Bring your own food options?

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Jul 7, 2020
I have a trip coming up in coach on the Auto Train. I'd like to have something better/healthier than what is offered in the cafe.

Any suggestions for something that I can take on board that will be okay sitting for few hours during a hot time of year? I'm not coming up with much.
The AT is only an overnight train, and is typically air conditioned; so there is a lot of food you could bring. You could bring salads (I'd pre-mix), sandwiches... the only thing I'd be cautious about is raw meat, but you can't cook it anyways so that doesn't really matter.

Consider bringing a variety of "crudité" (Dr. Oz)/"vegetable tray" (Sen. Fetterman), whichever you call it, and a tub of hummus and/or baba ghanouj. Very healthful and no worries about refrigeration. Add some pita bread for scooping every last bit.
John's blue collar version was just "veggie tray" but it's really just a local chain market vs Whole Foods kind of thing. We used to have a supermarket so snobby it had special carts that could roll over their carpeted aisles. Does anybody remember the Auto Train guy with dozens of snacks and drinks in coolers and ice chests? I think he used his snack spread as his avatar and while he did not have every possible foodstuff it was a hell of a selection.
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How about MREs?
You don't want to make the cafe customers jealous :)

Seriously, all the ideas above are good, especially the plastic boxed salads, which should last a day.

I've also taken boxed grocery store sushi on the train, you can just sprinkle the soy sauce over the top and eat with your fingers.

One option that I've done and also seen done is having someone deliver a pizza to the train. It takes some advance coordination and a promise of a big tip, but it can be done. The delivery person has to be willing to arrive at the station a bit early and hang around, text messages with the timing help. Personally, I wouldn't eat a pizza in a coach, because it has a strong smell but it isn't so bad if you can eat it in a Sightseer Lounge Car, which I think the Auto Train has.

p.s. You had MREs? All we had was LRPs. And if you haven't had one, don't.
I suppose we could bring a small soft-sided cooler with us. That opens up some options.
Was going to ask if you had room to bring a small cooler. Even if you can't bring it on board it helps with keeping things cold until you have to check in with your car.

I'm thinking of things that are relatively shelf-stable that aren't junk food to start: Cup Noodles (ask the cafe for hot water), almonds, jerky or cured meats sold at room temperature (not too much - the sodium will rival an Amtrak meal), fresh fruit. Add bread or crackers; maybe some hard cheeses like Cheddar or a good Parmesan can survive a few hours without refrigeration. Bring a salad to eat in the station prior to departure, or just after departure. Even subs/sandwiches or cold fried chicken can last a little bit if you don't mind eating dinner early.

At Trader Joes they have snack packs of olives I really like. I think World Market has trial sizes or snack packets of Nutella? If Italians eat Nutella and bread for breakfast, you'll probably be okay for the next morning doing that. If not, check the same aisle as Nutella for single serve packets of almond butter; I think Justin's is the brand I see. Single-serve cups of oatmeal are good for breakfast as well if you hit the cafe for hot water.

Things I'd probably avoid: dairy or meat that requires significant refrigeration, canned/packaged tuna or other fish (at least at the seat; could be smelly), doughnuts (could last the trip if you don't eat them right away, but sugar attracts bugs), hard-boiled eggs (not safe at room temperature after a couple of hours; also potentially "smelly" byproducts). Anything with significant prep work at the seat is also out.

I would just be mindful of calorie intake with most of the above foods because you're not going to be doing much of any movement while you're on board, and sodium intake because you'll want to drink more water than usual.
One option that I've done and also seen done is having someone deliver a pizza to the train. It takes some advance coordination and a promise of a big tip, but it can be done. The delivery person has to be willing to arrive at the station a bit early and hang around, text messages with the timing help. Personally, I wouldn't eat a pizza in a coach, because it has a strong smell but it isn't so bad if you can eat it in a Sightseer Lounge Car, which I think the Auto Train has.
Can't really get a pizza delivered to the Auto Train unless it's at one end or the other. The AT doesn't make any passenger stops. Otherwise Doordash would be a good option at longer stops.
I took a trip on the City of New Orleans a few months back, and posted on here a bit about some of the food we brought along. Most of those recommendations were specific to leaving from New Orleans, though, and not the most useful for you.

That said, I brought these:
Which were very, very useful. They're not heavily insulated, but they're plenty enough to keep stuff for an overnight/two day trip.

Two of them were less than 20 bucks, and they fold up flat, so they just went on top of the clothes in my carry on bag for the flight out.

One was the "cold bag" - and we just put some ice inside and slide it under a bedroom seat. (Put the ice in a plastic bag - these aren't watertight).

The other was the "hot bag", where we put some hot dishes we picked up before boarding, and they were still somewhat warm several hours later.
JMHO, but all this seems kind of overboard for what is a little more than an overnight train trip. If I could not find something “edible” on the Auto Train’s offerings, I would have a healthy lunch just prior to boarding, and then a healthy breakfast the next morning after arrival.
If I couldn’t last the time between those, I would just bring a jar of peanut butter and some Ritz crackers…🙂
When we take the auto train we usually have a big cooler in the car (not on the train - holds lunch). We have a big healthy late lunch/early dinner at the station while we wait to get on the train (kale salad, sandwich, fruit, etc.) Once on the train, we have snacks; nuts, apples, oranges, other hard fruit, granola bars, individual peanut/almond butter packets, PB & J, etc.
Apples, bananas, and nuts are least messy, but filling. Bagels and peanut butter - bagels are more work to eat and less messy than most bread, and are more substantial than crackers. They can be prepared or simply cut and spread on board, if you bring your jar of PB. As with apples, having to chew [bagels] seems more satiating than swallowing softer food or liquid refreshment. If we have a small cold pack we also bring cut celery and carrot sticks. Again, we go for "chewy".

Plenty of water is available and plenty should be imbibed.

We skip "messy". Except for any relatively messy options we agree with all of the suggestions above by others and think it is pretty easy to fend off hunger [with packable edible food light in sugar and salt] for up to 24 hours.
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When I’m on a LD train and not in a roomette I carry a small soft sided lunch tote with a sandwich such as tuna (white tuna with Mayo and relish so no stong smell), turkey or ham on whole wheat or rye along with a small bag of chips (concession to junk food), fruit and a container of yogurt along with an ice pack. Very often I’ll have bell pepper sticks, carrots and celery. In the backpack I’ll carry the chips, sometimes small pack of almonds, bottled water or seltzer. Other suggestions about the hummus and salads are good too. I generally dislike the cafe car, but usually will get a hot coffee in the morning and sometimes just a plain bagel with butter as I’m not one for microwaved eggs.
”Peanut butter is loaded with so many good, health-promoting nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, iron, selenium and vitamin B6. Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts and nut butter, including peanut butter, are less likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”
Spreads easily on many things.
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I go for "nibblements" that pack in individual zip bags to get stuffed in odd corners of my carryon. Cut up apples, carrots, celery, turkey pepperoni, cheeses like cheddar, gouda, and/or muenster, shell-less pistachios, almonds, bagels cut in bite sized pieces, various flavors of Cheerios, water. No salads because I'm a clutz and don't want it in my lap. Nothing that needs spreading, ditto. Nothing that requires my bad knee and I stagger to the cafe car. The Cheerios are mostly for eating while bored. Eaten one at a time, they provide flavor and crunch while I'm watching the dark flow by the windows and reading. I try not to sleep at night in coach because I'm one of those "logs thru a sawmill" snorers.

When I get a sleeper, I still bring nibblements. Getting to the club car is easier, meals are provided, but I still like snacks that are more than very sweet, very salty, or very boring.

Edit: yes turkey pepperoni is salty, as are salted nuts. But it isn't boring.
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For a 16 hour train trip, I'd just have a good meal before boarding and bring along a litre of pop and a big bag of popcorn.
I know your taste in food is similar to mine. I've done the soft lunchbox with ice pack, and sandwiches purchased just before boarding. I've also done takeout salads in trays (think buckwheat noodle, four-bean, and potato salads), again purchased shortly before boarding. If I could not locate a place in advance to get fresh takeout, I'd do what my Grandma used to do on hikes: Triscuit, wrapped Gruyere cheese wedges, nuts, dried or fresh fruit (Mandarin oranges!), a little chocolate to finish. Never a problem for me washing it down with water or hot tea.
Beef jerky work quite well since it does not require any refrigeration - especially if you make your own so you can control the quality of the beef and the amount of salt.

If you do not have a peanut allergy, PeanutButter M&M's make a good take-along. They pack protein as well as the sweet stuff. If you have the room, some soda in plastic (it doesn't rupture like cans) works well if you bring your own cup - you can get ice free on Amtrak. They won't fill your cup, but you can use the cup they give you to carry the ice back to your seat. Having your own insulated cup makes the ice last longer. My teeth are not what they used to be so, I prefer cheese puffs to nuts or even chips.
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