Real Food on the Road

granola bars

A new batch of granola bars for our trip

Last week was our first time traveling since beginning our real food revolution in January. And let me tell you – it was HARD. With three meals each day and snacks to think about, I knew it was going to be challenging to maintain our new real food lifestyle. In theory, we generally stick to the idea of an 80/20 rule – eating real, whole organic foods 80% of the time and the other 20% is catch as catch can (with a solid effort on choosing wholesome foods). But to be honest, for these last three months, I would say we’ve actually been eating about 90-95% real whole foods. It helps that I’ve been cooking a lot at home and we’ve only eaten out at restaurants a few times.

On the road, I found even the 80/20 rule to be challenging. We drove south to my husband’s parents’ home in Virginia, visited with friends and family, and traveled around northern VA and Washington, D.C. during our week away from the Berkshires. We started the trip out right – deciding we would make no roadside stops for fast food and snacks. Instead, we packed healthy nibbles for the car, including apples, oranges, clementines and granola bars. I suggested we stop by Guido’s Fresh Markteplace on our way out to pick up lunch, and Jeff was totally on board. That decision was easy: we could spend $25 at Burger King and eat junk (I cringe just at the thought of Burger King by the way), or we could spend $25 on delicious take-out from a local market. Which would you choose? Jeff went for a sandwich and I chose a wrap and some kale salad. Oh, and a bag of Kettle Chips because, well, no one is perfect. At least they’re made from organic potatoes.

I even packed a few items from home to have at their house during the week, including a jug of Massachusetts grade A maple syrup for oatmeal and a loaf of freshly-baked whole wheat bread.

We started pork carnitas in the crock pot on a lazy Sunday morning

We started pork carnitas in the crock pot on a lazy Sunday morning

I also happen to have an amazing mother-in-law, who requested a grocery list from me in advance of our travels. I picked out a few recipes I’d made before to cook at their house (Wendy is always happy to have me cooking in her kitchen!), along with foods for breakfasts, lunches and snacks. What an organic spread Wendy had waiting for us! Steel cut oats, chia seeds, fresh farm eggs, Kerrygold butter, greek yogurt, sour cream, cheeses and sliced deli meats, avocados, berries, carrots, pastured pork, and ground beef and chicken breasts from a local farm – plus lots of ingredients for the dinners we planned. We ended up eating three dinners together as a family at home, which I thought was pretty impressive. We made Crockpot Pork Carnitas served with sprouted tortillas, Chicken Salad with Dates and Walnuts (made with homemade mayo), and Lamb & Beef Gyros, modified from this recipe. I did use store-bought whole wheat pitas for the gyros, which definitely had more than 5 ingredients (that’s a good guideline – if there are more than 5 ingredients on a label – or you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label – best to leave it on the shelf), but I wasn’t feeling industrious enough to make pitas from scratch at the house.

For breakfasts, we would have oatmeal or eggs made several ways – scrambled with peppers, onions & cheese; over easy with whole wheat buttered toast; and scrambled with cheese, avocados and salsa in sprouted tortillas.

washington monument

Taking in the sights in Washington, D.C.

We were out and about for most of our lunches and some of our dinners. Luckily, there are some wonderful local restaurants all over northern Virginia and D.C., so we knew we were eating a lot of good ingredients, though not necessarily all organic and unprocessed. At some point, I just decided I’d have to go for it. It’s only one week after all, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s quite small compared to the many years I’ve been eating processed foods. Any change is progress. I thoroughly enjoyed my crab bisque at Lightfoot and the seafood salad at Tuscarora Mill, both in downtown Leesburg; as well as the delicious hummus and organic chai latte at Busboys and Poets in D.C.; the freshly-baked bread that starts every meal at Magnolia’s in Purcellville; and the cast iron skillet cornbread and IPA brewed at District Chophouse in D.C. I made some smart choices where possible, opting not to eat meats whose origin was unclear, and the Kraft “Pancake Syrup” (i.e. high fructose corn syrup, caramel color and artificial flavoring) that was served alongside my buckwheat pancakes one morning was a definite no-go. But I certainly enjoyed my red wine last week, and I think there was an ice cream sundae in there somewhere.

I used this vacation (in a slightly warmer climate) as an opportunity to start my 8-week training for a 10k on Memorial Day weekend, so some fresh air and running helped counteract some of those extra processed calories, too, as did all of the walking around Washington, D.C. – including an hour of paddle-boating on the Tidal Basin.

Athenry farm

A quick stop at the Fields of Athenry Farm

Our sight-seeing took us to the beautiful National Cathedral, the tourist-packed Mall, the always-breathtaking White House and to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre where we saw a new play, Arguendo.

Back in Virginia, we did a little agri-tourism with Jeff’s mom, driving through the country to the Fields of Athenry Farm to take a peek at their farm store, only to discover they were closed the day we were there. Chickens, horses and sheep wandered the pastures while we were there and the staff were unloading a truck of grass-fed meat and other foods to sell when the farm store opened on the weekend. We drove to a local winery, but it happened to be closed, too. Luckily for us, we landed at the Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, which happens to be organic and kosher (read more about our trip here).

Back at home, Wendy, Jeff and I did a big pantry purge (similar to my purge back in January), helping Wendy remove much of the processed food from her enviously large pantry. We also took a trip to Wegman’s. What a store! We don’t have any near us, so this was quite an adventure. There were huge “organic” signs all over the store, and I took the opportunity to scoop up cans of Wild Planet tuna for just $2.49 (!!) a can. I could have stayed there all day. We picked up the ingredients for one final home-cooked real food meal as we were hosting our dear friends Joey and Rachel and their two darling boys, Ben and Sam, for dinner on our last night of vacation. How to please 8 palates with a real food meal? I opted for my new favorite – kale & walnut pesto on pasta – along with a Greek salad with homemade dressing. We needed gluten-free options, so we made a double batch of pesto and cooked up both whole wheat penne and gluten-free brown rice penne. And it was delicious! I think everyone had seconds and there was almost nothing left at the end of the meal. Success!

catoctin distillery

Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, Purcellville, VA

For the drive back home, Jeff stuffed the whole wheat pitas with leftover chicken salad, and we packed up some fruit and granola as well as ham and cheese roll-ups to snack on during the trip. Our day was longer than planned, thanks to a visit to IKEA for a mini-kitchen makeover, so we paused at a rest stop for a quick snack toward the end of our day. Jeff and I both scratched our heads as we tried to pick out suitable snacks. I loved how Jeff sought out the organic snacks and we settled on some veggie chips.

Overall, it was a good first attempt at eating real food while vacationing. It’s not always the easiest, especially when you’re in someone else’s home, but with some advance planning, you can certainly make the best of your travels. Want more road trip snack ideas? Try sliced cheese, Lara or Kind bars, homemade muffins, fresh fruit, homemade granola or granola bars, cut up vegetables with hummus or homemade ranch, nut butters with homemade crackers, kale chips and homemade gummy snacks. And when dining out, do some research online in advance (check out the Eating Well Guide for road trip eating planning!) and seek out restaurants who source their meat and produce locally. Finally, if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, stick to your regular meal planning strategies and head to a grocery store with organic options upon arriving at your destination. If you have real food in your refrigerator, you’re more likely to eat real food.

Happy travels!


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