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Quick bites: Making road trips as tasty as possible

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I've always loved road trips, and it's a good thing.

When I was growing up in southwestern Wyoming, we had to do some major driving for everything from big-city shopping to rock concerts to high-school athletics contests. Plus, I had grandparents in Los Angeles and an aunt in San Francisco, both great places to haul a carful of kids for a week of fun.

When I was first married, my husband and I drove from our small town in South Dakota to Colorado, Utah, the West Coast and many points in between.

And now that we have four kids, driving is by far the most cost-effective means (even with high gas prices) to get to grandma's house in Texas or to visit relatives in the Midwest. Luckily, my kids are great travelers who play, read and watch movies during the day and sleep peacefully at night, snuggled around their seat belts in our van.

Becoming a road warrior has taught me a few things. Most book lights are useless; it's better to buy each child a small flashlight. "The Incredibles" is as fun to listen to from the front seat as it is to watch from the back seats. And you've got to pay attention to your travel snacks.

We usually hit the road with a medium-size box of snacks plus a small soft-sided cooler for cold items.

I'd rather pack drinks and snacks than buy them at pricey convenience stores along the way. What goes into that box and cooler have evolved over the years in these three ways:

We take along plenty to drink.

Yes, it will ensure that you and your kids have to use often-nasty gas station bathrooms, but on the other hand, it's miserable being thirsty in the car with nowhere to stop for miles.

We pack treats such as soda and Capri Sun, but also lots of water. By the end of a long trip, nothing tastes better than water or keeps you more refreshed.

Avoid messy items.

We love chips in our family, but they're a mess in the car: greasy, easy to squash and often coated with stain-inducing powdered flavorings.

Instead, we stick to plan cheese crackers (Cheese-Its, Goldfish, etc.) and reduced-fat Wheat Thins, which don't leave nasty crumbs all over the car when kids eat them. Plus, they've got nutritional value and fiber, never a bad idea when traveling.

Another favorite of my kids is yogurt, but regular containers don't work very well in the car.

Though I've never liked the neon colors and artificial taste of traditional GoGurt, I'm fine with the Simply GoGurt brand, which has no artificial flavors or colors and is enjoyed by all of my kids.

We also like to pack the cooler with tortillas, some lunch meat and cheese, a small container of mustard and some lettuce leaves or spinach. Voila: instant Lunchables-style snacks that are a lot less expensive and a lot more nutritious — plus nice and neat for eating on the go.

And finally: You really can't pack enough garbage bags.

Require passengers to dispose of apple cores and wrappers immediately, and toss them every time you fill up or stop for a break. You'll arrive at your destination with a surprisingly clean car that you'll be happy to drive around in as you enjoy your vacation.

Let me know what you do to make your road trips as tasty as possible. And happy travels!

Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.

e-mail: skratz@desnews.com