Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gluten-Free Road-tripping: Tips and Tricks

Over the past couple of years I have really come to appreciate a good road trip. When I was little the farthest we ever drove was two hours up to New Hampshire, so once I came to the realization that not everyone's life exists within a 20 minute radius, an entirely new world was opened up to me.

There is something very refreshing about discovering small towns and small family-owned shops that you would never see flying over or while sitting on a train. I love off-highway driving the most, driving through neighborhoods and town squares offers real insight into the culture of the area.

For the gluten-free, however, road trips create an entirely different challenge. Imagine driving from Boston to Disney World in Orlando for example. You know the trip is going to take at least 24 hours to complete and you know within the time span you will want to eat 3 full meals and plenty of snacks. So you can make the decision to either pack those meals for your self or to chart out exactly when and where to stop, hoping that they will be open and offering something that you can and want to eat. If you are a mom or dad you also need said establishment to offer a kid friendly menu and (fingers crossed) hopefully all of this is at an affordable price. Let's just say good luck to you and the Red Sox.

Now the second option sounds much more practical, albeit more time and space intensive. This is the option that I usually take. Packing a cooler full of delicious, nutritious food that is going to fill me up and also provide the right kind of fuel for a long trip requires planning: both for a shopping list and making time to make the food and time to pack it and also to keep it cold enough throughout your trip.

Both options do have their downsides though. Once on my way to upstate New York I discovered that the rest stops on the MassPike have Boston Markets and they have an extensive gluten-free menu! I was so psyched because I love their food. On my way home though I was very disappointed to realize that the MassPike only has Boston Markets in their west-bound rest stops! Once again I was forced to go off the highway to find somewhere to eat, spending more time and getting frustrated. Thank goodness I have a smart phone and can find places I know offer gluten-free, otherwise I would have to go on a wild goose chase.

Packing your own food has it's potential problems as well, too. It's hard to find the time to make meals that will stay fresh in a cooler and that you'll want to eat for several meals. You also have to ensure that you will be able to keep your food cold and well-sealed. Too many of my snacks have become water logged or gotten warm from poor cooler planning. Also you have to be sure your car will have room for a moderately sized cooler and bags of dry foods.

All-in-all both of these options take practice and planning to get it right and keep you gluten-freers well fed on the road. Now for some tips and tricks I've found useful.

In the past I've made different kinds of pasta salads that incorporate a protein and veggies. This is necessary to keep you full and save you from a sugar crash or "stomach rot" that generally results from fatty and heavy "convenience" foods. They also keep well in a cooler if you make a dish without perishables like mayonnaise. I dislike sandwiches, even of the gluten-free variety, because they get soggy and warm sandwich meats freak me out.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken
1 box gluten-free penne or rotini
1-2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced
1 container grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup of pesto, more or less taste dependent

While pasta is warm mix all ingredients together. If pesto is super thick, add a few tablespoons of olive oil. Serve warm or chilled.

Baby Shrimp Pasta Salad
1 box gluten-free elbow pasta
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 can of baby shrimp, rinsed and drained
Mayo or miracle, amount taste dependent
Salt and pepper

Mix all of the ingredients with the mayo or miracle whip until just bound. Salt and pepper liberally. You will need to add more mayo the following day as the pasta will absorb a lot of it overnight.

All-In-One Pasta Salad
Aka Pasta Salad with Tuna, Hard-Boiled Eggs and Veggies
1 box gluten-free pasta, rotini
1 can of tuna, drained, rinsed, and flaked
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 small onion, diced
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
Mayo or miracle whip to bind
Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients with mayo until well-coated. Salt and pepper liberally.

Additionally, be sure to keep your food cold but don't let your cooler fill with water or else it will leak into your snacks!

I also like to have a box of cereal with me for emergency hunger situations. And most importantly I always have multiple waters because staying well-hydrated is the key, for me at least, to not getting headaches and keeping me feeling as well as possible.

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