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Meals on wheels

September 10, 2008|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

Nothing is part of American culture more than fast foods and fast cars. And since the 1950s, when area teens cruised to park and dine at the old Richardson's Restaurant on Dual Highway, the two have always been compatible.

Today, Americans still eat in our cars. In fact, a 2006 survey conducted by Kelley Blue Book and Taco Bell reported that 60 percent of all vehicle owners eat or allow someone to eat in their car.

Dashboard dining, as it is called, isn't the best method for eating. Nutritionists will tell you it's not healthy. Police officers will tell you it's not safe. Child experts say it's best to eat at the table with your family. Road and Travel magazine reports that eating in your car also lowers its resale value. Yet, when you're trying to stuff 30 hours of activities into a single day, something's got to give.

During my 20s, I learned quite effectively how to eat and drive. I was working three part-time jobs that didn't give me the chance to even sit down at a fast-food restaurant. If I wanted to be on work on time, eating had to happen in the car on the way to the next job.

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I did no better when I became a career woman. Being a journalist often means missing mealtimes at the table. It's one of the many jobs where eating in the car can be, unfortunately, part of the routine.

Over the years, I have learned what to eat while behind the wheel. These were messy tests to be sure and there are some foods I vowed never again to eat in my car.

But eating on the run doesn't always have to mean grease-layered foods. There can be a balanced, healthful approach to eating in the car. But as I cruised the Web to find other people's suggestions for meals on wheels, I came across a few I didn't agree with.

First, a muffin. A muffin?! Has anyone ever actually tried to eat a muffin and drive? It's messy, especially about halfway through when the muffin starts disintegrating into crumbs. Milk was another popular suggestion I found online. OK, let's think. Cold milk. Hot car. Bad combination. Didn't President Zachary Taylor die of milk he consumed during a hot summer day?

Here is a list of my own dashboard dining suggestions. These suggestions might not be the most original, but they have been road tested.

o Plain hamburger. I learned a long time ago that cars and condiments don't mix. When I need to eat a burger, but don't have time to sit, I always order it plain. First, there's no chance that mustard and ketchup are going to end up on my white shirt. And second, ordering a burger plain is a special order. It doesn't take that much longer, but ensures a fresh, hot sandwich.

o French fries. Yes, they're greasy, but nothing can help you fill up when you need it. Jerry's Subs offers its fries overflowing in a cup that can be stashed in a cup holder. But the best way to consume these perfect finger foods is by throwing them into the bag and eat them from there. If you can develop a taste for fries sans ketchup, that's even better - it helps you to keep your eyes on the road.

o Fruits and vegetables. Bite-sized produce is a perfect example of healthful yet portable meals. Carrots or celery or slices of apples or oranges can help curb the appetite.

o Shakes. Milkshakes are great, but protein shakes or fruit smoothies are better.

o Soup. The best I've found is hot tomato soup poured into a traveling coffee cup with a secure lid. Chicken noodle or vegetable doesn't work too well because the chunks of noodles and veggies can't pass through the slot where the liquid comes out. But on a cool afternoon or evening, nothing can warm you up better than a cup of soup.

o Granola. Sweet, salty and usually good for you. My suggestion is to put the granola in a plastic tumbler that can be placed in your cup holder. Some tumblers even have lids so you can keep it fresh for the next outing.

o Snackers from KFC. One-hand food is the best. If you're really hungry you might want to get one or two of them. But the Snackers come wrapped tightly in aluminum. You might want to order it plain if you're worried about spilling something on your blazer.

o Chicken fries from Burger King. Protein in one deep-fried handy cup. Although it includes a dipping sauce in the container lid it might be best to eat them plain.

o Chick-Fil-A's Chick-n-Minis are a great breakfast-on-the-run meal. The honey butter spread on top of the rolls can get a little messy for the fingers, but the mini-sized chicken nuggets make for quick bites.

Other tips for dashboard dining, if you're a regular:

o Bring a cooler. If you're constantly on the go, keep a small cooler with you stocked with healthful snacks. There's nothing more refreshing when driving in a hot car than eating something cool.

o Water. The great thing about drinking water on the go is that it's less messy; if you drop a cupful of water on you, it's a lot less noticeable than a cup of coffee or Coke. Also, when you're in a car all day you need to keep hydrated and all that caffeine isn't going to cut it.

o Have a food safety kit. Antibacterial soap is great for washing your hands before you eat. Baby wipes are perfect to wipe away any stickiness after eating. Bring extra napkins for backup, for times when the drive-through doesn't give you any. The Tide to Go pen is my favorite for getting stains out before you have to head back to the office. Also, a few mints so that it doesn't smell like you've been eating onions.

o Garbage in, garbage out. If you're eating in your car make it a habit to clean it out every night. You don't want your friends to sniff your car interior and ask: "What died?"

o Keep your eyes on the road. If something spills, don't try to catch it, let it fall and pull along the side of the road to clean up. Nothing should keep you from watching the road.

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