Feed Kids while Traveling without Breaking the Bank: 4 Moms

Welcome to this weeks edition of 4 Moms, 35 Kids: How Moms of Many Manage.  This week Connie, KimC and The Headmistress and myself are sharing our tips for feeding the troops while traveling without going bankrupt.

Traveling with a large family can be expensive. Gas, lodging, activities and food can all add up. One way to significantly reduce costs without eliminating the fun is in the food department.

Since generally when we’re traveling with the children it’s for a fun family time so we don’t want to eliminate fun, ‘vacation’ food. We’ve found with a little bit of foresight we can have our fun and eat it too.

The “fun while driving” meal.

The kids look forward to this each time we have a long distance to travel.

You will need some basic supplies:

  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Small plastic bowl for each person
  • Paper towels
  • Wipes
  • Cups
  • Ziploc bags
  • Spoons

Then when you get to the point of needing a gas or bathroom break stop at a grocery store and purchase some fun, easy to eat items for the meal. Things like:

  • Crackers
  • Salami, summer sausage or lunch meat
  • Cheese – my kids love string cheese, but it’s generally prohibitively expensive so I usually purchase 2 lb. block.
  • Fruit
  • Veggies
  • Nuts
  • Cookies, pretzels or chips
  • Candy – Things like gummy bears or M & Ms
  • Trail Mix
  • Pudding or yogurt cups (If I ever skipped these I’d be in trouble, we NEVER have them at home, but always at least once on vacation.)
  • Something fun to drink or large quantities of water

Since you have the equipment to prep the food don’t buy the travel size packages or options. Simply use the cutting board to slice cheese, fruits and veggies and dish everything into the little bowls that you brought with you.

Dish each course individually into the children’s cup and pass them around varying healthy foods with treat foods. When the children are finished with the first course, they  pass their cup up for the next course. When you’ve made it through all of the food choices, offer seconds.

Spend the next hour or so eating a 21 course meal. It’s a fun way to pass the time and if you rarely have many of  ‘junk food’ options at home, the kids will think it’s a huge treat. I try not to let the kids see what I purchased so that each ‘course’ is a surprise and they are excited to see what comes next.

Eating in.

Because staying in a hotel is prohibitively expensive for our family (Did you know that by law we are required to pay for three hotel rooms or two suites? Ouch!), we choose to either camp, stay with relatives or rent a home. So the majority of our meals while traveling are eaten in.

There are a variety of ways to accomplish this. You may cook ahead of time and take several frozen meals or just head to the grocery store to shop and get what you will need for the extent of your stay. We generally do the later because we do not have enough room in our 12 passenger van for 12 passengers, all of their necessities for vacation in addition to all of our food.

We plan simple fun meals from our regular menu that everyone enjoys and we cook and clean together, so that it still feels like vacation.

Eating out.

Yes, we do eat out. When budget permits we like eating out one time on travel days (days when we are traveling through all three meals) and we also enjoy going to a local restaurant at our destination. There are many ways that we reduce our total bill when we choose to eat at a restaurant.

  • We never order drinks. This is easy for us. We always drink water at home and we always drink water when we head to a restaurant.
  • We rarely order appetizers or desserts.
  • We rarely order a kid’s meal for each kid. Depending upon the restaurant it may be more economical to purchase adult meals to split between several children or sometimes our kids split kid’s meals. Think outside the box and find the least expensive way for everyone to fill up their bellies.
  • Head for the Kid’s Eat Free options. There used to be a restaurant that did not have a limit on how many kids ate free per adult entree. We could almost eat there cheaper than I could prepare something equivalent at home. Two adults and 8 children for under $15 including the tip.

Take it with you.

Each time we leave ‘home base’ while we’re on vacation we pack snacks and/or the next meal. We do not want to have to cut our adventures short to go back and eat and we also don’t want to spend the balance of our vacation money by eating out/buying snacks we didn’t plan on. This has also given us some lovely and unique memories of impromptu picnics.

Food & lodging.

If the situation is such that we have to stay in a hotel, we always choose a hotel with a substantial free breakfast.

How do you keep the fun and feed your kids inexpensively while traveling?

moms of many manageOur latest long road trip was 1,800 miles round trip.


Now visit the other moms of many to read their thoughts and ideas:
Smockity Frocks
Life in a Shoe
The Common Room

For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.

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18 Responses to Feed Kids while Traveling without Breaking the Bank: 4 Moms
  1. wordplayhouse
    April 14, 2011 | 8:23 am

    We take several road trips a year with our children. A cooler is in the back filled with cheese sticks, fruit, yogurt and other healthy on-the-go snacks. Pantry items like granola bars, crackers and chips are placed in there as well, in the mid-summer when the car will be closed and locked up for some time while we are hiking and exploring. This way even the pantry snacks aren’t cooking in their plastic bags in the hot, hot car. We place one 2 1/2 gallon container of water in the bottom of the cooler so the melting ice never ruins our food—the water container keeps the food above the water level. Thanks for the insight into how you travel and eat on the road. Great tips!


  2. Nicki
    April 14, 2011 | 11:13 am

    Thanks! We’re heading out for vacation this week, so this will be very helpful!


  3. amy
    April 14, 2011 | 1:39 pm

    When we have to stay in a hotel, we choose the Staybridge (when we can). It’s a great deal for a large family. We have 7 children 14 and under. They offer 2 bedroom suites with a kitchen for about $150 a night (depending on where you are). They have a huge breakfast spread each morning and in the evening they have what they call the Sundowner where they serve ‘appetizers’….but who ever had lasagna for an appetizer?
    They are newer (clean) and have a free laundry center.


  4. DHM
    April 14, 2011 | 2:42 pm

    Love the ‘buffet’ meal of multiple courses!


  5. Tammy Deemer
    April 14, 2011 | 3:42 pm

    We pack a propane stove. McDonald’s will fill your cooler with ice for free.


  6. Lana
    April 14, 2011 | 4:35 pm

    I love the 4 moms posts and am quite nervous to post this comment, as it may be taken as an attack, when it is merely meant as an alternative perspective.

    Your tips were wonderful, until I read the sentence about your family of 10 eating at a restaurant for $15. I couldn’t help but drop my jaw in sadness at how hard that poor server (Servers? Some restaurants require two servers for parties of 8 or more) had to work to make $2 (assuming tip was 15% of your total). Discounts, including Kids Eat Free, Groupons, and other coupons, are wonderful, but as a former server, I’d like to make the public service announcement that the man or woman serving your food is also trying to feed his/her own family and would be ever so grateful if we are generous with the tip when we have the opportunity to save so much money on the food. Our family considers it an honor to tip on the pre-discount price, a chance to bless those around us while still saving many, many pennies.

    Thank you again for sharing these and all your posts with us. As a side note, I know that many people are against even the existence of tipping in restaurants (I believe that tipping should be abolished and that servers should be paid a reasonable wage by management). And, if your service is poor, by all means, tip low – that’s the point. But, until servers are paid said reasonable wage, please remember that the server is dependent upon you to tip for their livelihood, and is likely working very hard to make your restaurant experience a pleasant one in exchange for that livelihood.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    First of all I’m a bit saddened that you assumed the worst (that we were miserly in tipping our server) rather than the best (that my husband and I split an inexpensive meal and left a generous tip) of fellow believers in Christ. And for the record, we did the second.

    That said, you bring up an excellent point and that is if you’re using a coupon, the restaurant is running a special or your meal is comped because of a problem in the kitchen (not a problem with your server) it’s good etiquette to tip on the pre-discounted amount. Thank you for mentioning that.

    As a side note, I worked as a server for several years and I found that while some tables left much less than expected I made a very generous income, much more than I expected, while working as a server.


    Lana Reply:

    I apologize for appearing to assume the worst (miserly vs generous) of you and yours. In fact, in my first draft of the comment, I made no estimate of the tip left, and I should have left the comment that way. Again, I am sorry for appearing to judge your actions.

    I was intending, instead, to point out that even with discounts, including kids eat free and gift cards that drive down the cost of the meal, a large party or family means that the servers are working hard and will appreciate (though not expect) a generous tip. For further clarification, I do not mean to assume that your family creates excessive work (I am sure that you all are a joy to all around you in the restaurant setting – and anywhere), just that, in general, 10 people requires a significant time investment on the part of the server.

    Thank you again for a great post. I particularly loved the idea of the in-car buffet (complete with surprise entrees). I think this will be a hit on our next road trip.


  7. Stacie
    April 14, 2011 | 8:07 pm

    This was a wonderful post. I like it because it is a “real life” type of post–something I can definitely relate to. Even though my family is smaller than yours, we still do some of the same things, like drink water when we go out to eat. But, I did pick up some great tips for travel/vacation!! My husband thought they were great ideas, too.



  8. Jessy
    April 14, 2011 | 9:41 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I “only” have 3 kids, but we travel 4 hours to visit family every 4-6 weeks. Oftentimes I pack a cooler and we stop at playground or state parks to have lunch and/or snacks. It’s much cheaper than even McDonald’s and much healthier! I LOVE Tammy’s suggestions of a propane stove! I have a small tabletop propane grill (that comes in a handy-dandy bag) that would be perfect to bring along to the state parks!


  9. Anita Chamblee
    April 15, 2011 | 8:42 am

    Kimberly, we do many of the same things. Regarding restaurants, though, only two of my kids qualify for kids meals now, so that means big bucks to eat out. I do pack up coolers with premade foods from my freezer at home. I take at least one crock pot and we have even cooked full meals in a hotel suite. If we are planning on eating out we do at lunch which tends to be a little less expensive.

    If we are staying at a hotel we try to stay where there is at least a continental breakfast although with two severely allergic children we have to pack up special foods for them.

    On our first traveling day we pack a picnic lunch with sandwich fixings, chips, potato salad, fruit, cookies and for a treat, cans of soft drinks. We also pack up lots of water. Drinks can be expensive if you have to stop at a service station.

    I also make up easy things to eat in the car such as pigs in a blanket, pizza muffins, fruit muffins, cheese cubes, fruit, pretzels, etc.


  10. Lara
    April 15, 2011 | 10:24 am

    Our favorite lunch item to go is steamed red potatoes with mustard and hot sauce to dip them in. They are delicious cold and are a healthy finger food that fills everyone up better than other kinds of snack food.


  11. Rebecca
    April 16, 2011 | 10:17 am

    Appreciated the tips on traveling and eating cheaply with kids. We will be moving out of state soon and these tips will hopefully help.

    I have seen you mention camping with a big family a few times. I was wondering if you could do a post on what you would consider essentials for that and any hints/tips you could give. We’ve camped a few times (last time was 2 kids ago-5 total at that time) so I would love some big family hints.


  12. Bonnie
    July 2, 2011 | 11:30 pm

    When we travel, I almost always take my rice cooker. In it, I can make oatmeal, chicken and rice and steam veggies in it. I also can make the filling for chicken tacos in it. If I have enough room I take my crock pot instead, especially when we visit Gatlinburg. I start our dinner in it before we head out for a days fun and it is ready when we return. No worries about being too tired to cook.


  13. Brooke
    November 14, 2011 | 2:24 pm

    This is my first visit to your blog. I love it! I just wanted to comment on your hotel remarks. I have 6 kids, so I understand needing multiple rooms at a hotel. 😉 Most hotel rooms are allowed to have 5 people by law. (Two full or queen beds and a roll away bed.) If I’m reading correctly that you have 10 people in your family, then you would only need 2 rooms instead of 3. (Every little bit helps, right?) And we always reserve adjoining rooms, so my husband and I can still sleep in the same bed, but our kids are still safely supervised.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Brooke. Thanks for visiting and for taking the time to comment.

    We have 12 people in our family (10 children) so we would be required to purchase 3 rooms. Interestingly we’ve not found a single hotel that offers three rooms that adjoin, so we avoid hotels whenever possible. 🙂


    Brooke Reply:

    After further exploration of your blog I realized that you have 10 kiddos. 🙂 It makes sense now! Haha.


  14. Leah
    July 1, 2013 | 7:17 pm

    When we travel and need a quick, easy meal and for some reason don’t have anything packed, we have found grocery stores deli section to be much less expensive than a resteraunt. Many times they have complete meals available that require no cooking at all.

    Hope this helps!


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