I grew up in a frually fun home.We spent alot of summers going all about the great state of Utah and the adjoning states. My parents were good at frugal food finding and feeding us kids when going out and about. I learned alot of tricks from them.
1. The ice chest. We ate alot out of the ice chests. Picnics are great entertainment for children. My parents would fill up empty juice bottles or milk jugs and freeze them to keep the food cold. (There were always 2 or three in the freezer at all times) It saved money and time. As an added bonus you had cold ice water to drink along the way. There are alot of things you can make and eat from an ice chest, but sometimes a warm meal can go along way.
2. My parents were good at finding a hot meal for an inexpensive price We did not get a fast food combo meals, it was deemed too expensive. Dad would buy a pile of dollar menu hamburgers, tacos or such. We would supplement the hot items with drinks, sides, and desserts from the ice chest.
3. Keep your eyes out for coupons and deals. They do show up, you just have to look. Sometimes places have a a deal of the day buy one get one free etc. look for those types of things. The local paper and/or local people can give you clues.
4. When staying in a hotel/motel take advantage of continental breakfasts. If that is not offered take advantage of coffe makers and microwaves that seem to be widely available. With a coffee maker you can heat water for oatmeal and such. For lunch there are many (just add water) options.
5. A crockpot or electric skillet can be a great way to cook a hot meal. There are plenty of easy recipes that use canned ingredients with little prep. Simple things like dehydrated mash potatoes with chunky soup or meat in a gravy served over the top. A bowl of canned chili or stew with bread bought from a local grocery store. Chicken and rice cooked in the slowcooker. Mom would heat breaded veal or chicken patties, a can of creamed soup with frozen vegetables would be served over the over the top.
6. Ask about a room with a kitchenette. There are extended stay places that have kitchenettes. Sometimes these rooms are just as reasonable as a room without.
I grew up thinking that these things were normal and that everyone picknicked at lunch, and ate from a slowcooker in a motel. My husband is amazed at my parents and their ideas. It is fun finding our own way as we travel.
More and more people are foregoing family vacations because the cost of food and fuel, and it is sad. Some of my best memories are of family vacations where we were away from the normal stress of life. We had fun together we made some fun memories. Saving on food will enable people to afford a fun family vacation. With a little planning it can be done.