Fun-size people can be temporarily distracted by fun-size snacks. However, tiny candy bars alone will not get you through an all-day road trip. You can find out why I feel so strongly about the perils of sugary snacks as well as the dangers of restaurants in my 10 Rules for Road Trips with Kids. How do I feed my kids on the road then, you ask? The ones who beg for food about every ten miles because they are so hungry they could just absolutely die?
The answer lies in a carefully cultivated list of foods that, when put together, adds up to a semi-balanced diet (at least when averaged over a couple of days). And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the best snacks to pack for air travel, too, since airport security and carry-on bags add in an extra layer of fun complications.
Road Trip Food
I have a strong childhood memory of a hand snaking back from the front seat during long family drives, ferrying slices of apples, cut up cheese, and red Twizzlers. I understand why my mom didn’t bother with crackers (the crumbs! OMG the crumbs). However, my car is already so trashed by the time we get anywhere, what’s a few crumbs? Ritz crackers have magical kid-quieting powers in my house.
Here are some suggestions for packing your Passenger Seat Bag O’ Food:
- Crackers — whatever kind your kids like best.
- Apples — with a knife wrapped in a towel so you can cut on the go.
- Mandarin oranges — maybe save these for dinner at a park due to the juice factor.
- Fruit snacks — do not let your kids eat as many of these as they want. You may say to yourself, why not? It says “fruit” right on the package, after all! I will again refer you to my perils of sugar-focused snacking. Hint: it involves vomit.
- Jerky — in our car only the adults will eat this, but maybe your kids are better than mine at protein consumption.
- Granola bars — like, 10,000 of them.
- Twizzlers — for nostalgia. And also because they are a candy that doesn’t melt and can’t really “spill.”
- Little bags of chips — salt to balance the sugar.
- Pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — or anything else you can put between bread that doesn’t require refrigeration. Or make real sandwiches and stick them in your cooler.
- Cookies — you need these. I mean you, not the kids. Hide them at the bottom of the bag. Use them for bribery.
- Adult beverage of choice in an insulated bottle — you’re welcome, and, no, whoever got stuck driving can’t have any.
Into to the cooler goes:
- Baby carrots or another vegetable — your kids won’t eat these, but at least you can pretend you are feeding them a balanced diet.
- Cheese — preferably pre-sliced or in cheese stick form.
- Seedless grapes — nature’s candy.
- Juice boxes — so you can deny them soda pop at gas stations.
- Other beverages — water, Diet Coke, whatever.
If you don’t have a cooler, go get one. One year, a valued family member gave us a totally awesome one for Christmas that plugs into the car so we don’t need ice; I can attest it is worth the space it takes up in the back of the van.
- Trail mix — Every year MonsterDad buys this. And every year, the kids eat all the M&Ms and chocolate chips out of it, and if they don’t, they melt.
- Goldfish — I’m probably going to break my own rule. Let’s be honest, kids love Goldfish. And also they make a GINORMOUS mess.
- Chocolate of any kind — this melts. Enough said.
Top Snacks for Flying with Kids
Plane food falls into multiple categories: critical toddler food, treats for bribery, and emergency rations for older kids in case the plane gets stuck on the runway for seven hours. I will focus on the “young child who needs to eat at least every ninety minutes” kind of food. These items are only appropriate for kids who won’t choke on them. Use your discretion, please, and do not try to feed your toothless baby fruit snacks.
- Granola bars with real nutritional value — e.g. Zbars, not those airy cheap ones with the chocolate chips.
- Baby pouches of pureed fruits/vegetables — environmentally friendly? No. Super easy and magical? Yes.
- Pouches of applesauce — even my eight-year-old will eat these if necessary. They are a liquid/gel so be aware when you go through security.
- Little containers of dry snacks — e.g. Goldfish, Teddy Grahams, Cheerios. You will have to dole these out one at a time so they don’t get spilled all over the plane, however.
- Fruit snacks — a food that doubles as a bribe, cannot be broken, has a long shelf life, and has “fruit” in the name? Yes please!
- Fruit that your kid will eat — e.g. a banana, grapes, cut up apples.
- Lollipops — if you wonder why lollipops are so important, see The Secret to Successful Travel with Kids on Airplanes.