Would you take a “no-restaurant” road trip?


Ten pounds in a month.

That’s how much weight we gained while we were on the last segment of our year-long road trip. I won’t tell you the exact distribution, but let’s just say we weren’t happy about it – and we knew exactly what was to blame.

It was the restaurants.

We stayed away from the fast-food joints, but it wasn’t enough. Our culinary sins fell into two general categories: Eating out because it was convenient – and dining at a restaurant because it offered an authentic local experience.

You’ve had a “first-available” emergency, too? Ours happened on a recent drive between Sandusky, Ohio, and Washington. Our cooler was stocked with a lone, half-filled bottle of sparkling water and a few protein bars. Yuck.

It hit 1 p.m., and the kids started screaming for lunch. Our only option was a restaurant inside a budget motel that had the distinction of drawing mostly tow-star reviews on Yelp.

The food was truly awful; every sandwich had been bathed in butter but otherwise had no discernable flavor. It was delivered to our table by a surly waitress about an hour after we’d placed our order.

Never again, we said.

Still, we hesitate before writing off all restaurant meals. How can you visit Albuquerque, N.M., without also eating at El Pinto, where they make the best salsa west of the Mississippi? And those desserts! For us, it is as much a part of the New Mexico experience as ballooning and hiking the desert.

Still, 10 pounds. We can’t afford to do that again.

We’re on the road for a month now, following the Oregon Trail from our home base in Florida all the way out west. If we were to create a culinary map of region, it would be punctuated by barbecue in the south and more exotic restaurant fare like buffalo burgers and beer-batter onion rings (which we love) in the western states. We’re dropping down into California, which means more gourmet food and, oh, wine. (Another no-no if you’re watching your waist.)

It’s a minefield, wouldn’t you say?

And yet, there are benefits to a no-restaurant roadtrip.

No more lengthy stops. While we’re driving, our rest stops are abbreviated because we no longer have to look for a suitable restaurant, wait for a table, order, eat, and pay. The picnic lunch takes less than half the time.

Save money. Buying dinner at the grocery store can translate into serious savings on your food budget. Even with the occasional detour to Whole Foods, our meal expenses are roughly half of what they would be if we were going to a restaurant.

Get healthy. Buying all your meals at a grocery store means you know exactly what you’re eating. No more turkey-and-sauerkraut sandwich dipped in butter, served with French Fries (ah, the old heartstopper.)

We want to try this, but we’re not sure if we can do it. Our kids, ages 5, 7 and 10, think it’s a silly idea and they love visiting Subway and Panera while we’re on the road. It’s something they’ve almost come to expect.

Here are the rules: “no restaurants” means we can’t eat a meal like breakfast, lunch or dinner, in a place where you pay for the food. Hotel breakfasts are exempt. A morning Starbucks run is fine, as long as it’s drinks only – no croissants, Moroccan sweetbreads or coffee cake allowed.

Oh, and one more thing, which we call the “100 mile” rule: If we’re out in the middle of nowhere and it’s mealtime, we’re allowed to eat anywhere, as long as the next grocery store is more than 100 miles away. That sounds reasonable to us. Wouldn’t want to starve now.

Can we do it? We’ll find out.