Make memories without breaking the bank on a family vacation – Agweek

Family vacations are inspiring excursions. We have reached the time of summer where vacation time is shrinking as people think ahead about fall activities.

Julie GardenRobinson

Courtesy/NDSU Extension Service

As I drove past our trusty old van the other day, I stared wistfully at the family sticker on the rear window. He has five “stick people” and three “stick dogs”.

When our van was new, our children were much younger and smaller, and the stickers reflect those sizes. My husband and I were the big guys back then.

Now our son dominates us and the girls are about my height. Our dogs are not as frisky.

I thought of the many times our vehicle took us across the country with three children. We invested in a video player and headphones for them, so they can be entertained on long journeys.

We brought coolers filled with home-prepared snacks and beverages to allow for healthier and less expensive options compared to stops at convenience stores.

When you prepare your food at home, you have much greater control over the nutritional value of your selections.

A recent report from the NPD Group, which tracks national trends, found that people are continuing to prepare food at home more often, even now that businesses have reopened.

At the start of the pandemic, home meal preparation increased dramatically as many restaurants were closed. According to the report, people are now looking for convenient products such as frozen meals and ready-to-eat snacks in supermarkets.

Unfortunately, the prices of many food products have risen considerably. Although consumers generally save money when preparing food at home, you may not be saving as much as before.

If you’re shopping for food on vacation or cooking at home, you need to be price-conscious. Shop around for great deals. You may want to visit more than one store when possible. Save gas by planning your meals and groceries once a week.

Stopping at convenience stores can be tempting and expensive. Bring snacks and a cooler to stave off hunger.

Foods such as whole grain crackers, pretzels, dried fruit, peanut butter and nuts are delicious portable snacks that don’t require refrigeration.

Popped popcorn and whole fruits like apples are healthy options to take on the road. If you bring carrot or celery sticks, string cheese, cut fruit, or yogurt, be sure to store these perishable foods in a cooler.

As we traveled when our kids were younger, I was aware of the “mess factor” of kids eating in a vehicle. Our growing kids were always looking for a snack.

“Looks like animals live in that van,” my husband said on some of our first trips.

We brought small trash bags to store in the front and back seats of our vehicle. We put the bins down every time we stopped to fill up. We brought paper towels and wet wipes to keep the vehicle and our kids a bit clean. We probably needed a portable vacuum cleaner.

We also learned to look under the seats in case someone hid perishable food for later. This is an other story.

At NDSU Extension, we have many online resources to help prepare food or for vacation travel.

  • Visit and navigate to “Food Preparation” for an abundance of resources to help you prepare healthy and potentially money-saving foods. See the “Cooking 101” series designed for young adults but applicable to any adult without much cooking experience.
  • Under “Food Preparation,” check out “Family Meals” and “Now You’re Cooking” to see two sets of handouts designed for families. Many have ideas for encouraging kids to help out in the kitchen and learn valuable life skills.
  • Check out the “Food Safety” section to gather resources for hiking, camping, and picnicking.
  • See the “Food Storage” section if you want to learn how to dry your own fruit leathers and fruit slices.
  • Check out our free monthly e-newsletter subscriptions for “Nourish”, “The Family Table” and “Healthy Communities Alive” for ongoing ideas and resources on food, nutrition and health.

Try making your own snack mixes with your favorite ingredients with this custom recipe. If you follow a special diet, adjust the ingredients that you can safely use in your diet.
Custom snack mix

4 cups cereal of various shapes
(Examples: whole grain or multigrain squares or rounds)

1 cup bite-sized crackers
(Examples: Animal Crackers, Cheese Crackers)

1/2 cup dried fruit
(Examples: raisins, dried cranberries, apples, blueberries)

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
(Examples: peanuts, almonds, mixed nuts)

1/4 cup “treat” (optional)
(Examples: chocolate chips, butterscotch chips)

Pack 1/2 cup “portions” in snack-size plastic zip-top bags for easy portion control to create 12 servings.

The nutritional content varies depending on the ingredients you choose. For best quality, use ingredients before expiration dates; however, grain products remain safe to eat beyond the date.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., RD, LRD, is a food and nutrition specialist at North Dakota State University Extension and a professor in the Department of Health Sciences, nutrition and exercise. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.