Posted By DJ Crawdad Cleveland on 06/20/2012 at 08:17PM
Here in Seattle, when we’re feeling hungry there’s no shortage of culinary options. We have our choice of cuisine from just about any culture in the world. And, if we’re so inclined, we can often have them all vegetarian, vegan, free-range, or gluten-free. If we decide to stay home and cook, a vast array of grocery stores give us endless options. Now, I probably don’t need to tell you that finding healthy food on the road can be a challenge. Add to that a tight budget and a car full of people with different tastes and dietary restrictions and welcome to the one of the (many) less glamorous aspects of the cross-country rock ‘n’ roll tour. Luckily, after years of touring with a band and allowing that old fork and knife symbol on roadside signage to lead us into the great unknown, I have learned a few things about the mystical art of road food that I would like to share with you. Not in a band? Read on my friend, this knowledge is universal, whether you’re travelling with kids, friends, or alone on the open road.
Tip one: Salad bars! Somehow I only recently discovered the glory of the grocery store salad bar. On my last trip to the East coast and back, my band and I would lunch at salad bars every chance we got. There are a few clear advantages here: lots of options, healthy choices (can’t beat raw vegetables when it comes to vitamin content), and—since you’re paying by weight—if you don’t pile on the hard-boiled eggs it can be fairly cheap. Salad bars also have the benefit of allowing you to buy quickly perishable foods like lettuces, dips, and cheeses in small quantities that you’ll be able to use before they go bad at room temp. We usually looked for stores that specialize in natural foods because they have the freshest ingredients. Whole Foods Markets can be found in most metropolitan areas if a locally owned store is too elusive.
Tip two: Car food. Even the savviest traveller is sure to miss some of the comforts of home: boyfriends, private bathrooms, personal space...and your refrigerator. You can try a cooler, sure, but that requires a level of maintenance and responsibility that sometimes feels disproportionate to being able to save that leftover sandwich for a few hours. If you get a small cooler, it can’t hold enough and the ice melts fast, but get a big cooler and it’s takes up preciously scarce elbow room. Luckily there here are plenty of healthy snacks that don’t require refrigeration. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a road staple for good reason. The ingredients are fine kept at room temperature for a decent length of time. Plus, they are delicious. Trail mix, nuts, raw fruits and vegetables are easy options as well. Carrots, apples, bananas, and oranges can easily be rinsed in any sink and thrown into a bag for mid-drive snacking.
Tip three: Fast food. On drummer Thor Harris’ famous list of musician’s road advice “How to Tour in a Band or Whatever”, number 19 is short and to the point: “Fast food is poison”. When I’m at home, I never find reason to go to a McDonalds, but sometimes you’re out of PB&J and you pull off in Dickinson, North Dakota at 11pm that’s all you’ve got. A few of the more tolerable menu items I’ve found include bean burritos at Taco Bell (many menu items at Taco Bell can easily be made vegetarian or vegan), the veggie burgers at Burger King, and the fish filet sandwich at McDonalds. Subway also has a decent (albeit not delicious) selection of relatively healthy sandwiches to choose from. If you’re near a Dairy Queen (and you probably are) you’re in luck as they make a pretty good deli sandwich.
Tip 4: Truck Stops. I saved this one for last because conveniece stores are a last resort. The best thing about truck stops is that they are there to serve you, weary traveller, open at all hours of the day and night with coffee always on the many burners and twenty different flavors of cream (which, though delicious, are full of partially hydrogenated oils so go easy on them). There are a lot of ways to go wrong here, but also usually enough options so you don’t have to resort to a bag of Funyuns and a can of Red Bull (unless you want to). String cheese, hard boiled eggs, and fruit salad are all good choices. Our drummer could often be seen returning to the car double-fisting jerky and string cheese with a V-8 chaser; a snack which, while loaded in sodium, covers most of the food groups. In the South, and parts of the East and Midwest, there’s a chain of truck stop sandwich shops oddly named “Sheetz”. At every location, I would see truckers gathered in a loose line around the sandwich counter and operating a vaguely confusing touch-screen ordering system. Friends, my skepticism got the best of me for many hungry stops but when I finally got desperate enough to try one of the their widely advertised $1.99 hoagies I was not at all disappointed. In fact, I’m just going to say it, that Sheetz was delicious.
When on the road, unless you normally eat like college freshmen you’ll probably have to lower your dietary standards a bit (or a lot), but it doesn’t have to be at the sacrifice of your health. If you ask me, a temporary diet of peanut butter sandwiches and rarely-hot meals is a small price to pay for freedom.