Helpful tips for cooking while on the road

The adage “It’s the journey, not the destination” doesn’t just apply to driving, flying or traveling by train; it can also describe adventures with food. Follow these steps to making meals on the go and streamline your time from pot to plate.

What you need

Store cooking supplies in a bin keep for travel on the road. Photo: Charli Kerns
Store cooking supplies in a bin for travel on the road. Photo: Charli Kerns
Spend good money for the stove; the rest is surprisingly affordable. (You don’t have to get camping-specific gear.) Here’s a list of common items to have in your arsenal.

– Camp stove
– Propane
– Fireplace lighter or matches
– Cookware like spatulas and a can opener
– Cutting board and knives
– Cups, plates and utensils
– A couple of pots (you can buy cheap ones at a thrift store)
– Paper towels
– A few trash bags and zip-top bags

Keep it simple where it matters

Starbucks Via makes for quick coffee while outfitting a boat before hitting the road again. Photo: Courtesy of Charli Kerns
Starbucks Via makes for quick coffee while outfitting a boat before hitting the road again. Photo: Charli Kerns
Gourmet doesn’t have to mean complicated. Buy the Starbucks instant coffee (or similar) instead of the cheap stuff.

Almost all gas stations have hot-water dispensers by their coffee stations, so bring your cup in after you get gas. (This also makes a great evening treat with tea.)

Be prepared

If you’re going for a drive longer than a day, freeze any and all food you can — bacon, butter, etc. That food will keep longer, and you can pack more food instead of ice. In the morning, take out the food you’ll want to use later that day.

Organization is also key here. Have one box for kitchen stuff and one box for food. In the dried-goods box, organize things you don’t mind saving for a month at a time: salt, sugar, cooking oil or spray butter, bouillon cubes, etc.

You can get creative with storage, too. Old medicine bottles are ideal for salt and seasonings. Sample shampoo and conditioner bottles make perfect dish-soap containers.

“Train” first

Practice before you pull out of the driveway and a one-skillet dish is a snap. Photo: Ela Haney/Pexels
Practice cooking at home what you want to have on the road. The more dialed you get on those dishes, the less intimidating they’ll be to cook while you’re traveling. Bacon, egg and cheese burritos for breakfast? Beer brats and sauerkraut for dinner? Those are super-simple one- to two-pan meals if you know how to put them together in advance.

You can also make a few things at home to have ready to go. Split kale, apple, ginger and blue cheese salad into two Tupperware containers for fresh veggies — a rarity on the road. Sprinkle blueberries on pancakes from batter you made and poured into a washed ketchup bottle.

Rest stops are your friends

A photo posted by Charli Kerns (@charlickerns) on

Also, rest stops are your friends. With water and tables available, you’ve got two of the major components of cooking handled. You won’t be tempted to “just make it easy” by ordering a burger in the drive-thru.

Embrace the mistakes

Didn’t read the instant-mashed-potatoes instructions? Forgot the can opener? Food mishaps are the same as getting lost, so have hummus and carrots and laugh. You’ll have a good story to tell later.

Savor the small things

You’ll get there — eventually. Photo: anja/Unsplash
There’s the idea that you have to keep pushing, keep chugging along, to get to your destination as fast as possible with whatever energy you have remaining.

But remember the saying “Slow and steady wins the race”? It holds true for road trips too. Take it from someone who regularly makes 15- to 30-hour drives around the country.

The not-so-crazy thing about taking a good minute and resting up is that you really feel rejuvenated from an actual break where you get to relax with a beer (if it’s your co-pilot’s time to drive) and cook on the road.

The extra effort is worth it to spoil yourself. Make the route as fun and as much a part of your adventure as the endpoint.

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