Parent know that hungry kids are crabby kids. Let’s be honest- hungry adults get in bad moods too. Tantrums in an enclosed car (by kids or adults:) are like fingernails on a chalkboard, and are to be avoided at all costs! But, eating on the road does not have to mean breakfast, lunch, and dinner at fast food places and gas stations. Here are some easy meals and snacks that you can prepare before the trip and enjoy along the way. Eating in the car saves time and money, is usually healthier, occupies the kids- and is an exciting “break” in long drives. When someone asked Ricky what he liked about the trip to Chicago was, he smiled and said “Eating snacks in the car!” Here are our favorites.
People often ask me how we travel with 4 little kids and what we eat specifically. Here’s a great example: we recently drove from Houston to Chicago- it’s around 1100 miles, and we take about 19-20 hours driving straight through. On the way home, we were leaving around 2am and would arrive around 9pm. (I’m exhausted just thinking about it). This is what I planned for our meals:
- Breakfast: yogurt, blueberries, granola
- Lunch: turkey/cheese/spinach/pretzel bread (keep the tomatoes separate or the bread gets soggy!), apples, popcorn, chocolate milk
- Snacks: almonds, gummy worms, graham crackers, grapes
- Dinner: Steamed broccoli (sounds weird but my kids love it), carrots and hummus, crackers, cheese sticks, salami, fruitable juice
The key to choosing the food, and making sure no one gets an upset tummy, is to make sure you’re not just filling up on loads of gas station snacks: try to avoid too many processed foods that are probably filled with fat and empty calories. Instead, shop beforehand or stop at supermarkets along the way to choose healthier foods. In addition to the above foods, here are more of our favorites meals for road trips:
- wraps: whole wheat tortillas wrapped around veggies/cheese/hummus; or peanut butter and sliced bananas or apples; or even scrambled eggs/veggies
- hard boiled eggs already peeled
- plain pasta rigatoni noodles w/ cherry tomatoes
- plain garbanzo beans or a batch of roasted spiced garbanzos
- whole what bagels/cream cheese
- veggies with lime and tajin
- a box of our favorite cereal
- almonds or peanuts, dried fruit
- turkey jerky
When you’re road-tripping internationally, it’s important to note that you might not be able cross borders with fruits and vegetables. In Europe, we have not had a problem, however from the US to Mexico they did check for produce. Fortunately in Latin America, there are many roadside stands for fresh fruits and veggies. When road tripping abroad, make sure you are clear about water-born illnesses, and what foods to avoid. When we are unsure if it is sanitary, we generally purchase fruits with thick skins that can be peeled such as bananas, oranges, prickly pear (above picture), etc.
Multi-day Road Trips
If you are on the road for several days (or more), it might be more effective to pack “ingredients” and “supplies” rather than individual meals. For example, on a recent 10 day road trip we packed a loaf of bread, huge containers of peanut butter and jelly, a variety of cheese and deli meat, a carton of milk, and loads of fruits, veggies, and snacks. We stayed in B&Bs that offered breakfasts in the mornings, and when we’d arrive at our destination we would eat in a restaurant for dinner. We would restock our supplies at markets as needed.
Other Supplies to Consider
- WIPES– a big container should always be in any car with kids
- any utensils you need: knives to spread peanut butter, spoons for yogurt, refillable water bottles
- empty cups- to rinse and reuse for snack servings
- lap trays (see below)
- a cooler to keep the essentials cold, a box for all of the other foods; fruits and veggies don’t need to be in the cooler, but take them out of the car at night so they don’t spoil (or freeze). Get fresh ice every morning to maintain the cooler.
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About the lap trays… we have 2 kinds: the Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray and the Taby Tray Activity Desk. The Star Kids tray is softer, made of foam covered in canvas fabric, while the Taby Tray is hard plastic. These are PERFECT for toddlers who want to feed themselves because you can lay out their food, they’re easy to clean up, and it’s as if they are eating in their high chair. Our 1.5 year old was able to eat her cup of yogurt easily using this tray. The older kids love to use the trays to color or write. Actually, we used to give our little ones washable markers and they would use the Taby Tray as a canvas to create beautiful scribble art- then we’d hand her a wipe and she would spend 15 minutes cleaning the whole table, and starting over. A great way to keep her occupied!
You have to stop for treats one in a while:). This was our reward after a very, very long wait at the border crossing, traveling from Mexico to the US. Ice cream for a 1.5 year old?? In the CAR? That is why you need a box of wipes. Look at that smile!! And people say that toddlers don’t travel well…..