The holiday season is approaching, and that means many families will be packing suitcases, hoping in the car or boarding an airplane, and heading over to their friends and families. Aside from suitcase essentials, food is my next biggest concern. Providing nutritious snacks while traveling can be tough, so here are a few tips to help you keep the food your kids eat reasonably healthy, affordable, safe, and well-received by your family.
1. Portion sized. Make sure that the portions you are giving to your family are reasonable. For kids, sometimes the appropriate sized snacks are available (mini snack bags of trail mix – think ½ cup), but more likely it is the adult sized value portion. To help with this, I regularly bring empty kid cups on the road with us. This allows me to portion the snack into a cup before giving it to the kids (or myself). When we eat from the bag/box/container, research consistently shows that we eat more, so put down the container and portion for your kids (and yourself too)! It also helps keep the mess under control. If the kids have less food in a cup, there is less to spill. And, if that cup is comfortable for them to hold, they are less likely to drop it.
2. Water bottles. Bottom line – stick with water over any other drink. Bring your refillable water bottle with you anytime you travel with kids. If you forget it, buy a bottle of water and refill it. Water is the healthiest drink for you and your family. It is tempting to buy juices, sports drinks, and sodas while traveling, but trust me, keeping the simple sugars in juice, sports drinks, and soda away from your kids will make your life easier. Each of these drinks, will immediately spike your kid’s blood sugar leading to a rush of (difficult to control) energy – something that is generally not what you are looking for while trapped in a car or airport.
3. Fruit (dried or firm). One of our go-to snacks is dried fruit and apples. I like this snack because it is less messy than other snacks, doesn’t need to be kept cold, and is minimally processed. When you are choosing dried fruit, try to find fruit without added sugar (remember there are no sugar free fruits), but don’t be fooled with products that are sweetened with other more naturally sounding things like fruit juice. Sugar is sugar – regardless of if it comes from sugar cane or juice.
Apples are one of my absolutely favorite foods, even when we aren’t traveling, but they also make great travel snacks. Apples are hard enough that they don’t bruise easily (so they can be tossed in a bag without much thought) and are firm enough that they don’t make a giant mess when kids eat them (as opposed to a pear or banana that will smush all over your kid and the car). Galas are my kids’ favorite because I can find them small enough (fits in the palm of an adult hand) and they are softer than other varieties. This makes them a perfect size and texture for my kids.
For our family, we often pair dried fruit with roasted nuts or seeds to add some protein and fat to the snack. Nuts and seeds can be a choking hazard and allergen, so make sure they are developmentally appropriate for your kids (e.g., non-allergen, have molars, able to chew effectively, and don't overstuff mouth).
When choosing nuts, I usually stick to nut butters (like almond or peanut better – see recipe below!) or roasted nuts because they are softer and easier to chew than their raw counterpart.
4. Popcorn. It is naturally whole grain – it is a corn kernel popped… that's it – and it is a beloved snack food. At least it should be. Of all the chips, crackers, pretzels, and cookies out there, popcorn is one of the few that is often minimally processed. Our other go-to carbohydrate food is pretzels, salted or unsalted. Although pretzels don’t provide a lot of nutrition, they often have few ingredients and accompany fruit well. Virtually all the other bagged and boxed snacks are high in sodium, fat, and although it may or may not taste like it – sugar. Things like veggie sticks and granola bars may sound healthier than potato chips and candy bars, but nutritionally they are the same thing.
With that said, do the best you can to feed your family and have fun. Traveling with kids is exhausting, but well worth it when you see, play, and laugh with family and friends during the holiday season or on any visit. When choosing food and snacks on the road or in the air, try to keep things simple and unprocessed to keep your family happy and healthy.
Peanut Butter Balls
My kids love these! It is their favorite breakfast and snack food. This easy, bite-sized snack is packed with essential macronutrients, fiber, and vitamins.
- 1½ cup quick oats
- 1 cup peanut butter (or almond butter, sunflower see butter)
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ tsp salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a mixer.
2. With a paddle attachment, mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Using a 1 tbsp scoop or something similar, scoop out balls and shape with your hands into balls or patties.
Note: You can be creative with this recipe! Substitute your favorite dried fruit, another nut butter (sunflower seed butter if you or your kids are allergic to tree nuts and peanuts), or add some coconut. If the mixture ever seems too dry to stick together, add more nut butter or honey.
Natalie is a PhD and a registered and licensed dietitian. She is one of our wonderful family advisers who helps families with health and nutrition education, healthy food shopping, nutrition on-the-go, edible gardening, cooking with kids, and more! Read about Natalie in her bio.
Thank you for reading!