Hitting the road for a long trip with kids can be daunting. The potty breaks! The never ending question, “Are we there yet?!” Plus your strained neck from turning around from the passenger seat to try to keep everyone entertained!
But alas, there are many reasons that make it worthwhile to endure the hours in the car with kids. And one thing we can do to make it better is to be prepared with snacks, so “I’m hungry,” doesn’t need to be one of the whines you hear!
Since long road trips bring a lot of unknown, it’s best to be prepared for anything. You may not know what food options you’ll pass, the kind of gas station snacks you’ll find, or the timing of stops. Being prepared with road trip snacks for kids sets everyone in the car up for success.
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4 Considerations When Packing Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Number one eating priority whether at home, at a stop, or in the car – safety! Make sure your child can safely chew what you’re serving them and that you modify foods as needed for their age. Also consider the recline of the seat, if your child is still riding in one, as it’s safest to eat upright.
You’ll also want to consider food safety. Will you be bringing a cooler? And if you’re on the road multiple days, do you have access to a place to re-freeze your ice packs or refill on ice? If the answer to any of these questions is no, the shelf stable snack list is for you.
Of course you’ll also need to consider how long you’ll be in the car. It’s a good idea to take the number of snacks you’d normally have in that time frame, plus some extra.
You don’t always know if there will be options for meals and extra snacks can easily be used for a meal or a side dish to round out available foods. In short, rather safe than sorry!
Mess factor is another important consideration and everyone is going to have their own threshold for this. Snack ideas on this list, particularly the fruit and vegetables, were selected because they are low(er) mess.
But, low mess is not no mess. Plus, spills are pretty much always a possibility. Think about how much time you’re willing to devote to clean up on or after the trip, and select snacks accordingly.
The last, and perhaps most important thing to remember (at least for your sanity) when selecting road trip snacks for kids is their preferences and enjoyment. While providing variety and healthy snacks is important, especially for picky eaters – a road trip is not usually the time to focus on this.
Road trips are the exception to rules, a time of less structure, and an opportunity to focus on survival. It’s more important to keep everyone in the car happy and keep things moving forward (literally), than it is that your child ate fruits and veggies today.
You can get back to structure and routines when you get home. Kids are very capable of this flexibility. The key is a strong foundation in feeding to return to and if that’s something you’re needing help with – check out the Mastering Mealtimes Membership for support.
Road Trip Snack Ideas
- Chex Mix
- Veggie Straws
- Peanut Butter Pretzels
- Cheese Crisps
- Roasted Chickpeas
- Plantain Chips
- Beef or Turkey Jerky
- Meat Sticks
- Trail Mix (You can add in some sweets too!)
- Rice Cakes
- Pea Crisps
- Gummy Bears
- Jelly Beans
- Mini Marshmallows
- Rice Krispie Treats
- Fruit Snacks
- Fruit Leathers
- Teddy Grahams
- Graham Crackers
- Mini Cookies
- Dried Fruit (Raisins, Cranberries, Apricots, Dates, etc.)
- Freeze Dried Fruit (Strawberries, Mango, etc.)
- Apple or Banana Chips
- Dry Cereal
- Granola with Large Chunks
- Applesauce Pouches
- “Energy” Balls
- Yogurt Pouches,Tubes, or Drinkable Smoothies (some pouches are shelf stable)
- String Cheese or Cheese Cubes
- Ham Cubes
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Mini Pancakes
- Cubed Tofu
Less Mess Fruits and Vegetables
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Snap Peas
Composing Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Now we have lots of ideas, but you might be thinking, what should I actually feed my kid while we’re traveling? I like to keep it simple and just aim to include more than one food group to keep things interesting.
Road Trip Snack Combinations
- Trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, cereal, and mini marshmallows (less messy than chocolate)
- Hard boiled egg, snap peas, and goldfish crackers
- Applesauce pouch, nuts and popcorn
- Yogurt pouch with big chunks of granola and grapes
- Ham and cheese cubes with crackers
Click here for a printer friendly version of the full snack idea list and 20 bonus snack ideas!
When to Serve Snacks in the Car
In general, it’s a good idea to keep snack times the same as what they usually are at home. In the car, it’s easy to snack continuously as something to do, but that can backfire come mealtime.
Plus, snacks have the benefit of being something to do on the drive, so don’t have your kids multitask. That means no snacks during screen time or other activities. This way you’ve filled 2 chunks of time with the activity and the snack. It also helps with avoiding continuous snacking.
But, it’s important to note that sometimes there might be a snack “emergency” where all effort to serve multiple food groups and stick to a typical snack schedule goes out the window. You know – those moments when everyone is crying (even you are on the verge) and you still have so far to go.
It’s fine to pull out a favorite in these situations. In fact, I actually save a lollipop for the end of the trips to try to prevent these scenarios. It’s a favorite, takes some time to eat, and gives kids something to keep busy while they quietly look out the window (maybe). Sanity for everyone!
Packing Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Reusable containers like bento boxes and snack bags are great if you want to pack food in advance for each child. This is also a great option if you know you’ll use the containers for the rest of your trip.
The other option is to get snacks in individually wrapped packages or bring the full bag/box along with something to serve it in. If you have ample storage space in your vehicle, this can be a helpful way of packing for a longer trip.
Location in the Car
Keeping a pile of snacks in the backseat with the kids or even giving them their snacks for the day is not recommended. Deciding when to serve food (an important part of the Division of Responsibility) remains a parents job – even in the car.
Many kids will opt to dig in right away and keep on snacking until either the snacks are gone or they no longer like what’s left. That can put you in a tough spot when late in the day they are actually hungry and the snacks are gone.
So your best bet is to keep a small bag up front with you for easy access while you drive and any back-ups or bigger containers in the trunk.
Drinks for Road Trips with Kids
What to Bring
A water bottle for each child in your car is a great choice to take on a road trip so that everyone always has a drink available. You can also bring a larger jug of water to make refills at stops easier and free! If your kids like cold water, an insulated thermos or growler works well for this.
It might be tempting to bring juice boxes or other individually packaged beverages. While this is easy for packing, it can create more bathroom stops than you were hoping for. Many kids will guzzle tasty beverages quickly and need to go to the bathroom shortly after.
On the flip side, they tend to drink plain water more slowly and only when thirsty. That’s what we want! Plus, you can feel good about offering a lollipop or something else higher in sugar when you know they weren’t sipping on beverages with sugar the whole time they were in the car.
Picking a Water Bottle for a Road Trip
When selecting a water bottle for kids to use in the car top priorities are spill/leak proof, a covered spout, and easy to clean.
It goes without saying, regardless of what you put in the bottle, you don’t want it to spill in the car. Make sure the bottle has a mechanism to open and close to prevent spills and that your child can easily do it independently.
A covered spout is also a helpful thing to look for since your child will have their cup along with their food, toys, and dirty fingers. They might also be toting it in and out of the car and it’s nice to know the area they drink out of isn’t exposed to all the dirt and germs.
Last, for your sake, find something that is easy to clean. Water bottles are known for having nooks and crannies in the lid and around the straw that are difficult to clean and dry. This is annoying for you and means there’s a risk of mold growth.
Takeaway for Packing Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Once you’ve loaded up the car with snacks that meet your needs for safety, mess, amount and preferences, and have a drink packed too, it’s time to start your family road trip!
No matter how much planning and thought you’ve put into the car snacks to try to avoid meltdowns, remember – they will probably happen anyway!
So also plan to pack as much patience as you can muster, oh, and a trash bag! Happy travels!
Kim Slack is a Registered Dietitian, Quality Improvement Professional, Parent Coach and founder of On Your Table, LLC. She supports parents, so that they can support their children to overcome picky eating and learn to eat a varied diet. Kim has helped countless families have happier, calmer mealtimes and grow competent eaters. Kim also has 2 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her from her about page.