Savvy Mom: Food for the Road

Like many Twin Citians, my husband and I are transplants. Far-away family means using vacation time for visits, and rising airline ticket prices have us packing up the family truckster this summer. We have books on CD, movies for the kids, and music for us all. But one of the most important things I pack for our family trip is the cooler. Bringing our own food and water means not having to pay for it on the way. It also means we eat food, and not “food.”

Through trial and error, I’ve learned that berries, grapes, and apple slices are more popular than pretzels and cookies, which are also more crumb generating. Cheese and lunch meat don’t do well on long trips. Instead, we have bagels or tortillas topped with hummus, cream cheese, veggies, or good old peanut butter and jelly. But go light on the jelly to avoid a sticky mess with an even higher yuck factor given the scorching temperatures. Protein or granola bars make for good energy boosts; I’ve included my favorite recipe below, which you can tailor to fit your tastes and what you have on hand. Refillable water bottles are the most economic, and least waste-generating option for drinks. Also, if water is spilled, it cleans up when wiped up. Pop, not so much, and forget about milk in the summer. For after the food, bring wet wipes, sealable plastic bags, and something to put the garbage in. Remember, when traveling with kids, enjoy it when it goes well, and don’t lose it when it doesn’t. Happy trails!

Chai-Spiced Granola Bars

Adapted from a recipe at Smitten Kitchen

1 2/3 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. oat flour (or 1/3 c. oats, processed till finely ground in a food processor or blender)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. dried ginger
1/8 tsp. dried cardamom
2 to 3 c. dried fruits and nuts
1/3 c. peanut or other nut butter
6 tsp. melted butter
1/4 c. honey (sweeter), or maple syrup (less sweet)
1 tsp. water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in one direction with parchment paper, allowing it to go up the opposing sides. Lightly grease the parchment paper and the exposed pan, or coat with a non-stick spray.

Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, melted butter or oil, liquid sweeteners and water. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry (and peanut butter, if you’re using it) until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Spread in the prepared pan, pressing down firmly (with a spatula, or with plastic wrap or wax paper and your hand) to ensure they are molded to the shape of the pan.

Bake the bars for 30 to 40 minutes, until they’re brown around the edges—don’t be afraid to get a little color on the tops too. They’ll still seem soft and almost underbaked but they’ll set completely once totally cool.

Cool the bars in their pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely. Once cool, use a serrated knife (or bench knife) to cut the bars into squares. In the summer, it’s best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.