What's For Dinner Wednesday - On The Road Version

Today is Wednesday, the day I normally do my menu planning and grocery shopping when we are at home. In that we are not at home, but are instead traveling on the east coast, I do things a little differently, and I thought it might be fun to review how meal planning works on the road vs at home.

At home, I budget a flat $100 a week for groceries, and have found that adequate for almost six years now, using my first year of retirement in 2011 as a starting baseline. It's easy to stay on budget at home in that I cook most of our dinners from scratch, we generally end up with leftovers to incorporate into other meals, and the majority of our meals are built around the low priced and abundant legumes, grains and produce available year round in S. California.

On the road, this is obviously much more of a challenge. First and foremost, once we leave S. California produce availability seems to diminish, and prices to rise. Plus it's much less convenient to cook from scratch most of the time in that I don't have access to the plethora of herbs, spices, utensils and prep space I do when at home. And while, sure, we could eat out each and every meal, that's really not practical for a couple of reasons - 1) it's expensive to do so, and 2) it's calorie prohibitive!

And that 2nd reason scares me far more than the first!

So when we are traveling around like we are currently, I simplify and scale back to accommodate our desire to eat healthy and stay on budget, while still allowing ample opportunities to enjoy the wonderful regional foods that help make travel so much fun.

Shopping day on the road consists primarily of stocking up on easy, healthy breakfasts and snacks. Breakfast for me on the road is generally yogurt and a banana. For my husband it's generally a granola bar and a banana. Day after day after day, yep, but it's easy to accommodate, grocery wise,and it's easy to travel with in that yogurt can handle being non-refrigerated in between VRBO's and hotels.

Road food!
Coffee in the morning is a must, and anywhere we might stay is going to provide either a coffee pot or a way to heat water, so we purchase both ground coffee and instant coffee packets, plus powdered non-dairy creamer.

I also grab a couple of sets of plastic utensils from the first place I can, and keep those in my purse as we travel along. Super handy to have on hand, along with napkins. Lots of napkins!

Road snacks are bags of nuts, usually almonds, and bags of baby carrots. Baby carrots are pretty darn sturdy, and seem to be able to go a good long time without being refrigerated similar to yogurt.

OK, so that's it for the boring stuff! But it is important, even if boring, in that it helps keep our nutrition on track, it's all calorie friendly, it's fairly high energy, abd it's certainly budget friendly.

Our approach for lunch, coffee breaks and dinner is much more fun, while still being as true to the above as we can.

For lunch we generally look for interesting, highly rated local joints and then share something, usually a sandwich or burger of some sort. And the more interesting the better! We've enjoyed street tacos, fish tacos, artisan sandwiches of every shape and style, artisan grilled sandwiches (even better!), wood fired pizzas, homemade soups with bread, and fab burgers ranging from black bean to bison. The share is the key here, along with passing on the fries whenever possible, plus avoiding places that involve tipping - we generally have lots to see over any given day, and while we want to enjoy what we are eating, we want to do it relatively fast!

And we walk everywhere we possibly can. Seriously, we walk and walk and walk as much as we possibly can, hopefully at least five miles a day.

Our midday break is usually a coffee stop at the best rated local coffee spot we can find. We try our best to avoid whatever sweet treats might be calling our name, and instead break out some nuts to go along with our fresh brew - moderation, moderation, moderation!

So with all those walking calories burned, food calories kept to a minimum, and the wallet happily accommodated, we are well positioned going into the evening hours. Because the thing we look the most forward to when traveling is dinner! We really, really, really enjoying eating dinner out each night, hoping to find memorable, delicious food unlike what we can eat at home. We've discovered over time that while we are fine, fine, fine with fast and casual for lunch, even standing or walking around while eating at times, we do prefer a more relaxed, sit down setting at dinner. And since we've been so frugal in handling breakfast, snacks and lunch, we can loosen up the purse strings a bit for dinners.

One of our dinner restaurant selection rules is no restaurant chains! Having a couple of restaurant locations is OK as long as one of them isn't on our side of the coast (!), but that's it. My experience in eating at a whole lot of restaurants over the years is that something gives once a restaurant becomes corporate, so we avoid them whenever possible.

So in that we have a solid week of dining out dinners ahead of us, I thought it would be fun to give you a peek of some of the places we'll be dining over the next few weeks.

Cassey's Buffet, BBQ and Home Cookin' - I confess, this one scares me a bit, but it got such terrific reviews on Trip Advisor, I feel like we have to give it a try.

The Fat Hen - This one is a splurge, and I can't wait! A Trip Advisor fan favorite described as refined, French lowcountry cuisine.

Five Loaves Cafe - This cafe focuses on healthy, sustainable, local food.

Pearlz Oyster Bar - My spouse and I are oyster virgins, so we've decided it's time to put an end to all that, and this looks like a great place to do it!

Poogan's Porch - With a name like that, how could we not eat here???

Leon's Fine Poultry and Oysters - According to Conde Nast, this unassuming joint is supposed to have the best fried chicken in the South, and we are so there!

Mama J's Kitchen - Advertised as one of the South's premier soul food experiences, it should be a great way to bring our trip to a close later this month.

So to circle back where I started, our On The Road grocery budget covers breakfasts, snacks, lunches and coffee breaks, leaving just dinners to be covered under our general travel funds.

And our daily walkabouts should balance out our dinner calorie splurges.  Or at least, that's the plan!


  1. Such good planning you've done! The small meals/snacks throughout the day are good strategies. I walk almost everywhere, too, even at home in Toronto. In many places, walking is the best way to explore the sights. Your dining samples look great! After a full day of explorations and walking, it's a nice treat to have a sit down, more leisure dinner.

    1. I enjoy traveling so, so, much, but I detest returning home weighing more than when I'd started, so we've developed this approach over time to try and strike a good balance. The ying and the yang of it all, right? :-)

  2. Replies
    1. Well, I look forward to hearing how you found your balance during your upcoming road trip across the USA, Juhli!

  3. We follow a similar plan for vacations and road trips. It is so hard to eat balanced meals away from home. I get hungry for vegetables!

    1. Isn't that the truth re: vegetables??? At home we generally have salad plus another vegetable, and not a potato! (We don't consider potatoes to be a vegetable. ;-)


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