Road trips are tricky because they throw kids off their normal routines, including sleeping and eating. If it is hundreds of miles between restaurants and rest stops, you are going to need lots of (smart) snacks for your kids. Although it may be your first instinct to grab every gummy candy in the store, too much sugar inside of a little body — especially a little body that is stuck in a car seat all day — can mean bad news. Treats are definitely okay, but make sure to add some variety!
Here are our steps and suggestions for packing the best road trip snacks for families. Before you head to the store, make sure you have a small cooler and a bag of ice. With a little planning ahead of time, you can store all sorts of snacks that you won’t be able to buy along the road.
A healthier alternative to chips, these snacks will still satisfy salty cravings. Add peanut butter or cheese slices on top of a few rice cakes and make mini sandwiches out of them. Have your kids help you pop popcorn at home, then have everyone place it in bags or containers and write their name on top. Kids will be excited to help in the kitchen and more likely to want to eat the snack later down the road (literally).
Especially in the summer, fruit makes for a great road trip snack! Choose easy-to-eat items for kids such as grapes or berries. Don’t choose fruits that will leave you with items to throw away or clean up after such as strawberry tops, cherry pits, or rinds of melons. An alternative method is to cut up fruits into bite-sized pieces at home and store the pieces in containers. Consider bringing raisins and dried fruit as well. Just remember to bring napkins and trash bags!
Your kids will likely do better on a road trip if you are able to maintain some of the consistencies of home. If everyone usually eats a PB&J around noon, then pull out the peanut butter and bag some sandwiches! Mirror schedules as much as possible by serving what everyone normally eats around the time they normally eat it. Sandwiches are easy to eat, and many do not even have to be refrigerated.
Let your kids pick out their favorite string cheese or type of cheese slices at the grocery store. Bring along a box or two of crackers (and some bowls!) and dig in! The protein in the cheese mixed with the whole-grains found in crackers will help keep people fuller, longer.
While apples technically fall under the “fruit” category, this snack adds an extra ingredient to the mix. Bring apple slices or pieces of celery in plastic bags, then prepare a small container of peanut butter for each person. Top the peanut butter with chocolate chips for an extra treat, then dig in!
Whether it’s in a cup or a portable tube, yogurt and pudding make a great snack for kids. Most varieties are low in calories, and there are many flavors to help satisfy a sweet tooth. If your family sees these foods as more of a dessert, just make sure to serve them after lunch or following another, healthier snack. Add some spoons and napkins to your cooler, and you’re good to go.
These salty snacks are delicious, and their high levels of protein and healthy fats will leave your family satisfied for much longer than a bag of Doritos will. Because tree nuts are typically high in calories, you might want to keep portion sizes relatively small. Even a handful of almonds or cashews may be all you need to stop the afternoon hunger.
Similar to the idea of celery with peanut butter, this snack allows you to pre-package your favorite veggies and take them with you on the go. Bring carrot sticks, snap peas, broccoli, and anything else your kids will eat! Pour your family’s favorite dips and dressings into containers, and pass them around.
Granola bars, along with energy and protein bars, can provide a lot of flavor and fullness in a small amount of space. Choose varieties that are low-sugar, high-protein, and filled with healthy grains and oats. Just make sure you buy flavors that your kids already know they like — a crowded car in the middle of the highway is not the time to have your kids test new foods.
Bring your kids to the store with you and let them pick out their favorite candy or treat. While it isn’t a good idea to only buy candy, bringing some sweets along will give little ones something to look forward to. Ahead of time, you could “map out” with your children when they eat their favorite snack: If there is a specific gas station or landmark you know you will be passing, try having them hold off until then. In the meantime, fill up on healthier, more satisfying options.
The most important thing to bring along on road trips, especially in the summer months, is lots and lots of water. People will get thirsty in the car, especially after eating something salty. Water will help with headaches and thirst much better than energy drinks or giant cups of gas-station soda. Bring extra water bottles and fill them up at restaurants when you stop. If it’s a long way between bathroom breaks, though, make sure your kids don’t drink too much!
As you prepare your family for a summer road trip, make sure you talk about what to expect with your kids. Let them know where you are going, how long it will take to get there, and what the eating schedule will be like in the car. With smart snacks and planned out schedule, your drive will seem much shorter!