15 states in 9 days with the trunk as our kitchen!
Colorado to North Carolina (and back).
I didn't know if it was possible. In fact, there seemed to be more reasons to not do it than to do it. However, when we sense God's strong lead to GO IN FAITH, that's what we do (and did).
I knew the preparation for AJ's strict food needs would be daunting, but if I could compile a group of meals that were proven as both yummy and with minimal on-site prep, then I had hope.
Now that I'm back home and believe our journey was a success, I feel compelled to share what I learned in hopes of encouraging others that a cross country road trip with a medically prescribed ketogenic diet is POSSIBLE (and even enjoyable)!
Tip #1 - Brainstorm Your Recipes
What meals and snacks does your Keto Kid love? Then, which ones would require the least amount of on-site preparation? The goal is to be able to pre-measure and prep as much as possible to make gas station meal breaks and snacking smooth and easy.
I began with a series of lists and brainstorming that eventually turned into my final plan of 27 total meals (cycling 5 different recipes) and 18 snacks (alternating 5 different recipes), plus planning for 2 special desserts (See the chart below).
As you consider which recipes to use, you may consider avoiding those recipes/main ingredients for the months leading up to your trip. The built up anticipation and excitement that results is a very happy thing!
Tip #2 - Prepare the Ingredients and Materials Weeks in Advance
Now that you know what meals and snacks you want to bring, you'll need to determine what you need to shop for and cook in advance. Here are some examples from my trip:
FOOD - prepped and frozen
Jimmy Dean Sausage (crumbles and patties)
Keto Almond Bread
**I plan to add more of these recipes into the blog shortly!
Supplements: ensure you will have adequate supply, including extra syringes
NANO VM multivitamin powder - tube feeding version. I use 1.5 scoops to equal 1 scoop of regular NANO VM. This version eventually dissolves in water and is easier to manage on-the-go.
Some sort of table/tray to help prevent any spills of your meticulously weighed food (I used these, and they worked out fine).
Snack organizer. I wanted something that could hold small portions that I could weigh separately (and in advance), but be stored together. I used this, and it was sufficient... just don't put it in the dishwasher!
Tiny, leak proof tupperwares. I found the best ones ever at the thrift store (Rubbermaid brand). They looked like this and even connected together! They were perfect for Heavy Whipping Cream, Yogurt, or other liquids.
HOTEL TIP: I booked early for each night of the trip, aiming to alternate from a basic room with a bathroom and beds to larger rooms with added kitchenette/fridge/dishwasher. This gave me confidence about any meal prep and cleaning needs along the way. In fact, our midpoint stop was a nice AirBnB with two separate bedrooms, a full kitchen, and washer/dryer (while still staying on our limited budget). The kids explored outside with Dad, while I knocked out some prep!
Tip #3 - Make the Plan
Organize a chart with how you will distribute the meals, thinking of where you will be and how they might balance out to smoothest service.
For example, since we were planning on leaving very early in the morning most days (like 4am) in order to get to our hotels by 3 or 4pm, I wanted my breakfasts and lunches to be little to no prep. My goal was to have his Nano multivitamin powder and supplements to be my only on-site at-the-gas-station work. Then, I could plan for dinners to be the meals which may require a bit more on-site measuring (like fresh avocado or heavy whipping cream).
The numbers written in next to each of the meals near the bottom are the number of meals per recipe for the trip (plus one bonus meal, just in case).
Tip #4 - Assemble 1-2 days Before Launch
Get your spreadsheet, ingredients, and scale ready - it's GO TIME!
I cleared big chunks in my calendar in days ahead of our departure for the organization and preparation of the planned meals. The two main lunch/dinner meals, which had a lot of components, needed to be prepped completely, so I didn't have to bring the plethora of ingredients with me. Be sure to thaw all needed ingredients the night before assembly.
Anything that can be prepped ahead, and that you can fit in the cooler(s) is fair game!
Tip #5 - Create Your Travel Kitchen
I would have liked to offer a better, in-the-moment picture, but let's just be glad I remembered to take one at all. I snapped this shot on our final day 9, after pulling into our driveway -- WE MADE IT HOME!
This set-up worked out really well. I'm not sure what I would change with it, honestly.
It was a pain in the butt lugging most of this entire trunk into the hotel rooms every night and back to the van early the next morning. There may be a more efficient way there, but I don't immediately see it (and I'm the type of person that values efficiency probably too much).
Allow me to point out a couple things:
All luggage and other non-immediate bags go in first and you pretty much can't see them in the picture.
Two coolers. My goal was to keep the smaller cooler for the current day's needs, and the larger (blue and white) cooler was for long term storage including most of the pre-prepped glass container meals.
Supplement/Pharmacy Container. I found this large cube container at the Thrift Store and it was fabulous for keeping most of AJ's ketogenic tools in one place (i.e. supplements, syringes, spatulas (at least 2), stevia drops bottles, etc.)
Two drawers (from Container Store). I was GIDDY when I realized the ever-important Taylor food scale fit perfectly in these drawers. In the bottom drawer, I was able to wrap the scale in a kitchen towel and push it to the back, plus fit the second Nano container and a couple of our small snack bowls and cups in there to keep everything snug. The top drawer then had easy to grab loose snacks for my other son (like granola bars, fruit pouches, etc.).
Two plastic bags. One was for trash and the other was for dirty dishes. Any used dishes, I would just throw in there and then utilize a hotel dishwasher when we could.
Big miscellaneous bag. This had cereal, plastic utensils/paper bowls and plates, salt, and other things I needed on hand for our family's breakfasts and meals.
We ended up eating most of our meals out of this trunk, saving money and time. Depending on the situation, we would either have the boys stand up and eat in the van (putting their table/tray in the car seat and turning to face it) so they could stretch their legs or we would have them eat while we drive (with the tray in their lap). We rarely did this, and would only attempt it with certain less-likely-to-spill meals for AJ.
Tip #6 - Make it Fun
Snacking is one of the joys of road trips, and I didn't want to deny AJ (or us) that joy.
My vision was to have his main road trip snack, taking up 3/4 of his snack calories, be a combo of jello puffs and cheese crackers, which are both one-bite ratios, so he could eat them however and whenever he wanted, knowing that he would have no more after he ate them for the day. I created the same thing for his little brother. This gave AJ some freedom, feeling of belonging and autonomy. It also helped me to not feel bad about grabbing a handful of something yummy for myself at random times.
Both AJ and his little bro were excited to receive their "BIG SNACK" each day!
Enjoy Your Adventure!
There is more to say about general road trip prep with little kids (mine were 6 and 4 on this trip), and I found a lot of good tips while just searching YouTube etc.
Likewise, I hope that this post can help reach and encourage the small group of parents/caregivers who crave adventure, yet must administer food as medicine while traveling.
Admittedly, I was a bit scared at the outlook of our journey. Yet, the following statement applied in every way, and we have wonderful, impactful memories as a result:
But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With men this is impossible,
but with God all things are possible."
~ Matthew 19:26