traveling. The flavors are great and there is protein and veggies for a great, balanced meal! Feel free to cook up some rice to make it go farther.
To take this as an easy road trip meal, make the curry a day or two before. Let it cool and then stick it in the freezer. Transfer it to the fridge when you get to you destination so it can thaw. Then you can simply reheat it in a sauce pan (in a rental) or dish it into paper bowls and microwave the servings (if at a hotel).
Italian Pasta Salad
This is one of my kids’ favorite easy road trip meals that I bring. It’s REALLY convenient too.
We actually had this packed in a cooler (don’t freeze) for our last trip. When we stopped at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we stayed longer than we expected. We were all getting hungry and still had an hour to go until our final destination.
I remembered I had this pasta salad packed in the cooler, so I just pulled it out, gave everyone bowls and forks, and we sat at a picnic table in the middle of the national park and ate dinner! No heating required 🙂
To make the pasta salad, you’ll need:
- Tortellini (or your fave chunky pasta. I used GF gnocchi)
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 1 package grape tomatoes, halved
- Can on sliced olives (Big or small can…as many as you want. We use lots)
- Fresh Mozzarella, diced
- Italian Dressing
Put everything together in a large bowl. Wait until you serve it to drizzle on Italian dressing.
I forgot to bring the dressing, but it was still really good. In fact, the next day my kids were begging for it again for lunch (luckily we had a little left).
Hawaiian Teriyaki Chicken and Veggies
This one takes a little longer to prep but is so flavorful. To keep it fresh during your road trip, just stick it in the freezer after everything cools from cooking. Then put it in the fridge when you arrive at your destination. Heat at your rental as needed!
Note: You can heat this at a hotel as well in the microwave, but since it has a few pieces/ingredients, it’s easier where you have more space to spread it out and dish it up.
This recipe (From Tastes Better From Scratch) involves marinating chicken in teriyaki sauce, and then grilling up the chicken, pineapple, and vegetables.
I cooked all of mine on the stove and that turned out fine. But it also took longer than it would have throwing everything on the grill.
I love that this recipe has protein, veggies, grilled pineapple, and coconut rice to serve it all on!
Grocery Store Grab for easy road trip meals- Dinner
Frozen Single Entreés
While you’re at the grocery store for breakfast and lunch items, you might as well round it out with dinner. My kids love heading to the frozen section to pick out an Amy’s Entreé. Amy’s is our personal favorite brand as their options are a bit cleaner and healthier. But it’s vacation, so pick to your heart’s choosing.
At just a couple dollars per person, this is a super easy way to travel on a budget. The Amy’s enchilada which is so good and comes with rice and beans. About
$4 $6 (ouch, price went up recently). Other brands of frozen entrees are cheaper, though I prefer Amy’s because of the quality ingredients.
At a sit-down restaurant? Probably closer to $16. Multiply that by 6 people (which is how big our family is), and that’s a savings of over $50 for just ONE meal (when you figure in tip as well.)
Saving Money While You Travel with Meals
Some people travel and really put emphasis on food. If that’s you, that’s totally fine and really, it provides so many great, enjoyable experiences. But if you are on a tighter budget and your kid doesn’t know the difference between a tamale and a chimichanga at the restaurant anyway, why not try some easy meals you can take on vacation to save some money. After all, saving money means more opportunities for later!
Try out some of these easy road trip meals to take with you next time you head out of town, and see how much money you save!