Melissa Elsmo

It seems like everyone in our neighborhood is planning a road trip of some sort these days. It is peak vacation season after all and family car trips never go out of style. Just last week, my husband and I hit the road to take our son to his college orientation and that mini road trip full of milestones has me reflecting on a wild west road trip I took with my kids when they were little.

Several years ago my parents invited my pint-sized kids and me to join them on a grand road trip to Wyoming. The five of us had barely settled into the twelve passenger van my parents had rented for the occasion before it occurred to me that this sort of trip…you know, the kind where you are both the parent and the child…had the potential to be a huge disaster.

And right on cue, my mother started crying hysterically at Wall-Drug because I had asked her to sit in the backseat, my three-year old son accidentally wet his pants, and my dad was unexpectedly bitten by a dog while trying to purchase a horseback ride for my daughter. I was doling out Kleenex, clean pants, and Band-Aids all at the same time and rapidly realized that I was going to have to take control of this situation if we were going to survive it. So logically, I bought a bobble-headed buffalo for our dashboard.

My dad, the consummate cowboy, wanted to name the silly thing Tatonka after the Native American word for buffalo and my two little pipsqueaks in the back wanted to name it Buffy, of course. In that moment we made our first road trip compromise and named our new mascot Buffonka. We went on to have a most memorable family adventure and my dad still keeps Buffonka on a shelf in his office to this day. 

Few things in life are as exciting to me as loading up the car for an honest to goodness road trip adventure, but my desperate bobble-headed buffalo purchase taught me that compromise is an essential ingredient in any successful road trip.

Cheetos, cheeseburgers, and beef jerky have their place, but making a healthy compromise by offering your family a well-balanced array of homemade snacks will keep hunger in check and tourist trap crying fits at bay. Filling up a cooler with grab-and-go breakfast, lunch and snack options prevents dastardly drive-through diversions, but still leaves plenty of opportunity to stop in at a road trip worthy restaurant for a hearty dinner with loads of local flavor.

Snacks are a key ingredient for any well-organized road trip and just as you pack your clothing days in advance of a trip, it is best to do a little forward thinking and preparation when it comes to packing a cooler for the car. My hearty muffins, homemade trail mix, indulgent cheese spread, and hand held rolled sandwiches can all be made a day in advance of any road trip and will keep well when organized in a properly packed cooler.

So take a lesson from the bobble headed buffalo and give any of these simple recipes a try on your next road trip adventure; compromise has never been more delicious! 

Mel’s favorite make ahead road trip snacks: 

When packing a cooler for a road trip use a hard cooler as opposed to insulated bags to keep things super cool. Use air-tight storage containers to prevent cross contamination caused by melting ice. Always aim to keep 25% of the cooler space reserved for ice or frozen drinks to ensure cool air keeps flowing around packed foods.

Trail Mix: Combine 8 ounces of mixed dried fruit plus 2/3 Cup raisins, ½ Cup of dark chocolate chips, 2 Cups of mixed nuts, 3 Cups of Honey Nut Cereal and mix well. Store the mix in an air tight container. Transfer to snack bags for a road trip. 

Pimento Cheese: Beat ½ Cup minced onion, 1 minced garlic clove, 3 Cups of cheddar cheese, 1 chopped Roasted red pepper, ¼ Cup of Mayonnaise together in a the bowl of a stand mixer and season with pepper. Transfer to small jars and refrigerate. Serve as dip for pretzels or celery sticks. 

Roll-ups: Spread a whole wheat tortilla with vegetable cream cheese and top with thinly sliced cucumber, dill sprigs, diced red pepper, arugula and sliced turkey. Roll up and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold and slice into 5 equal portions. Store the cut roll-ups in an air-tight storage container in the refrigerator until ready to pack the cooler.

Mom’s Morning Glory Muffins-Makes one dozen muffins. 

When my mom started tearing up on our family road trip, it turned out she was just hungry. She would have been better off if she had eaten one of these wholesome muffins earlier in the day. Ever since then, these have always been one of our favorite road trip snacks! 

Wet Ingredients: 

  • 3 Eggs 
  • ¾ Cup of milk 
  • ½ Cup of vegetable oil 
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla

Dry Ingredients: 

  • 2 Cups of all-purpose flour 
  • 2/3 Cup of Sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Dash of salt 


  • 2 Cups of grated carrot 
  • ½ Cup of golden raisins 
  • ½ Cup of chopped walnuts 
  • ½ Cup of flaked coconut 
  • ¼ Cup of currants 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the wet ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl and gradually add them into the wet ingredients with the machine running on low. When the mixture forms a dense batter remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the carrots, raisins, walnuts, coconut and currants by hand with a rubber spatula. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and fill the tins ¾ full of batter. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool and a store pack in an airtight container.

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