Travel Hack: My Peanut Butter and Jam Summer

I’ve never been the spontaneous type. Though I’ve learned to (sometimes) open wide and take a giant bite out of life, I am a planner at heart. And that’s okay.

My personality is key to us always having a reasonable stockpile of toilet paper in the house (pre-COVID); the kids get regular dental checkups; work and personal deadlines get met (and set); Christmas cards get sent out the first of December. But balance is critical.

Too much spontaneity, I wilt; too much rigidity, I snap. I like to think I’ve made some important strides in navigating a healthy balance – there is something about being married to an adventure-loving (spontaneous) man to help slowly edge the dial toward impulsivity. But old habits die hard. Despite past positive experiences, my default response is usually an emphatic “NO.” There are a number of reasons I drag my feet over last-minute plans (and I am often too happy to list them all for anyone willing to listen, sorry John), but one of the biggest is food.

Growing up we ate out exactly once a year. On the annual trip to our cottage we would stop at a McDonald’s en route. We were only allowed to order items from the Value Menu, but I loved that basic hamburger and fries more than words can tell. Aside from that, if we weren’t eating at home, we were picnicking. In fact, my mom would often spend a whole evening preparing food – usually Egg McMuffins – before we headed off on a road trip. There was no money in the budget for convenience foods.

Now a mother myself, somehow I internalized the belief that all food should be prepared and transported from home. Despite the benefits, spending money on fast (or slow) food seems both an expensive luxury and a nuisance. The foods on offer don’t necessarily align with our dietary preferences and, with kids involved, the experience of dining out is often less than relaxing. Plus it takes time, which can divert attention from the activities at hand.

But physiology is physiology – the duration of our family adventures means we have to regularly coordinate food while out and about. If not we’re liable to have a full-scale revolt on our hands. (I’m often asked how we get our kids to spend so much time in the car. Bringing enough food and water is an important component of our success.)

One day, years ago, when I was still pregnant with Baby #2, we threw a sharp knife, some apples, a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter into a bag and headed out the door. We made the decision and were in the car in less than ten minutes. We made spontaneous plans with friends and spent a delightful afternoon on the coast. It was great and I felt completely energized by the thrill of it all.

But then I reverted back to old ways. If we were planning to go somewhere, I’d want to know days in advance. Like my mother before me, I’d prepare an extensive lunch the night before: cutting up fruit, prepping fresh veggies. I’d make a homemade trail mix, and pack (homemade) muffins for dessert. I’d make ham sandwiches and hardboiled eggs, I’d gather the items for a cracker-cheese-and-salami charcuterie, or make tuna filling for lettuce-leaf wraps. It was worth it – we adventured and stayed nourished – but it was also exhausting. And really, the store does sell pre-made trail mix and muffins, Elisabeth.

Then last fall we decided, relatively last minute, to drive around the Cabot Trail. I knew we’d be dining out for supper each day, but that left lots of meals in between. Then I remembered that spontaneous trip from years ago and the solution was obvious. A jar of peanut butter, a bottle of jam, and some soft brioche buns – the best vehicle ever.

Here’s the thing – my kids love peanut butter and jam. While I don’t intend to make it a staple of their everyday diet, since they can’t eat it at school it ends up being quite a treat. It’s non-perishable for short trips, delicious, and easy to prepare. Very easy.

So we went. We drove. We hiked. We conquered. And we ate.

PB&J. Every day. (Well, I didn’t, I was off gluten AND peanut butter at the time, hello irony). And guess what –literally nothing bad happened. In fact, it was wonderful.

This year, I’m embracing the PB&J. It will pave the way for more spontaneity (even spontaneity can benefit from planning). It will make it that much easier to binge and savour on all the best summer has to offer. It will streamline meal planning and, since my kids love PB&J, making picnic meals that much more pleasant. And for me, a maximizer, it’s always great to decide once.

I’m sure we’ll have eggs or tuna salad; some days I’ll provide a more elevated lunch menu (shhh, don’t tell: I often pack something a little less carb-dense for myself). But my go-to is going to be peanut butter and jelly, if for no other reason that it makes my life easier and will help me embrace the bigger life. And I’m not anticipating too many complaints from my pint-sized adventurers.

Gretchen Rubin had her Summer of Proust. Me? I’m having my summer of Peanut Butter and Jam.

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