My family tries to eat as healthy as we can, with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole foods and as few processed foods as we can. Maintaining that kind of eating is harder when you're traveling, but it's not impossible.
We live 1,000 miles away from our extended family, and we make a pilgrimage to see them at least once a year. We used to fly, but now we drive. Either way, gathering snacks for the trip is a big part of my preparations. Snacks stave off hunger and boredom, keeping bellies full of the kind of food you want your family to eat and, in the case of younger children, keeping little fingers busy.
Here's what works for our family.
Everyone gets a water bottle. (If you're flying, keep these empty until you go through security, then fill up at a water fountain.) Then, I pack a variety of fruit and nuts – dried cherries and raisins, whole apples, pears, grapes and easy-peel oranges. Carrot and celery sticks are great with or without peanut butter.
I also try to make our snacks special. Normally, my boys get homemade or unsweetened applesauce and plain yogurt sweetened with honey, but on the road, I let them have the squeeze packs of flavored applesauce and yogurt. It's still better than a vending machine cracker-pack and it feels like a treat to them. (Bonus: No utensils needed and less mess, in theory.) Usually, I bake some cookies, granola bars or quick bread, too, for the trip – something that feels like dessert but still has at least a little nutritional value.
We're lucky to have no peanut allergies in our family, so peanut butter is a big part of our travel menu. I spread it on saltines to make peanut butter cracker sandwiches and make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Cheese – spreadable cream cheese or sharp cheddar slices – on crackers or pretzels is another family favorite. Often, these heartier snacks, paired with the fruits and treats, mean we can skip the fast-food restaurants that usually are our only dining option on the road in favor of a picnic at a rest-stop or in the car.
If you have to stop at a restaurant, choose wisely. (Check out SparkPeople's Dining Out Guide if you need help!) Skip the cheeseburger and fries in favor of a veggie sub and baked chips, if you have the option. Avoid soda and instead get milk, juice or unsweetened tea. Better yet, fill up those water bottles. Split meals to make portions more reasonable.
Finally, I try to remember that travel is only temporary and it's meant to be a fun, memorable time. In other words, it's OK to eat a little junk on the road. After all, it's not like I'm going to be able to stop my mom from feeding her grandsons ice cream for dinner and Cheetos for dessert when we finally arrive at our destination. That's alright because, even at 2 and 4, my boys know that that's a special thing, something only Grammy does, and that when the trip is over, we're going back to real food.
And as my 4-year-old will tell you, after a week of special treats, your tummy just needs some real food.
What is your favorite road-trip snack for kids?
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and BabyFit.com.