The alternative? Home-prepared comfort foods packed in a cooler.
On upcoming family vacations or if it’s just the two of you, you’ll eat infinitely better and healthier by packing your own choice of foods than you would by consuming meals from a drive-through fast-food place — or even from most diners.
Make it fun. Picnic at rest stops along the way. Toss a bright cloth over a picnic table. While you’re unpacking real food, the kids can let off steam climbing and running in the playground. Even the pooch can have some room to wander around.
To keep foods chilled for travel, invest in a sturdy ice chest. Many come with vacuum flasks and containers to keep foods hot or cold. You might want to fill one of the flasks with hot coffee or tea, which will easily hold for 12 hours or so. Layer frozen ice packs between containers of foods.
Foods should be easy to eat. Liquidy soups, such as those with a cream base, spill easily, dribbling onto shirts and slacks. Consider soups packed with vegetables — light, but still hearty and satisfying. Main dishes, as in the menu below, may be eaten out of hand.
Instead of sliced meat loaf, bake the meat mixture in muffin tins. Desserts like custards or fruits in a sauce are sloppy and difficult to spoon from dish to mouth. Plan on wedges of hard fruits, such as pears and apples, remembering to brush with lemon juice to avoid discoloration.
For an al fresco coffee break, dunk homemade biscotti into lattes picked up at an interstate rest stop. Don’t clutter the ice chest with paper cups and plastic flatware. Pack in a separate bag or box.
With soaring gas prices, packing the ice chest to go will at least ease some of your vacation spending. And should you glance at menu prices, significantly up from last year, you’ll be glad you did.
Spoonable Tuscan Pistou
This takes its name from the mixture of basil, garlic and olive oil. Prepared pareve pesto provides a quick refreshing sparkle.
1 small leek
2 Tbsps. good olive oil
1 medium-size baking potato, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice
11/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup canned white beans, drained
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable juice
4 Tbsps. pareve pesto
Cut off the ends and tough green parts of the leek. Discard.
Split the leek lengthwise and slice thinly. Place in a colander. Rinse well under cold running water to remove sand and grit. Drain.
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and potato.
Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost tender.
Add the mixed vegetables, beans, diced tomatoes and vegetable juice. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low.
Cook 15 minutes longer. Stir in the pesto.
May be eaten hot or at room temperature.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 258; protein, 9 g; carbohydrates, 28 g; fat, 14 g; cholesterol, 5 mg; sodium, 485 mg.
Sun-dried tomatoes, basil and red onion brighten the taste and appearance of this easy spread.
1 can (7 oz.) tuna in water, well-drained
2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsps. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 Tbsps. shredded basil
2 Tbsps. finely chopped red onion
2-3 Tbsps. low-fat mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, mash the tuna with the vinegar.
Mix in sun-dried tomatoes, basil, onion and enough mayonnaise to make a stiff paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes about 11/2 cups.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 12; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 2 mg; sodium, 42 mg.
Curried Chutney Spread
The addition of mashed potato makes this spreadable and easy to eat.
11/4 cups low-fat mayonnaise, divided
2 Tbsps. cold mashed potato
3 Tbsps. mango (or other) chutney
1 Tbsp. snipped cilantro
1 tsp. curry powder or to taste
In the food processor, whirl one-half cup of the mayonnaise, the mashed potato and the chutney until the chutney is coarsely chopped.
Transfer to a small bowl.
Stir in the remaining mayonnaise, cilantro and curry powder. Mixture will be thick.
Place in a tight-lidded plastic container and keep chilled.
Makes 11/2 cups.
Approximate nutrients per tablespoon: calories, 25; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 4 g; fat, 1 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 117 mg.
Pitas Stuffed With Smoked Salmon and Watercress
4 whole-wheat pita breads
2 Tbsps. horseradish sauce
8 thin slices (about 6 oz.) smoked salmon
16 large sprigs watercress
1 cup sliced roasted red peppers
1 cup walnut halves
16 large fresh mint leaves
Carefully open the pita pockets. Spread with horseradish sauce.
Into each pocket, tuck equal amounts of smoked salmon, watercress, red peppers, walnuts and mint leaves.
Press top of pockets down lightly. Cut in halves. Wrap in plastic wrap. Keep chilled.
Makes 8 sandwiches.
Approximate nutrients per sandwich: calories, 199; protein, 9 g; carbohydrates, 19 g; fat, 11 g; cholesterol, 6 mg; sodium, 598 mg.
1 lb. ground chicken or turkey
1/4 lb. lean ground beef
5 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 cup barbecue sauce, divided
1/2 tsp. prepared chopped garlic
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbsps. club soda
1/2 cup matzah meal
Preheat oven to 350?.
Spray 8 to 10 muffin tins (in a tray of 12) with nonstick vegetable spray. Set aside.
In a bowl, thoroughly mix the ground meats with the spinach, 2 tablespoons of barbecue sauce, garlic, mustard, seasoning, egg and club soda. Stir in enough matzah meal to make a stiff mixture.
Divide equally between the muffin tins. Top each with a little of the remaining barbecue sauce.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until no pink remains when cut through in center. Cool for 10 minutes in the tins. Remove to a platter to cool.
Wrap each in wax paper and then in foil. Pack in a cooler lined with ice packs.
Makes 8 to 10 muffins.
Approximate nutrients per muffin: calories, 127; protein, 12 g; carbohydrates, 6 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 61 mg; sodium, 198 mg.
Margarine — instead of traditional oil — gives a cake-like texture to these citrus-infused, highly dunkable cookies.
1 stick margarine, at room temperature
3/4 cup, plus 1 Tbsp., sugar, divided
21/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking powder
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp. orange extract
3 Tbsps. grated lemon rind
3 Tbsps. grated orange rind
Preheat oven to 350?.
Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
In a bowl, beat the margarine and three-quarters cup of sugar until pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs with 2 tablespoons of the flour, mixing well. Add the baking powder, lemon juice, orange extract and remaining flour — about one-quarter cup at a time — beating well between each addition. Stir in the grated rinds.
Divide dough in half. Shape into two logs about 12 inches long. Transfer onto prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden-brown. Remove from oven.
With a serrated knife, cut diagonally into three-quarter-inch thick slices. Lay slices flat on the baking sheet. Reduce oven heat to 325?. Bake 20 minutes longer.
Cool on a wire rack.
Makes 28 to 30 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per biscotti: calories, 87; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 13 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 14 mg; sodium, 72 mg.
Wacky Chocolate-Raisin Cake
This is so easy, kids can make it. Stir in the baking pan. Bake, cool, cut and freeze. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap. On the road, the cake will thaw and be ready to eat.
12/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup unsweetened pareve cocoa powder (not a mix)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cold water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vinegar
3/4 cup pareve chocolate chips
1/3 cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 350?
In an ungreased, 8-inch square baking dish, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and baking soda with a fork.
Add the water, vegetable oil and vinegar and mix to blend.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips and raisins over batter.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares.
Makes 12 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: mg. calories, 248; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 40 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 114
Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com .