5 Nutritionist Tips on Feeding Your Kids while Travelling

Road trips with kids
Helpful & not so helpful.  This is how we look at food & fluid choices in the context of  travelling with kids. 

When I think back to our road trips as kids, which we did a lot of; I wonder how we made it out alive.  Not from a car crash. Although we did get to destinations miraculously fast WITH NO STOPS UNLESS YOU WERE GOING TO CRAP YOURSELF. But from the raised stress levels induced by sugar fuelled kids. 

Road trips were lollies, juices & individual packets of convenience. Rubbish foods laced with "I am going to get hyper real fast then crash, burn & wake angry - low & needing another hit".  Those foods we refer to in our books, blogs & recipes as "unhelpful" (in context). 

In our house hold; we have a 7 month old, 2 (going on attitude age 13) year old & a "close to" 5 year old.  We can't forget the 13 yr old King Charles Spaniel, as his diet, specifically the meal before a road trip, has a significant impact to the air quality inside the vehicle on a typically 8 hour + trip. And the adults, with one in particular, having the same "meal before" issues as his 4 legged best friend. Although, quite distinctly, he can vocalize his pleasure in poisoning the air with his butt vapour at 110km/h (acting like his 4 legged friend's human years age most of the time).

So a mix of ages to please, whilst trying to stay mood neutral, sane, hydrated, awake or asleep, satisfied, less cranky than normal, clean-ish, on a budget whilst also avoiding intense & annoying mood shifts. 

Also & importantly allowing for the fact that the mother who packs, is a nutritionist who does not like to plan, or cook, or be more organized than absolutely needed.... Easy right?

Tip 1: Have a mixed bag of goodies that does not include sugar

As any parent or caregiver would know; kids love variety & choice.  As long as you can give them options, they are happy.  Even if the mixed bag of variety is not what they really want, having lots of options means there is the sense of negotiation they love to feel satisfied with their eventual decision. 

Smaller amounts of many things is better than 3-5 options.  Aim for around 10 different choices, which could be 4 different fruits, 4 different crackers/breads, rice cakes & 2 different types of nuts. High in protein & fibre for fullness & satisfaction is good.

Concentrated sugar on a road trip, in any form, is not helpful.  If you want to like your family at the end of the long journey, do yourself a favour & keep that bag of mixed "sugar in any form is still sugar" lollies, snakes, chocolate, whatever your preferred ticket to mood swing- home!  Don't be fooled by packaged snacks that are marketed as healthy, like certain muesli & nut bars. It's just easier to steer clear. 

You may aim for 98% healthy "helpful" options; with one small , controlled portion size "unhelpful" card to pull out for the last leg of the trip.  Don't tell them about this card until you are close to playing it.  I often don't play it at all, but it's nice to have there as an option. But only for the last leg! 

Non food extra's for your "hand reachable" bag - wipes or a wet face washer, a bag to use for rubbish, a small towel for spills, a small plastic plate, some paper towel & a no blade knife for spreading avocado &/or peanut butter.

Tip 2: Hydration is essential

Even though you are not moving much sitting in a car, being in an air conditioned car all day, you get dry & thirsty. Your body & brain need a regular top up of water. Water consumed, goes into your blood, which then helps pump oxygen to your brain & increases your concentration.

Plain, straight up, hard core tap WATER is the only real option. Other than 1-2 coffees for adults, we pack water bottles for kids & they get filled up with this miraculous free & clean water supply we have available to us along the way.  Pack 2 bottles for each kid if need be & remind everyone on the hour, to sip some water. 

Any fluids slightly sweetened (naturally or not) is not only unhelpful for mood, hydration or getting your kids used to drinking straight up water, but it's an unnecessary cost. If your kids get used to getting bought flavoured drinks, this is literally hundreds of dollars flushed down the loo every year with not a single benefit other than fleeting taste based satisfaction. 

Food choices to help with hydration are fresh berries, grapes & seasonal easy fruits like cherries, nectarines, plums or peaches.  These fruits are particularly high in water, but any fruits are good, as long as they are fresh & easy.  Apples & bananas are always in our car too.

Avoid high salt snacks like chips & salted nuts.  Occasional flavoured rice crackers are ok, but they are high in salt, so be cautious of serving sizes.  No more than 10 & make them a "sometimes" not an "always" road trip food. 

Tip 3: High fibre 

It's not just about the journey, but also the destination. No one is happy unless they have had a good poo.  Not moving for hours on end, combined with low fibre food choices means that it would take longer for everyone's bowels to get back into motion when you finally reach your destination.  Now, that is not a good start to anyone's holidays.

White breads, crackers & biscuits are like paste in the gut.  They move slowly & are unhelpful in not only moving things through, but nutritionally they are pretty much void.

So, make sure you have crackers, bread &/or whole fruit options that are high in fibre. This is wholemeal + grains where possible or just grains, if you had to chose between whole meal or grains. We pack vita weats, five grain bread & wholemeal salada.  All of these plain or with our homemade peanut butter (see blog; easy to put on in the car on demand) are great.  We use corn thins as a filler, but these are not really much help for fibre, more for crunch.

The whole fresh fruit and water also helps significantly in keeping the bowels moving.

Tip 4: Don't pack anything you are not willing to give

The power of being the parent is, that if it's not in the "hand reachable" bag, it's not available.  If the kid gets genuinely hungry, they will eat or go without.

I once naively packed sultana's. Those little sugar cubes are so unhelpful in the context of driving & sitting. Great for playing in a park or moving; not for sitting. They not only go everywhere, finding them months later in every crevice of the vehicle & come out perfectly rehydrated as grapes. But they are an instant high & once it was seen in the bag it was requested & consumed & the sugar high began in the form of loud sporadic high pitch 

If it's in the bag, it's for everyone & it needs to be rationalized.  There is no "that is for daddy" .  We don't have special food for some people.  We all have to endure this road trip, so fair is fair. What is in the bag is for everyone.

Think also about mess & compromising with yourself. Pack foods you prefer they eat & just wear old clothes if need be. We pack a spare of accessible clothes for when we arrive somewhere we need them to look decent.  Knowing there is a high probability the berries will be all over their tops & faces (& hair, up their noses, in their ears...all the normal spots).

Tip 5: Don't get too fancy 

Managing expectations is a really big deal in my professional career, as well as my home life as a busy mum.  It's all about consistency & ensuring people understand what is coming so they don't get disappointed (annoyed, frustrated, cranky). So, I don't do fancy.  If you get fancy - such as preparing foods, baking finger snacks, packing food boxes etc.. that is ok, but just be sure you:
a) do it every road trip! As this will be expected.
b) don't get disappointed or annoyed when it ends up on the car floor or is not eaten.  Kids in cars are unpredictable.  They are out of routine, tired, agitated & can like something one minute & hate it the next.  It's enough effort packing the car, getting into it & leaving within 1 hour of your preferred departure time, let alone packing fancy personalised lunch boxes.
I also don't want my kids to emotionally associate "road trip" with any particular kinds of foods. They will just get disappointed.  It's about the colour car spotting, the singing, dancing in our seats & "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with..."....
We are just getting mentally ready for our second 20hour return road trip within a month. What tips do you have to share? Love to read your thoughts.