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.

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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?

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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.

 

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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

 

 

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Perfect Pasta Salad {plus tips I’ve learned}

4 Tips for Making Perfect Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a great dish to bring to a party, family get-together or for summer entertaining. It makes a great side, and if you are like me, you can make a meal out of it. It’s also so versatile, that you can add just about anything to it. However, for years…I just couldn’t get it right. After much trial and error, I have come up with what I think is the Perfect Pasta Salad!

Perfect Pasta Salad Bowl EAH

 

  • First tip, it’s important to cook your pasta al dente (it should say on the box how many minutes this is, I like to use rotini pasta and it’s usually 7 minutes). This will prevent the pasta from getting too mushy/soggy because the pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it sits.
  • Second, and this is where I often went wrong, you need equal amounts of pasta to vegetables/add-ins. I like to chop my main veggies fairly uniform (“bite” size), like cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. My other ingredients that I use less of because of the strong flavor, such as onions and peppers, are chopped smaller. By add-ins, I am talking about not only vegetables, but also cheese, meats (pepperoni, ham, chicken), etc.
  • Third,  the dressing…everyone has their favorite and how much they like, but too much or too little can turn your perfect pasta salad into a “ehhh, it’s okay” pasta salad. My rule of thumb is 4:4:14 cups cooked pasta, 4 cups veggies/add-ins, 1 cup dressing. Even when I make a large batch for a cook-out or party, I stick with my ratios. See, math does come in handy sometimes! The pasta and veggies will soak up some of the dressing, so if you make this the night before, you may need to add a little more dressing the next day. This is a good starting point, and you can adjust to suit your taste buds.
  • Finally, and this is just a suggestion because they are not always readily available, but I highly recommend adding fresh herbs. My favorites to use are basil or cilantro.

Pasta Salad Ingredients EAH

I am particularly fond of the above ingredients for my pasta salad. However, I usually add peppers and I always add some kind of cheese, which somehow did not make the picture! I usually use feta, but feel free to add whatever is your favorite.

Perfect Pasta Salad {plus tips I've learned}
This pasta salad is the perfect side or light meal. Great for parties, cookouts, and more.
Ingredients
  • 8 oz dry pasta (will yield about 4 cups when cooked)
  • 4 cups desired vegetables/add-ins (such as cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, fresh herbs, cheese)
  • 1 cup dressing (such as House Italian, Oil & Vinegar, etc.)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta according to directions on package for al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water.
  2. Place drained pasta in a large bowl, adding vegetables and desired add-ins.
  3. Add dressing, salt, pepper and stir to combine.
  4. Place in fridge to chill or serve immediately.

P.S. Want to save $60 and 2 hours each week on grocery shopping? Click herehttp://eatathomecooks.com/MealPlans429

Kim is a contributing writer for Eat at Home and author of food & family blog, Makin’ it Mo’Betta. She blogs about her adventures in the kitchen, incorporating life as mom to teen and tween girls, as well as a young son with nut allergies, and wife to a diabetic husband. Life is never dull!

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How to Adapt Your Meal Plans for Sports Season

Dinner during sports season

Sports season –  I’m not actually sure that it’s just a season.  I think it’s the norm.  It seems we’re always juggling things for soccer or volley ball.  I know many of you are in the trenches too with various sports.  It’s fun, and there are a lot of benefits for our kids, but there are trade offs too.

Family dinner is often the big loser during sports season.  It gets trampled under a schedule that has enough cleats to punch holes in the best laid dinner plans.

How to handle it?  Here are my top tips to keep the family eating together (at least most of the time) and avoid the drive-thru.

1.  Make a plan for the off nights

Be very intentional about planning meals together when you can get everyone gathered around the table.  And if having everyone there seems impossible (and with various teen schedules, it really is nearly impossible) go for as many family members as you can.

The way this works in our family is that if I’m home around dinner time, I will make dinner.  There may be two of us at the table or five of us.  Sometimes the kids bring a friend too.  I tend to cook for 6-8 people, no matter how many will be eating that night.  Leftovers get eaten up for lunches and late night boy snacks over the next couple of days.

We also aim to have at least one meal a week with all of us – and that includes our daughter and her husband.  This one takes some planning for all of us, but it’s so worth it.

Dinner gets harder on nights when I’m out to drive a child to a game or practice.  But there are strategies for that too:

2.  Use a slow cooker

If you’ll be home at a reasonable time to eat dinner, grab the slow cooker and fill it up early in the day.  Here’s a list I wrote a few years ago that categorizes slow cooker recipes for 5-10 minute prep, cook all day, and minimal sides required.

The key is to choose a recipe that works for your day.  If you’re looking for a big list of slow cooker recipes that can cook all day, check out this one.

22 Slow Cooker Recipes that can cook all day

And since that list is old, I think I need to do an update post for each of those categories with even more recipes.

3.  15 Minute Meal

If you’ll be home in time to eat, plus have 15 minutes to spare ahead of time, try a 15 minute recipe.  You really can get dinner on the table in just 15 minutes.  Here’s a list of 15 minute recipes.  Scroll down on the page to find the recipe links.

15 Minute Meals for Back to School

4.  Pack it

There’s no shame in eating on the sidelines or in your car.  I have a reputation on our kids’ soccer teams of showing up for games with a picnic.  It’s never fancy, but I never regret packing it either.  What I do regret is a run through the fast food place when I haven’t taken the time to pack a meal.  That’s expensive, doesn’t taste great, and not good for us either.

This week we had three soccer games.  I made packable food for all three, although two were so early we didn’t really need to do it.  No worries though.  Having a meal all done like that, meant that other family members at home were able to eat as well.

Here’s what we had this week:

  • Egg salad sandwiches (made with Greek yogurt), carrots and celery sticks
  • Pasta Salad with grilled chicken
  • Hummus Wraps, Green Bean and Tomato Salad (recipe coming soon)

Here’s a post with a few tips and ideas for packable meals that aren’t sandwiches.

P.S. Would you like a menu of easy meals, along with a color-coded grocery list all done for you? One of our Weekly Meal Plan members shared that she saves at least 2 hours each week by using the meal plans.  She also saves a minimum of $60 each week on food!  Find out how you can become a member by clicking here. Find your perfect Eat at Home Weekly Meal Plan here.

 

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22 Ways to Expand your Easter Menu

easter

I love Easter. Spring has finally arrived, and it’s a special day I get to celebrate with family–and good food of course! Easter dinner is so special for us, and I love having a table filled with a feast of good food! But sometimes planning an Easter Menu can feel complicated. Or sometimes I just want a fresh twist on the classic Easter Dinner ingredients to change things up a bit.

If you are looking for some ways to change up the usual Easter fare a little, or just need some good ideas to expand and round out your Easter Menu, I’ve got 22 easy recipes that are the perfect addition to any Easter Meal. From some main course ideas, to sides and some desserts, hopefully these recipes will give you some new inspiration as you plan your Easter Meals this year. And because you know I’m all about easy cooking, none of these recipes are super complicated or overly time consuming. But they are all delicious! Plus, if you end up with too much left over ham on Monday, two of the ham dishes are perfect for turning leftovers into some great dinners.   [Read more…]

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How to Use a Pizza Steel, a Pizza Peel and Parchment Paper to Make the Best Homemade Pizza Ever!

How to use a pizza steel, a pizza peel and parchment paper to make the best homemade pizza ever

 

Have you ever heard of a Pizza Steel?  Until a month or so ago, I hadn’t.

But this one tool has transformed the way I make homemade pizza.  More than any other purchase for my kitchen, this pizza steel has made a huge difference in the outcome of our homemade pizza making.

Now we turn out pizzas with crisp crusts.  The edges are soft and full of air bubbles.  The pizza doesn’t droop when you pick up a slice to eat it.

Basically, our homemade pizza is pretty amazing.

I’ve already shared 5 Ways to Improve Your Homemade Pizza, the Best Homemade Pizza Sauce, and our Pizza Dough recipe.

It’s possible to get decent pizza results from a regular pizza pan or baking stone, but using a pizza steel is a game changer.

Homemade pepperoni pizza

What is a pizza steel?

I bought my pizza steel from Falls Culinary.  It’s the Dough Joe Samurai.  It’s a 15″x15″ slab of steel that’s 1/4″ thick.  It won’t break or wear out, unlike pizza stones.

You place the pizza steel on the highest rack in the oven about an hour before you’re ready to bake.  Crank the oven as hot as it will go.  For mine, that’s 550 degrees.  I also turn on the convection fan, which gives it another 50 degrees.

The steel gets super hot.  Pizzas only need about 6 minutes of baking time when you use a steel.

The pizza peel.

You’re going to need a pizza peel as well.  The peel is how you transfer the uncooked pizza to the oven and then get the pizza back out again after baking.

I have this one from Epicurean.  Any pizza peel will work though.

How to get the pizza on and off the steel – parchment paper.

After trying flour and cornmeal on the pizza peel and still having the dough stick, I gave parchment paper a try.

We place the dough circle (sometimes ours isn’t as circle shaped as we’d like) on a piece of parchment paper.  Then pull this onto the peel.  Transfer the pizza on parchment to the hot steel in the oven.

uncooked pizza on parchment

 

In the photo above you can see an uncooked pizza on parchment paper.  It’s ready to go onto the peel and into the oven.

Six minutes later, I use tongs to pull the parchment and pizza back onto the peel and transfer it to a cutting board.  The parchment sometimes gets charred, but doesn’t catch fire or anything scary.

And it doesn’t interfere with the crisping of the crust.

leopard spotting on pizza

 

See the brown spots on the bottom of the crust?  That’s called leopard spotting and it’s what you want in pizza.  The crust was crisp, browned and perfect!

If you want to make really great homemade pizza, I recommend investing in a pizza steel and pizza peel.

Honestly, I’ve always thought that pizza was not something you could make at home and have anything that compares to getting it out at a restaurant.  But using the pizza steel has changed my mind.  Not that we won’t ever buy another restaurant pizza – that would be crazy.  But now I know we can have excellent pizza at home too.

P.S.  Do you want to save an hour each week on meal planning, plus more by cooking faster?  Sign up here for Weekly Meal Plans!

 

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What to Serve With Tacos and Enchiladas – Beyond Chips and Salsa

What to Serve with Tacos and Enchiladas

When I asked on Facebook about what meals you have trouble finding side dishes for, tacos and other Mexican and Tex-Mex meals made the list.

Chips and salsa and guacamole (here’s a tip to keep it from turning brown) are natural choices.  They’re quick too.

But what about other options?  Here are a few ideas:   [Read more…]

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What to Serve With Spaghetti or Lasagna (that’s not salad)

What to serve with spaghetti or lasagna that's not salad

 

Tossed salad is so easy with spaghetti or lasagna or any type of pasta with tomato sauce.  It hits everything that makes a great side dish.

But sometimes you just want something different.  Or something extra.

There’s always garlic bread.  Or hot, crusty bread with olive oil for dipping.

But what if you want something else?  Here are a few ideas to get started:

Antipasto Plate

A platter filled with marinated vegetables like artichokes and roasted red peppers, along with deli meats, cheeses and olives is a change of pace.  This works especially well if you’re feeding a lot of people, as it will really stretch the meal.

Roasted Vegetables

I’m becoming a fan of roasted vegetables with all kinds of meals.  My favorites would be brussels sprouts or broccoli.  Use good quality olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper to season.

Raw Vegetables tossed with Italian Dressing

Try cauliflower, carrots, cherry tomatoes tossed with vinaigrette.  Its’ still a salad, but it’s a little different than tossed salad.

What do you like to serve with spaghetti or lasagna?

P.S.  Do you want to save an hour each week on meal planning, plus more by cooking faster?  Sign up here for Weekly Meal Plans!

 

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