How to do Road Trip Picnics – where to stop and other tips to make them easy

Road Trip Picnics

 

We’ve been talking picnics all month.  We’ve covered Day Trip Picnics, Vacation Home Food, and next week we’ll talk Date Night picnics.

This week, let’s talk about road trip picnics.  I really like to pack our lunch for our first (and sometimes, last) day of travel.  We prefer our own sandwiches to fast food, especially when traveling.  A couple of my kids deal with car sickness and it really helps to have control of the food choices.  Not to mention that it’s much cheaper to pack.

I won’t talk too much about what to pack.  We’ve covered that pretty well already.

I do want to share some tips I’ve learned and I’d love to hear yours too!

Where to stop for a road side picnic.

When you’re on a long trip, trying to get where you’re going, you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for a place to eat.  Convenience wins big over scenic views in this case.

Rest stops are an obvious solution.  Many of them have picnic tables.  We’ve found that as you enter most states, there are Welcome Centers that tend to be a notch above regular rest stops.

Tip: It’s nice to have a roll of paper towels to use as place mats or even to sit on if the benches aren’t the best.  Although, the adults tend to eat standing up to counteract all the hours in the car.

Eating in the car.

We’ve found it’s best to get out for a break, but there are times when it makes sense to eat in the car.  If it’s raining, you may want to skip the picnic.  Heavy traffic occasionally makes it hard to to stop.

Just in case you end up needing to eat while driving, pack the cooler where an older child or adult can get to it.  Have that person pass out the lunches and drinks.

Tip: For snacks like boxes of cheese crackers or grapes, small paper cups work great for handing out individual servings.  These are also easy for the driver to eat from.

Strategically splurge on treats.

If you’re looking at 8-15 hours in the car, you can bet you’re going to need a few treats.  Here are a few things that have worked for us in the past:

  • DumDum lollipops and Jolly Ranchers – It’s fun to choose a flavor and the small candy lasts a while too.
  • Planned afternoon breaks that involve purchased treats like soft drinks, coffees, or even ice cream.
  • Treat bags – When the kids were little, I would pack a bag of small games, toys, stickers, etc.  I tried to aim for one treat per hour.  Some of the most successful items were masking tape, pipe cleaners, dry erase markers (to use on the windows),  and blank notebooks.  The car was usually a mess when we arrived at the destination, but everyone was was (relatively) happy.

I’d love to hear your tips!

Many of us will be hitting the road this summer for long trips.  Share what works for you and your family in the comments.

This meal has been my go-to quick recipe for over 10 years

mexican beans and rice done2

 

I make a lot of new recipes.  We rarely repeat meals, because I’m always trying to create new recipes to share with you.

That said, there are a few go-to meals that are so well liked and so easy that they get repeated with some frequency.

Mexican Beans and Rice is one of these.

A friend gave me this recipe over 10 years ago.  I have no idea how many times we’ve had it since then.  It takes common, pantry ingredients that I almost always have on hand.  It’s cheap, nutritious and can be made in just 15 minutes.

I wrote the post with the recipe about a month after starting this blog.  The photos were pretty bad, so I shot new ones a few years ago.

And there are near endless substitutions and additions you can make, depending on what you’ve got on hand:

  • Use black beans or pinto beans instead of kidney beans, or use a combination of beans.
  • Use brown rice or instant brown rice instead of white (I like the flavor of brown better, but I’m always in a huge hurry when I make this so I stick with Jasmine rice, which cooks quickly.)
  • Add cooked ground beef or cooked chicken for added protein.
  • Top with cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese.
  • Serve with guacamole or avocado slices.
  • Use a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies if you don’t have any salsa.
  • Serve in tortillas instead of over rice.
  • Cook the rice in chicken broth for extra flavor.

If you haven’t tried this one, I encourage you to make it soon.  It’s a great recipe to add to your arsenal of easy, weeknight meals.

Substituting when you can’t find the product a recipe calls for – Jalepeno Chicken Taco re-do

Sometimes companies come out with new products and recipes get created around those products.  Then a while later the products get pulled or you just can’t find them.  Or maybe you’d just really like a homemade version.

What to do?  Substitute!

Depending on the recipe and product this can be really easy or a bit more challenging.

Recently, I made Creamy Jalapeno Chicken Tacos, but I couldn’t find the jalapeno cream cheese.

Slow Cooker Creamy Jalapeno Chicken Tacos

 

Instead, I used plain cream cheese and a small can of diced jalapeno peppers.  It was a simple fix and the result tasted great.

Here’s another example.  We love the sauce packet for this Sweet Korean BBQ Haystacks recipe:

Slow Cooker Sweet Korean BBQ Haystacks

 

But I really wanted a homemade version that would be close.  This Korean Taco recipe comes very close to the same taste:

Slow Cooker Korean BBQ Tacos

 

Cream of…Soup Substitutions

Canned cream soups can be substituted with a good white sauce.  There are lots of ways to vary the flavors of white sauce so it fits your recipe.

white sauce how to make

 

Try to get close enough when making substitutions

Sometimes it’s not possible to get the exact flavor without the product.  I know a lot of people have been frustrated while trying to make this Creamy Pina Colada Pie.  Pina Colada jello is not easy to find.

PinaColadaPie

 

Try Island Pineapple jello instead.  It won’t be the same, but it will be close.  Or use any other flavor of jello that catches your fancy.

What are some ways you’ve made substitutions for products lately?

3 Things That Work in the Kitchen This Week – May 18

3 Things that work in the kitchen

 

1.  Sharing a meal with a family with a new baby

We’ve got lots of young families in our church, which means lots of new babies being born.  This week I took a meal to a family with a new baby boy.  I made Baked Chicken and Vegetables in the Slow Cooker, with a few alterations.  There was enough to share and still feed my family too.

Our church uses a cool website called, Take Them a Meal to organize meal sharing signups.  This makes the process so simple.  People can add what dish they are bringing so there aren’t so many repeats.

2.  When you run out of diced tomatoes…

…Try using stewed tomatoes instead.  I have a drawer in my pantry dedicated to tomato products.

pantry tomato products drawer

 

It’s usually stocked full like in the photo above.  A few weeks ago, it was so full I vowed not to buy anymore tomato items for a while.

So when I was making the Baked Chicken and Vegetables, I pulled open the drawer for a can of diced tomatoes and found that I’d used them all.  I substituted a can of stewed tomatoes and made a mental note to start buying diced tomatoes again.

3.  Crockpot liners and foil pans

I don’t use these often, but they are great when you cook on vacation.  We like “eating at home” on vacation.  And I don’t mind cooking on vacation.  But I do like making the cleanup easy.

Crockpot liners and foil pans do the trick.  They worked great for our trip to Asheville, NC last week.

What’s working for you in the kitchen this week?

 

Take Your Own Food on Family Vacation

Packing Food for a Family Vacation

 

We’ve got a family trip planned for Asheville, NC.  Instead of eating out every meal, I’ve planned a menu for eating most of our meals at the house we’ve rented.

It’s typical for us to take food on vacation, if we’re staying in a place with a kitchen.  I’ve written a number of posts on vacation food before.  This post tells how to use dry ice to transport food a long distance.  We’ve done this a number of times when traveling to Disney World or the beach.

This time, we’ve got a short trip and it’s not too long of a drive.  We’re going to make do with coolers and plenty of ice for keeping the food fresh.

Here’s our menu:

Day 1: Travel Day

Breakfast at home

Picnic lunch on the way.  I’ll use the ideas I shared last week for packing this lunch.

Dinner at the house:

Day 2: Biltmore House for the girls, Whitewater Rafting for the guys

Breakfast:

  • Green Smoothies
  • Toast or bagels
  • Eggs for those that want one
  • Juice for people who won’t drink green things
  • Coffee – of course!

Lunch – This is included in the rafting trip.  The girls will eat at Biltmore House.

Dinner:

  • Slow Cooker Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwiches – I’ll take my slow cooker and a liner to make cleanup easy.  I wanted something that would cook itself while we’re out enjoying the day.
  • Fruit
  • Salt and Pepper potato chips
  • Any leftover salad from the night before
  • Cookies and/or more s’mores

Day 3: Hiking and Exploring Asheville

Breakfast: Same as the day before

Lunch: Picnic lunch, hopefully eaten before, during or after the hike while sitting outside.  Stay away, rain!

Dinner: Restaurant in Asheville

Day 4: Travel Home

Breakfast: Same as before, but making sure to eat the remaining eggs.

Lunch: Most likely stopping at fast food place.

Four days of travel.  Three meals out.  Lots of money saved.

 

Quick & Easy Skillet Chicken Jambalaya – 15 minute meal

Quick and Easy Skillet Chicken Jambalaya

 

We love jambalaya, but it takes a while if you bake it in the oven.  I’ve tried making it in the slow cooker, but that didn’t turn out very well.

Then I realized that it could be made in a skillet, using a similar method that I use for fried rice.  The rice cooks separately, in chicken broth instead of water.  Once it’s added to the ingredients in the skillet, it all comes together similar to a traditional jambalaya.

The bonus, of course, is that it’s much faster to make on the stove top.  If you use jasmine rice, it will only take 15 minutes for the rice too cook and the whole dish is done in short order.  Jasmine is my favorite rice for this reason.  With other long grain rices, I’ve found it takes closer to 30 minutes for it to get tender.

Start the rice, then beginning chopping and cooking the other ingredients in the skillet.  To keep this in the 15-20 minute range, you’ll also need to use chicken that’s already cooked.  I keep rotisserie chicken in the freezer for quick meal prep.

If you want to cook the chicken from raw, you can still have a quick meal by following the instructions on Basic Chicken Skillet.  This recipe is a take on that basic recipe.

Here’s what you’ll need for Skillet Chicken Jambalaya:   [Read more…]

3 Things that Work in the Kitchen this Week – May 11

3 Things that work in the kitchen

 

1.  Recipe Re-do

There are some recipes that call for store-bought ingredients that are hard to find.   Or maybe you’d like a homemade version instead.  One of those recipes is Creamy Jalepeno Chicken Tacos.  I love this slow cooker recipe, but when I shopped for the ingredients I couldn’t find the jalepeno cream cheese.

So I came up with an easy alternative.  I’ll share a full post soon, but basically it’s as easy as using a can of jalepeno pepper and plain cream cheese.  Simple.

Another recipe I’ve redone so the store-bought mix isn’t needed is Slow Cooker Korean Tacos, which is a take on Korean BBQ Haystacks.  The sauce tastes close to the same, but it’s homemade.

2.  15 Minute Chicken Jambalaya

I’m really excited about this recipe!  My family loved it and it’s so quick to make.

Quick and Easy Skillet Chicken Jambalaya

 

Look for the recipe on the blog on Wednesday!

3.  Vacation food – packing for a rental house

My family is headed to Asheville, NC later this week for a long weekend trip.  We’ve rented a house there instead of staying in a hotel.  We’ve found houses are the way to go for family trips.  You get more room to spread out, there are plenty of places to come together for games and visiting and you can save money of eating out.

I’ll be sharing our menu with you on Thursday.  We do hope to eat one meal at a restaurant in Asheville.  If you’ve got recommendations, let me know!

What’s working in your kitchen this week?

6 Picnic Tips and Menu Ideas for a Day at the Zoo, Park etc.

6 Tips and Menu Ideas for a Day Trip Picnic to the Zoo or park

I’m a big fan of packing food for day trips.  It saves money and the food I bring is almost always better than what can be bought at our destination.

Here are my best tips for BYOP (bring your own picnic).

1.  Go with a standard plan

One trick I use for these types of outings is to pack nearly the same thing every time.  The big reason to do this is it makes spur of the moment picnics a breeze.  There have been times when we’ve woken up on a summer Saturday and decided to hit the road that morning.  I’ve been able to make a quick trip to the grocery for supplies, come home and pack it all up and be ready to go in less than an hour.  Buying our standard picnic fair makes this a no-brainer.

You can make it special by packing crackers, chips or cookies you don’t usually buy.  Grapes are a standard in our picnic, but they’ve gotten so expensive that they’re now a treat too.

2.  Try tortilla wraps instead of sandwiches

Tortilla wraps hold up better in the cooler than sandwiches made on bread.  They don’t seem as prone to squishing or getting soggy like sandwiches will.

3.  Pack sides that can double as snacks part way through the day

Mostly this involves making sure you’ve packed enough extras to go with your main course.  It’s fun to stop for a special treat, but it’s also nice to not have to purchase every snack and drink your family will need through a whole day.

We like a mix of healthy and not-so-healthy.  Grapes and baby carrots are our go-to healthy choices.  I like these because they’re easy to eat and not messy or sticky.  They hold up great in the cooler too.

We also like cheese crackers and some kind of packaged cookie.  Homemade cookies taste better, but store-bought handle being packed without crushing or smooshing.

4.  Avoid things that melt or get sticky

Cut fruit, frosting and chocolate are things that come to mind here.

5.  Keep beverages simple and pack plenty

When people get hot, they get thirsty.  You can save a ton of money just by having enough drinks packed.  We usually go with water, but juice boxes are nice to have too.

6.  Don’t forget plenty of ice for the cooler, napkins and wet wipes

Picnic Menu Options

Sandwiches/Wraps

Try turkey, beef, ham or hummus.

Add Swiss, provolone, cheddar or American cheese.

Lettuce and sprouts can be added when you make the wraps at home.  Tomatoes are best skipped or added later at the picnic site, because they tend to make thing soggy.

Savory sides

  • Cheese crackers
  • Chips
  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Bell pepper strips
  • Pea pods
  • String cheese

Sweet sides

 

 

15 Minute Chicken Fiesta Skillet

15 Minute Chicken Fiesta Skillet

 

This is one of those fall-back kind of recipes.  You can vary it in a million ways.  And as long as you have cooked chicken in the freezer, you can have this dish on the table in just 15 minutes.  If you have to cook the chicken it will take a bit longer, but it’s still a quick meal.  Use the Basic Chicken Skillet instructions to get started if you’re using raw chicken.  You could also go vegetarian and leave out the meat altogether.

I came up with this on the way home from church last Sunday.  I hadn’t made any kind of plan for lunch, so while we drove home I took a mental inventory of ingredients in the kitchen.  I do this on purpose sometimes, because it forces me to create easy recipes with common ingredients.

This skillet dish is an adaptation of Chicken Fiesta with Black Beans in the Slow Cooker.  That post is old – one of the first posts I ever wrote on this site over seven years ago!  The photo is terrible (I really need to snap some new ones).  The recipe is stellar though and  it’s one of our family favorites.

Unfortunately, on Sunday I didn’t have any black beans so I subbed kidney beans instead.  I don’t have an ingredient photo for you this time either.  We were in a big hurry to sit down and eat.  I didn’t think to take photos until a day or two later, after we’d eaten nearly all the leftovers.  You’d think after seven years that I’d be a better food blogger!

15 Minute Chicken Fiesta Skillet

Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

Serves: 6-8 servings

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken, chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can black beans or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add onion, green pepper and garlic to skillet and cook until onion is soft.
  3. Add chicken, tomatoes, corn, beans and spices.
  4. Heat over medium heat until it's all hot through.
  5. Serve in tortillas, over cornbread or with tortilla chips.

P.S. Want to save $60 and 2 hours each week on grocery shopping? Click here.

 

Pineapple Crisp with Whipped Coconut Cream

Pineapple Crisp with Whipped Coconut Cream - dairy free

 

I’m no gluten free/dairy free expert, but I’m pretty sure this dessert meets those qualifications.  Not only that, it tastes fantastic!

This is the same crisp recipe I use for Blueberry Crisp in the Slow Cooker.  This time I used pineapple instead of berries.   I made it in the oven instead of the slow cooker.  And I topped it with whipped coconut cream instead of ice cream.

The result is pretty marvelous.

The crisp topping is a nutty contrast to the sweet pineapple.  I love the texture of the coconut cream even more than regular whipped cream.  It’s a little thicker and tastes very decadent.  I bumped up the coconut flavor by adding coconut extract.  You could use vanilla extract instead if you wanted to down play the coconut taste.  This topping can be use in place of whipped cream for things like shortcake.  I can’t wait to try it with strawberries.

Here’s what you’ll need to make the pineapple crisp:   [Read more…]

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