Tips for Packing Food for an Amtrak (Train) Trip

(Last Updated On: February 14, 2011)

amtrak_logo This morning, I just completed a cross country journey aboard an Amtrak train. One of the challenges of traveling long distance by train is the food. You can buy food in their dinning car, but you are going to pay through the roof for it and the quality is said to be equal to that of a cheap restaurant. You can also eat in their cafe car, but one of my goals in life is avoiding paying more over $4 for a microwaved hot dog. Your best bet is to try and pack as much food as you possibly can. My “Eat Like No One Else” mindset goes against traditional processed foods, but with a lack of refrigeration or a way to heat my own food, I had to pick out some processed stuff that normally I don’t buy. Here is a list of the food I packed.

1. Beef Jerky
Want to be sure to get some protein in your body during the trip, so beef jerky is a good choice. This is actually something you can make yourself. Alton Brown has a recipe for homemade beef jerky.

2. Canned Tuna
For even more protein, bring along some tuna. Look for tuna that comes in a can with a ring, so that you aren’t bringing a can opener with you.

3. Bagels
Instead of bringing bread on the trip, bring bagels. They have a tougher exterior, so they are less likely to get smushed. Check out my recipe for homemade bagels.

4. Peanut Butter & Jelly/Jam
We made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches using our bagels. Peanut butter doesn’t need refrigeration. We made peach jam last summer that we still had around. We made this jam in small jars. The jars were the perfect size for the trip. We had enough to make 4 sandwiches for one meal, without wasting any of the jam.

5. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is a great snack on the trip. We bought some raisins and dried cranberries. We packed them into plastic bags to save on space. We also brought along a pack of banana chips.

6. Oranges
Some fresh fruit is also great to have on the trip. Some fruit doesn’t travel all the well like bananas and berries. Oranges are a wonderful choice. They can be packed without being bruised up. Apples could also be used, but they more likely to suffer abuse if not handled well that oranges.

7. Pringles
If you absolutely must have potato chips, go with Pringles. They come in a container that will keep your potato chips from becoming potato crumbs.

Nuts are very durable and filling snack and although I don’t really like them, they are good choice for someone who does. My 2 year old daughter really likes peanuts!

9. Bottled Water
We traveled with a 3 month old baby, so we brought along some bottled water to make her bottles. They have water available to drink on the train but I am not sure how good the quality is.

10. Good Quality Candy or Chocolate
When it comes to candy or sweets, buying cheap may not be the best way to go. I find it when you buy something cheap, you end up getting more of it. For the trip, if you want some sweet treat, choose something of good quality. Something that satisfies you with every bite is more likely to last you longer. For a previous trip, we bought Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate it lasted the whole trip.

One additional tip about eating while traveling by train, is to get on the train with a full stomach. Our train left Chicago at 2:45pm. So we ate an early lunch of sandwiches and yogurt, then we also ate at the train station before we had to leave. Since we had full stomaches we just did some snacking for our dinner. Also look to see if your train will be making an extended stop at a station. Our train stopped for over a half hour at the station. This gave us a chance to get off the station and find a little cafe, so that became our dinner. We managed to never buy anything food related on our cross country journey from Chicago to LA, expect for some milk for our daughter. So while I do enjoy train travel, it’s a relaxing way to see the country, I do not enjoy paying the food prices.

4 Replies to “Tips for Packing Food for an Amtrak (Train) Trip”

  1. Thank you for this rundown. Beef jerky is always something I forget and there are other canned items with ring tops from fruit to those mini hotdog things! (Thanks for that reminder.) I like to mix the nuts, dried fruit and some M&M’s or chocolate chips together in a kind of “trail mix”. Individual yogurts (or gogurts) could be handy.

    I plan to pack our foods from the top down – fresh foods like fresh fruit and hard boiled eggs, veggie sticks with some Ranch and hummus and mini cereal boxes with a small bottle of milk(or maybe carton of vanilla oatmilk?) for that first day. (Our trip starts at 2AM!)

    It seems to me there was a microwave available on the train? And/or a toaster? My first ever train trip was in a roomette and I got spoiled! You kind of have a “servant” that brings you things!

  2. Eric Samuelson says:

    They do have a microwave available in the snack car however they won’t allow you to use it for your own food, they can only use it for something you buy.

  3. Karen Carrara says:

    Thats totally retarded!#! So they have a microwave but you cant use it for your food????? Unless you bought it from the cafe even tho they encourage you to bring your own food? So I cant microwave my popcorn?? Stupid!! And I leave on the 24th from Sacramento to Indianapolis

  4. Eric Samuelson says:

    Yeah I agree with ya. Would make life so much easier if we could. But it’s not a public use microwave, it’s only used by an Amtrak employee to heat up food you buy from them. They won’t even allow you to bring any food into their lower section where they serve their snacks. They don’t want to be liable if someone brings something in and gets sick because of it or something. People are always worried about being sued.

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