Our family of five will soon go on vacation–road tripping halfway across the country, staying with family, and having a marvelous time. We are really looking forward to it!
However, eating while on vacation can really wreak havoc on your budget. It can also throw your diet for a loop. Over the past year I have been slowly changing what our family eats as I try to plan meals with more whole, real foods. (I began to make this change after reading books like Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.)
Therefore, today I thought I would share a few tips for healthy frugal eating while on vacation. Here are:
5 Tips for Healthy Frugal Eating on Vacation
1. Pack a Picnic
This is an obvious choice, but it does require some advance planning. When we are on the road, we try to eat all of our lunches on the road at rest stops or road side parks, our trusty cooler and picnic basket in hand. So, a few days before we leave, I head to the grocery store and grab sandwich fixings, some fried chicken, crackers, fruit, etc. I generally spend less than $20 for 4 meals. If you compare this to $15 a meal (a fairly conservative estimate for a family of five at a fast food restaurant) for 4 meals, we are saving $40! That is well worth it in my book!
2. Be Adventurous
We do like to stop for dinner on days that we are traveling, though, to have a little more of a relaxing experience. (Though it doesn’t always turn out that way! You can read about one experience here!) The restaurants closest to the highway are often fast food–unhealthy and overpriced. We have learned to be a little more adventurous and venture into towns in search of a local Mexican or Chinese restaurant. Generally the food is great, plentiful, and a good bargain. Trying to find our nightly eating spot has become a bit of a game for us! Taco truck? Thai food? Local diner with lots of pick up trucks parked in front (which was how my dad always found a place that locals thought was good!)? I would much rather support the local economy by eating at a family-owned restaurant anyway. The fact that it typically saves money and is healthier? Icing on the cake.
3. Share an Entree
My husband and I always share an entree when we are eating out. The portions at most restaurants in the United States are FAR larger than those in other countries (and contain more calories than are recommended for one meal). By splitting an entree, we have literally saved thousands over our married life. If you think you might not have enough food, you can also order and split a salad or soup as an appetizer.
4. Think Outside the Kids’ Menu
Kids’ menus operate on the assumption that all children are picky eaters who only like chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Add some fries and a drink, and you’re paying $4-$6 for an unhealthy meal. It’s time to think outside the kids’ menu. We have taken to ordering sides for our children off of the a la carte or side menu. Beans and tortillas at a Mexican restaurant make for tasty bean burritos. My oldest son loves eating a side salad for his meal. Or, get one entree for the children to split. Our kids will happily share a quesadilla, fish tacos, chicken and rice, etc. You’ll still save money over buying them each their own kids’ meal.
5. Stop at the Grocery Store or Farmer’s Market
Finally, you can always stop at a grocery store to purchase a meal. Most grocery stores have great deli departments where you can get salads, sandwiches, chicken, and even sushi. Compared to the prices you might pay for these items at fast food restaurants, you’ll generally save quite a bit! I also love to stop at farmer’s markets or roadside stands whenever I see signs along the way. We’ve eaten some pretty tasty local food that way! At the very least we have been able to stretch our legs and get some fruit to add to our picnic lunch.
I have found that it is completely possible to eat healthy, great-tasting food on a budget–even when on vacation!
What tips would you add?
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