I don't know about you, but for me, mealtimes are some of the most expensive, time-consuming, frustrating parts of a road trip. When you stop to eat at a restaurant it ends up costing a fortune. And for all that money, the kids probably don't finish all their food because their jumping out of their seats, crawling under the table, fighting with their siblings, playing with their drinks, spilling their drinks and generally being restless because they've been cooped up in the car for the last several hours. So after a long (it always seems to take longer than we thought it would) frustrating mealtime, we still end up taking them to a park or playground to run off some of the energy before we get back on the road. By the end of it all, we've sometimes spent 2 hours on a meal stop.
I am really tired of that.
So a few weeks ago, I saw something on Pinterest (of course). It said that if you put hot dogs in a crockpot - no water or anything extra - and cook it on low for several hours, you'll have hot dogs that taste broiled... kind of like the ones on the hot rollers at a convenience store, but without the germ concerns I would have with eating a convenience store hot dog.
So I decided to give it a try on our road trip. We have a power inverter for the car that converts the cigarette lighter to a regular plug. You can find one of these at any truck stop or on Amazon. Just make sure you get one that converts to household power (120V AC). (We learned this from experience by getting one of the wrong power level first.)
With the right power inverter, it's super easy. I dumped the hot dogs into the crockpot before we left the house. Then I put the crockpot between the two front seats and plugged it in. We drove for several hours before stopping to eat, then found a park with picnic tables. We used paper plates, plastic utensils, and leftover condiment packages from visits to various fast food restaurants. (Everybody saves those, right? It's not just me?) Altogether - with a package of buns, some chips, and water for everyone to drink - we spent well under $10 to feed the whole family! On the road!
The hot dogs were great - much better than cooking them in boiling water or in the microwave. (I mean, you have to like hot dogs first, but we do, so it works out.) Next time, I'll throw in more hot dogs so we have enough for two meals on the road. For that price, we can eat hot dogs for two meals in a row.
The other advantage? We're eating outside, letting everyone get some fresh air. It doesn't matter if the kids are loud and wiggly - we're at the park. And they can run around and get out the wiggles once they're done eating (or even before they eat) because we're already right there at the park or playground. Big time saver to not have to make two stops. Combine it all with a rest stop (assuming the park has restrooms) and it's a lot less time before we're able to get back on the road with contented kiddos.
Now that I know I can use my beloved crockpot while traveling, I just need other recipes that would work as road food. It has to be something that cooks without a lot of liquid (I don't want it to slop out of the crockpot while we're driving) and pretty easy to eat and clean up at the park. I've thought about meatballs (for sandwiches) or maybe pulled pork. Anybody have other great suggestions?