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On the Road Again? Healthy Snacks for Kids Traveling

Healthy Living

Dr. Martin is a pediatrician with Shawnee Mission Health.

When it comes to eating right on vacation, parents today have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Yet despite the 250+ web links devoted to healthy road trip snacks for kids, finding easy, fun, yummy-in-your-tummy ideas for their next adventure remains a challenge.

How many suggestions for rice cakes, trail mix and celery sticks do you have to read before throwing in the towel? And let’s be real – the days of packing sack lunches and stopping at roadside fruit stands are over. It’s just too easy to stop at a fast food joint. Junk food is actually cheaper. And fresh fruit and veggies have to stay cold. Still... stomach aches, constipation and diarrhea can be real fun suckers for your vacationing little junk food junkies.

Consider these ideas for maintaining healthy eating habits while away from home:

Go nuts

  • Nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins and minerals. 
  • The lowest-calorie nuts are almonds, cashews and pistachios. 
  • Choose nuts that are raw or dry roasted.
  • For fun variety, choose almonds that are coated in a variety of flavors like cinnamon sugar, cocoa dusted or chili-lime. But stay away from nuts coated in several layers of chocolate… that’s candy.
  • Jazz up your nuts with a few pieces of raisins or dried fruit.

Popcorn – It isn’t just for the movies

  • Pre-packaged, air-popped popcorn is a great alternative to potato chips.
  • Low in fat and calories, but high in fiber, this munchie wins for crunch and flavor.
  • Brands such as Skinny Pop are available in a variety of flavors, but stay away from chocolate or caramel coating.

When we say whole wheat, we MEAN whole wheat

  • You know the benefits of whole wheat flour, but don’t be fooled by products with pretty labels that say whole wheat. If whole wheat flour is not the first ingredient listed, i.e., if enriched flour is listed first and wheat second, keep looking. There are plenty of delicious breads, tortillas and crackers that are legitimately whole wheat.
  • Instead of a cake or cookie, try a whole wheat peanut butter banana roll-up, using a whole wheat tortilla.
  • To satisfy a cookie craving, look for whole wheat animal crackers or vanilla wafers.

Same food – different shape

  • Vacations are for fun, and that includes eating! Save your mundane daily snack routine for home.
  • While you might offer traditional graham crackers for an at-home snack, switch it up on vacay. Graham crackers come in sticks, squares and animal shapes. Saving these varieties for your road trip make them seem more special than they actually are.
  • Try making fruit and nut clusters into balls instead of bars.
  • Using cookie cutters, cut sandwiches into fun shapes.

Snacking Behavior

  • Establish some rules for snacking before your children leave home; teach them to ration the snack stash – a late morning, late afternoon and bedtime snack is enough. Don’t eat all the snacks on Day One.
  • Provide instruction in portion control. Remind them that small amounts are plenty - one or two cookies; one jerky stick; one piece of fruit; or a small handful of nuts, trail mix or popcorn (about the size of a cupped palm). This is good advice for vacation and for life.

Finally, remind yourself that indulging in moderation is the best rule to follow. Your little ones will survive a mere week of junk food. But if you set good examples MOST of the time, your child will likely make good choices MOST of the time. And that will make the occasional sweet treat even sweeter.


**NOTE** Nuts and popcorn are NOT RECOMMENDED for children UNDER FOUR years of age. Always avoid foods that could be choking hazards, especially when your child is unattended in the back seat.