RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Road Food: Articles by Dennis Weaver
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Pahsimeroi Valley
Debbie Frantzen
Better than a drive-up window: Table Rock in the sunshine

Road trips should be relaxing, memorable affairs--opportunities to absorb the country around us-the shimmering crystals of a rippling pond in the morning sun, the red-winged blackbirds bobbing along the banks of an irrigation ditch, a mother duck and her brood paddling through the corridors in the cattails. Somehow, the drive-up window at the fast food joint seems incongruous with this.

Good food enjoyed at a leisurely moment in the perfect place seems right for a pleasant road trip. For us, we can always see the inside of a restaurant. We prefer lunch in the shade of a gnarled oak in the town park in Smallville, USA, or maybe breakfast with a picnic blanket spread on the grass overlooking a newly discovered valley where the morning sun is just reaching the valley floor.

This spring, we drove down the Pahsimeroi Valley in Central Idaho and stopped at a picnic site overlooking the Salmon River. We sat at the picnic table as the sun dropped behind the burnt red hills and watched the swallows dart after the rising black caddis flies and the ouzels dip in and out of the swirling waters along the far bank. Occasionally a trout splashed at the surface after one of those little caddis flies. These are the settings that make road food and road trips memorable.

A key to such relaxing, memorable moments is "make aheads". The cookies are made ahead and pulled from the freezer just before leaving, the salad fixin's are in plastic bags in the coolers, and hamburger patties are formed, seasoned, and wrapped in waxed paper. A little planning on the front end makes the road trip a vacation.

For breakfast on the picnic blanket in the morning sun, we like homemade granola eaten like a cereal with ice cold milk-maybe with some banana slices or red raspberries atop. A slice of banana bread made from past-ripe bananas and pulled from the cooler is a great way to finish the meal.
Fruit-flavored yogurt cups with homemade muffins -- again pulled from the freezer -- make another nice breakfast. Bring along a little cream cheese for the muffins or a small bottle of gourmet peach jam.

For lunch in the town park, consider a sandwich and salad. Deli meat and condiments are pulled from the cooler; the salads are made ahead. We prefer crusty homemade breads for the sandwiches-another "make-ahead". Try a tossed green salad made with the bagged salad mixtures you find in the stores. Cut up a tomato, add croutons, cucumber slices, and some freshly ground pepper. But don't limit yourself to a tossed salad. Coleslaw, a Waldorf salad, or your family's favorite works just as well.

Off the beaten path
Debbie Frantzen

Carry a grill, and you can take your pick of scenic sites for dinner

For dinner along the river or in the mountains, we like burgers. Often, we wander through the wilds of the West with our daughter and son-in-law exploring shadowed canyons and dirt roads up rocky ridges. Our son-in-law carries a small enclosed grill in the back of their truck, one of those compact jobs that runs off little green propane cylinders. When the evening shadows get long, we find a scenic spot, maybe with a gurgling creek in the background or a greening meadow where a mule deer might venture forth as the woods get dark. With the little grill and the burger patties made ahead, we are eating in no time. A potato or pasta salad pulled from the cooler complements the meal with maybe some cheesecake squares or a pie for a finisher. In the cooling mountain air, the meal doesn't seem heavy.

There is, of course, an unlimited array of other "make aheads" to consider. Full course salads with thinly sliced ham or chunks of turkey breast, shredded cheese, olives, and more are favorites. Fried chicken can be brought from home. Chicken fingers with a choice of dipping sauces can be made ahead and eaten cold at the park. (Click here for the recipe for chicken fingers.) Baked beans make a great side dish, and sweet, steamed bread a memorable ending.

Yes, it takes a little planning and little time to do "make aheads" but it's worth it. This summer, instead of looking for the drive-through windows, look for the most pleasant, memorable place along the route, spread a picnic blanket in the shade, and pull out the "make aheads".

Dennis WeaverDennis Weaver -- having burnt food from Miami, Florida to Point Barrow, Alaska -- is RTA's road food expert. He has logged thousands of hours on the roads, trails, and waterways of America including many of Alaska's wilderness rivers and has consistently been elected the trips' "chief cook and bottle washer." Dennis is currently general manager at The Prepared Pantry, a company in Rigby, Idaho, that produces ready-to-eat meals and baking mixes packaged in Mylar. Weatherproof, bug-proof, and critter resistant, they're ideal for both roadtrips and back woods camping. Dennis may be reached at


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