41+ Best Easy Road Trip Lunch Ideas & Snacks

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“Mom, I’m hungry: when can we eat?” I hear these words at least three times on a standard day. On a long road trip or field trip, that number easily doubles, especially when we have a full day of driving. Nobody wants to deal with “hangry” kids or spouses.

boys eating out the back of van
Our boys enjoying Capri Suns out the back of the van.

In this post, we’ll go over some of our best road trip food ideas for feeding your whole family. We’ll talk about exactly what you need to prepare your own healthy road trip meals. To wrap up, we’ll share our lists of great road trip snacks, and some easy road trip lunch ideas.

Some of our favorite non-perishable snacks, perfect for field trips or road trips

Pro Tips for Feeding the Family on a Road Trip

Meal planning for a family saves lots of money and time at home. Road trip meal planning is a great way to ensure you have an inexpensive and epic road trip. A workable plan can save you from having too much fast food or junk food on the road. 

1. Always keep non-perishable snacks and unopened water bottles in the vehicle.

This saved us from unexpected issues more than once. Keep some easy road trip snacks in a spot with easy access in case you are stuck in traffic or inclement weather and can’t pull off. 

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2. Use your hotel’s free breakfast

We account for about two hours of getting packed up, eating breakfast, and leaving a hotel in the morning. Most of us are familiar with the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Packing up before eating breakfast is hard on everyone and often sets a bad vibe for the travel day.

3. Grocery Store Double Duty

Plan to stop at a grocery store every couple of days to refill your food and drinks. Plan to use the bathroom there too, so you can accomplish several things at the same stop. Later in this post we’ll list some specific no-prep, road trip lunch ideas that can easily be found at most grocery stores.

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4. Plan on Picnics

Picnics are a great option to help save money! Usually we tailgate out the back of our van, or find a grassy park to sit down at and eat.

A rest stop often has a picnic table under a gazebo or pavilion— use it! You can also refill water bottles at most rest areas.

Girl on picnic blanket off side of road with van in background. Picnics are one of the best ideas for a road trip lunch.
Picnicking off the side of the road in Custer State Park

5. Cooler to the rescue

Bring a cooler that can fit a good amount of food. Leftovers from restaurants can go in there too. Most hotels have an ice machine, so in the morning before we go, I dump in a couple buckets of ice to keep things cool.

We also take reusable ice packs in our cooler to refreeze at a hotel or AirBnB. Or if space is limited, consider freezing water bottles/ juice boxes. That way you can keep things cool and stay hydrated!

back of van. road trip lunch ideas
The red cooler keeps our perishable food cool on field trips and day trips. A blanket for picnics is also helpful.

6. Sit-Down Dinner

Plan to eat out for dinner so that you can enjoy a hot meal. Even if it’s a fast food place! At the end of the day, you just want to sit at a table and eat a good meal. Our family enjoys eating out as a treat. However eating out on a longer trip adds significant extra cost to the road trip.

@dinkumtribe 3 tips to save money on road trip food and drinks. #cheaproadtrip #cheapdaytrip #roadtripwithus #roadtripwithkids #roadtripwithtoddlers #roadtripidea #savemoneyontravel #moneysavingtip #travelcheaply #cheapfamilytravel #adhdfamilytravel #familytravelblog #roadtripplanning #roadtripwithfam ♬ original sound – dinkumtribe

7. Restaurant Savings

When choosing a restaurant, keep an eye out for restaurant deals such as “kids eat free”. Some restaurants serve “family style” meals so that food can be shared around. You can also take advantage of the discounted daily special to help keep costs low.

Our daughters eating ice cream and dinner at a restaurant.

8. Reservations Save Your Sanity

If you’re planning to eat at a restaurant, it’s a good idea to make a reservation by phone ahead of time. It may not be a problem in a big city, but it sure was a problem when we were driving cross country! Smaller cities have less selection which means less capacity on a Friday night or when the local university has a big event going on.

Girls and Brian at a pizza restaurant.
Thankfully this restaurant wasn’t too busy when we arrived!

More than once we pulled up at a restaurant only to find that it was closing early (due to staffing issues), or it was full, or had a 45 minute wait. Calling around when you’ve already exited the freeway and have hungry little kids waiting to eat is not what you want! Ask me how I know…🙄

9. Ice Cream Saves the Day

When you have to drive long distances in a day, stop at a gas station to pick up ice cream bars or candy from the convenience store. This can make the day so much better. Mid-afternoon is hard on everyone. If the budget allows for it, it’s worth it!

boys eating ice cream. road trip lunch ideas
Boys enjoying ice cream in the middle of nowhere at a gas station.

10. Exceptions to the Rule

The driver and co-pilot can eat or drink whenever they want. In our new van, we generally don’t allow any eating or drinking except mints and water. Mom and Dad are the exceptions. Dad and Mom have to drive or navigate safely, and sometimes caffeine and snacks are the only real option to make that happen on long drives.

Coffee cup in hand. caffeine for the drivers. road trip lunch ideas.
COFFEE!!!! It’s how we roll.

11. Don’t wait- snack as needed

If people are cranky, or sick, don’t make them wait until you find an appropriate spot to eat. This was one of the big mistakes we used to make all the time when we first took our little kids on the open road. It’s better to stop and feed children a small easy meal or snack than to push them past their limit.

12. Variety- The Spice of Road Trips

Change up where and what types of foods you eat. We had Waffle House for dinner one night, and lunch another day so that we could have something different. We loved trying new kinds of food that introduced our kids to different cuisines in new states we visited.

On the other hand, it’s also a good idea to keep a favorite food on hand that you know your kids will eat. We’ve found with our ADHD kids that when they finally get out of the car after a long time sitting, the last thing they want to do is sit for a meal!

13. Keeping it Fresh

Fresh berries at a farm stand. Best road trip lunch ideas.

Fresh fruit and fresh veggies can be hard to find at fast food places and hotel breakfasts. An easy solution to this is to order salads whenever you are eating at a sit-down restaurant. One of the best travel tips we follow is to keep cash on hand to buy from roadside fruit stands, especially in the summer.

14. Super Hack – Roadtrippers App!

One of the best tools we used on our epic road trip was the Roadtrippers app. It gave us great suggestions and ideas for restaurants and unique food experiences! You can read our full review and use our Roadtrippers affiliate link to get $5 off your Plus Membership.

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We make a small commission on eligible purchases, and we think this app is amazing so we are excited to share it with you! Thank you for supporting our family business.

Making your own road trip food

Making healthy meals while on a family road trip doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. You can either pack your own foods to prepare at a stop, or you can bring some make-ahead meals from your overnight lodging.

Related: we have a whole post on camping meals that can be made ahead or don’t require refrigeration.

Jenn and two of the kids tailgating at the beach. Road trip lunch ideas.

Useful non-food items to have on hand

1. Baby wipes and hand sanitizer to make sure everyone has relatively clean hands before eating. Baby wipes will also clean nearly anything that gets grubby or sticky.

2. Picnic blanket, preferably one that is water resistant in case grass is wet. You can thank me later! 😊

3. Can opener/ Swiss army knife (if you’re planning to eat a canned food that needs opening, or a bottled drink).

Cans of vegetables and beans roughly cut open without a can opener.
Here’s what happens when you forget a can opener!

4. Plastic zip-top bags (gallon and snack size).

5. Plastic wrap.

6. Reusable water bottles, 1 per passenger at least. Extra water, in the form of gallons or sealed water bottles, is helpful for rinsing fresh fruit as needed, too.

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7. Paper towels to clean up spills, or to use as a napkin for a sandwich.

8. One or more coolers, and a collapsible cooler bag.

9. Spreading/ butter knife, and a serrated knife (for cutting fresh fruit or bread). Reusable items can be easily wiped off with a baby wipe, then cleaned properly at the next hotel/ campsite/ AirBnB.

10. Hot water kettle that plugs into a car outlet.

11. Plastic bag for trash (a garbage bag, or several plastic grocery bags work great).

12. Disposable utensils (spoons, forks, knives) and plates/cups if needed.

We’ve linked our favorite items in our camping products list on our Dinkum Tribe Amazon shop.

Our favorite road trip snacks

View from passenger seat of cars crossing a bridge in Southern Oregon.

I try to keep a couple of important things in mind when choosing road trip snacks.The best road trip snacks keep at room temperature for long periods of time. Healthy snacks for kids give them fuel, but not too much sugar, which can cause hyperactivity followed by a sugar crash.

However, I also look for good snacks that won’t make a big mess, and can be easily prepared with a minimum of fuss. Decide what matters most to your family, and choose your best road trip foods from the lists below.

Healthy Road Trip Snacks (suitable for little kids)

We advise that you do not feed young children while the vehicle is in motion. Kids eating while the car is in motion is an easy way to wind up with a choking incident, or a huge mess. We learned this one the hard way! ☹️

Our van parked at a roadside pullout in Southern Oregon overlooking a rock out to sea.

Here’s some of the best road trip snacks for little kids:

  1. Cheerios, Life Cereal, or other round/ square cereals
  2. Baby puff snacks
  3. Gummy fruit snacks
  4. Graham crackers
  5. String cheese
  6. Veggie sticks
  7. Pretzels
  8. Apple chips
  9. Nuts (depending on child— definitely try these with your child before the trip)
  10. Granola bars
Granola bars can be great road trip snacks.

Budget savers

As a mom of six kids, my time is precious. When my kids were little and there were only two or three of them, it was easy to save money on items by bagging portions individually, and cutting up my own fresh fruits and veggies. That’s still the best way to save money.

However, now that I have more kids, my time and effort is more valuable to me. I often buy precut veggie or fruit platters because it saves me time and guarantees that we will actually eat the produce. Feel free to pick the best option for your family and stage of life right now. 

Cut up fruit platter. This is a great idea to save time and money. road trip lunch ideas
Precut fruit platters can be a huge timesaver.

Ultimate Road Trip Food List (kids age 6 and up)

  1. Dried fruit: raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, apricots
  2. Jerky: beef or whatever variety is your favorite. We personally love Costco’s Kirkland Steak Strips.
  3. Nuts: plain unsalted, as well as seasoned. Nuts provide healthy fat and a good dose of protein, so they keep you full longer than chips or crackers. Trader Joe’s has some awesome flavors, or most convenience stores carry several kinds. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts—whatever your family likes.
  4. Cookies: individual packs / family size pack for a sweet treat
  5. Crackers: individually packaged packs. Some of these come with a spread, such as peanut butter or cheese.
  6. Potato chips / other vegetable or fruit chips: individual packs/ a family pack
  7. Capri Suns/ juice boxes
  8. Starbucks shelf-stable frappés (for parents!)/ soda
  9. Granola bars/ protein bars
  10. Trail mix
  11. Hard-boiled eggs
  12. Yogurt
  13. String cheese/ baby bels
  14. Candy of any kind (use this judiciously)
  15. Sunflower seeds – my husband likes the unshelled kind because it takes more effort to eat and thus helps him stay awake better
Flavored nuts from Trader Joe's. These make great road trip snacks, or even a light road trip lunch idea with some fruit.
We have really enjoyed these flavored nuts on the road.

Road Trip Lunch Ideas

The first few times I tried to prepare meals on a road trip with no kitchen, I quickly discovered that it was completely different from preparing meals at home in my kitchen! Some meals don’t keep well for a long trip. Others require good refrigeration to stay in the safe temperature range to avoid spoilage— temperature control is challenging while on the road. 

Over many trips, I’ve discovered some winning road trip lunches that we frequently use on rotation. Here’s a list of easy road trip lunch ideas to get you started.

Food safety notes

(Note: items with a * next to them can be safely stored outside the cooler for longer than 2 hours safely or do not require refrigeration. Buy the smallest size container your family will use quickly, and restock as needed on the trip.)

Pretzels, Bel Vita, peanut butter and Nutella. These are staples for creative road trip lunch ideas.

(Note: items with a ^ next to them can easily be made ahead at your hotel/ AirBNB/ campsite as long as they are kept cool and served for lunch. Plan to toss any unused pre-made options that don’t get eaten by lunch time. When in doubt, throw it out!)

Sandwiches— choose your bread (some favorites for our family are bagels or Hawaiian rolls), then add one of these fillings:

  • Peanut Butter*(or almond butter) and Honey*/ Jam*/ Jelly*
  • Peanut Butter* and Nutella* (high in sugar, but also in protein)
  • Deli Meats and Cheeses ^
  • Deli Meat and cream cheese (especially on bagels) ^
  • Tuna salad ^
  • Chicken Salad ^
  • Egg salad ^

Non-sandwich options (most of these should be kept in a cooler with ice until served, then returned to the cooler after lunch).

Tillamook snacks. These packs are  road trip lunch ideas by themselves.
These Tillamook snack packs are so yummy! Grown-up Lunchables.
  • Hummus with your favorite veggies (we love baby carrots, cocktail cucumbers and cherry tomatoes) and pita pockets / flatbread / crackers
  • Cream cheese and deli meat tortilla roll-ups
  • Vegetable frittata
  • Lunchables/ party platters with cut up cheeses and deli meats. Our new favorites are these grown-up Tillamook lunch kits.
  • Deli sushi— lots of grocery stores do this now!
  • Deli fried chicken and sides
  • Instant Soup cups (best for older kids and adults)

Most of these would be a light lunch, in anticipation of a solid dinner later on. However, we have found that even the best road trip foods get tiresome after awhile, so feel free to switch it up based on the needs of the day. 

Deli sushi in a shopping cart
Deli sushi

Final tips and an exclusive free download!

Every trip we learn a little more and do things better the next time. These ideas are some of the best tips we’ve discovered. 

We love sharing our best travel tips and great road trip hacks with other families! Subscribe to our email list to get all of our best tips, and get our free printable cooler packing lists, including all the great road trip lunch ideas!

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    We’re always looking for ways to make our next road trip with our kids even better. Do you have any other ideas for easy road trip meals? Share them in the comments!

    © Copyright 2021 Jennifer D. Warren. Updated November 29, 2023.

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    About the author

    I’m Jenn Warren, Co-Founder and Content Creator for Dinkum Tribe. I'm a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica and California, married to my college sweetheart. I've been a missionary kid, pastor’s kid and (former) pastor’s wife. My husband and I traveled as pastors for 12 years throughout the United States and Canada before becoming travel content creators.

    I love living in Oregon and exploring new places with my family. We’ve road tripped over 30,000 miles across the United States and Western Canada with our six children since their infancy. Prior to our marriage, I also lived in Spain for a summer and spent another summer in Mexico.

    I’ve homeschooled our six children for over 10 years, and served on the board of a homeschool co-op for 4 years. Several members of our family are neurodivergent (gifted, ADHD, cPTSD), and I’ve spent 5+ years learning how to accommodate neurodivergent needs as well as supporting the resultant mental health challenges (anxiety, depression).

    I’ve also served as a support group leader and co-director of Pure Life Alliance, a nonprofit organization that supports families struggling with sexual addiction.

    I write about family travel and road trips, millennial marriage, general parenting, homeschooling, parenting neurodivergent children, grief, and abuse recovery.


    1. Lol I would have LOVED travelling with you as a kid if ice-cream saves the day! I mean, you are totally correct, it does!

      We are very similar when we go on road trips, we have a cooler so we can always make things like cheese sandwiches (I started bring pesto in a squeezy bottle, to squirt into wraps/bread for extra moisture/flavour.) I LOVE your tip about bring cash for fruit stands too – you should always stop for fruit stands 😀

      1. Oh I love the idea of pesto! Then you wouldn’t have to worry about mayonnaise going bad – which is why I don’t list it here. And yes, fruit stand are the best!

    2. Great tips for staying Happy and not Hangry on the Road- love the Thermos that plugs into your car, and the travel mat for outdoor picnics!

    3. I love a good road trip! A picnic lunch at a beautiful place along the way is a fun idea. It’s as easy as taking a sandwich to go and stopping at the next interesting destination.

    4. Your van looks a lot like my SUV during road trips! And I totally agree about being well-armed with snacks! My youngest guy gets angry, so we usually carry a ton! And we always make sure at least some snacks are accessible to the kids, so we don’t have to stop and rummage through the mountain of gear!

      1. I think road trip memories are a beautiful gift to give your children. Thanks for your comment!

    5. I always enjoy stopping for picnics when we go on road trips, especially if the weather is nice and warm! Lots of great tips here!

    6. We have food allergies so we pack and make out food wherever we go. These are some great tips for feeding a family while on the road. I’ll be saving this for later! Thank you!

    7. I love this list of road trip lunch and snack ideas! I always pack a “snack grab bag” for any road trip but will definitely be packing some more of the essentials you mentioned from now on.

    8. There’s something about a road trip that could make me snack all day! Haha. These are all great tips. Whenever I’m going on a road trip, I always pack a case of water in the trunk to have some on hand. I also love stopping at roadside fruit stands, so I love that you included that! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    9. I may not travel with kids anymore but I have a hubby that needs to eat constantly. So packing food for road trips is serious business! If we have room we try to have a good cooler with us and hit the grocery stores as we go. Ice cream stops work for us too! A great list of suggestions for food to pack.

    10. I feel like it can be so difficult to eat healthy on the road. That and saving money are the 2 biggest reason we pack snacks and lunch for our road trips. I loved having picnics along the way on our previous road trips! Great tips in here.

    11. This post makes me miss planning my trip and bringing food too, it saves me money. I also like dried fruits, nuts and biscuits as well.

    12. Wow! Such a detailed post. I was engaged every step of the way. Yes, the scariest moment for me as a mother (for any length of a drive) is realizing I’ve run out of snacks and my children are still awake. Haha.

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