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Prairie Fare: Gearing Up for Winter Travel

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist, NDSU Extension Service

As I walked to a campus parking lot, I noted numerous students packing their cars with suitcases and what appeared to be loads of laundry. The semester was over and many students were leaving for home to visit families and perhaps enjoy free laundry service, too.

The weather was cold and blustery. The roads were icy and travel advisories were in effect.

Being a mom, I wanted to quiz them to see if they had survival kits in their cars. I didn’t. They may have found unsolicited weather advice a little intrusive or even “weird” when offered by a stranger.

I did give some motherly advice to all the students I knew who were leaving town. They tolerated it quite well.

We depend on our vehicles to keep us safe during wintry weather, but vehicles can stall or slide into ditches during storms or icy road conditions. Frigid weather can be deadly, so staying in the vehicle during storms is the safest thing to do. Hypothermia, an extreme lowering of body temperature, can result in death.

Nutritionally, we can survive without food for days, but staying hydrated is a concern. Pack about a gallon of water per person for every three days of travel. Keep at least a gallon of water in the passenger compartment of the vehicle so it doesn’t freeze in the event of an emergency.

Pack high-energy foods such as “gorp” mixtures including nuts, dried fruit and chocolate to boost morale and energy levels during a stall. Canned goods can be kept in the vehicle as an emergency food supply, but be sure to have a can opener available.

Avoid eating snow because it can lower body temperature in already cold conditions. You can melt snow in a can in a pinch, but only if you have no other liquids available. Snow can contain germs and various chemicals, so it’s a last resort.

Maintain body temperature. Run the car’s engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour, but be sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

If with a companion, take turns sleeping and huddle closely for warmth. Wear a hat or hood and wrap up in a blanket or sleeping bag. If you are in a situation where no blankets are available, use newspapers, maps or car mats. Do some light exercises in the car to aid circulation and stay warmer.

Here are items that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to keep in your survival kit:

  • Cell phone with portable charger and extra batteries
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Water
  • Snack foods, such as nuts, dried fruit, jerky, trail mix
  • Extra hats, coats and mittens
  • Blankets (or sleeping bags)
  • Chains or rope
  • Canned compressed air with sealant (emergency tire repair)
  • Road salt and sand
  • Booster cables
  • Emergency flares
  • Brightly colored flag
  • First aid kit
  • Tool kit
  • Road maps
  • Compass
  • Waterproof matches and a can (to melt snow for water)
  • Paper towels


Here’s a recipe for a warm beverage to enjoy on a cold evening:


Russian Tea Mix

1 c. Tang or other orange-flavored instant breakfast drink
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 c. instant tea (unsweetened)
1 envelope unsweetened lemon Kool-Aid or other powdered drink mix
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix well and store in airtight container. To serve, add 2 teaspoons mix to each 8 ounces of boiling water.

A serving (8 ounces prepared) has 32 calories, 8.4 grams of carbohydrate and no fat.

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