If you’re just joining us, this is Part 4 of my Road Trips for Families series. You can read more in Part One: What to Pack – 10 Must Haves for the Road, Part Two: How to Plan Fun Stops Along the Way, and Part Three: How to Keep Kids Entertained in the Car.
If you’re traveling longer than a few hours, having some snacks or food for the road is essential, especially if you’ve got kids with you. Here’s how to make a plan for handling food in the car, including what to pack, where to stop and eat, and how to organize it so you’re not picking goldfish out of your seats for the next 6 months. Remember, keeping everyone’s blood-sugar stable and fighting off a “hangry” attack can mean the difference between a smooth trip and a mutiny.
Foods to Pack
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Nothing that can melt
Even if you’re traveling in the winter, chances are at some point your car will sit in the sun and things will heat up. Avoid the mess and don’t pack anything that can melt. No chocolate, no gooey foods etc unless they can be in the cooler.
This will keep some of the sugar crashes at bay and can prevent a meltdown if you’re a few hours from lunch. My favorites are nuts, peanut butter crackers, and natural beef jerky.
A fun treat
Sitting in the car can be boring so make snacks a little more fun by including something that you don’t always have a home. My kids rarely get fruit snacks but I always pack some for the road as a special treat. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy, just something novel that they don’t get at home. Don’t forget the grown-ups too!
Easily sharable or individually packaged
I get motion sick fairly easily in the car so I need to make sure that our snacks are grab-and-go so I can pass them out quickly when we’re traveling. Putting single-serving sizes of things in small snack bags or buying individual bags is worth the prep work for me. Crackers, pretzels, and raisins work well for this
We’re not big soda or juice drinkers and so we make sure to pack our water bottles for the car. I like these Nalgene water bottles for my kids since they don’t leak and we use them the entire vacation as we hike and explore. They’re easily refillable from the case of water I keep in the trunk.
Stopping for Food
Pack a picnic.
If you want to save money and/or eat healthy, pack a picnic. I have these divided containers to pack our lunch for a road trip. They stack in the cooler and are ready to go as soon as we arrive at a local park or rest stop. Picnics are also a two-for-one stop since my kids can run around and stretch their legs while we set up and clean up.
Grab Fast Food.
Sometime we just need to keep driving in order to cover a lot of ground. We make our bathroom stop quickly and then grab the food to go. That half hour of eating in the car gets us that much further down the road. See below for how we eat without making a mess.
Sit Down at a Restaurant
If you need a break from driving, sitting down for a meal at a restaurant can be a nice change of pace. We like to look for something local and unique if we can, and often ask for the check as soon as we order to get us back on the road more quickly. For quicker stops, chose fast casual types of dining.
Eating in the car
Fast Food Basket
This is a Pinterest idea I saw years ago and it totally works. These baskets are from the dollar store and hold a fast food kids meal perfectly. No messy spills or balancing drinks. I can even put a dip container for chicken nuggets in here and it won’t make a mess. We travel everywhere with these so we can eat on the road if we have to.
We have plastic kids cups from Ikea that I use to hand out snack portions if I haven’t pre-bagged portions. They fit in most cup holders and are deep enough that snacks don’t spill out like they do in bowls or bags.
There’s nothing worse than pulling away from the drive thru and realizing you didn’t get something you needed. I keep extra ketchup, BBQ dip, straws, and napkins in a compartment in my van to avoid a time-sucking U-turn for my son’s need for condiments.
Keep your travelers well-fed and mess-free by planning ahead a bit and making sure you know what food you’ll bring, where you’ll stop for food, and how you’ll organize it. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the unexpected fruit stand or ice cream shop. Even on a well-planned road trip, you have to leave a little room for the delightfully unexpected stop.
Do you have any must have foods for your road trips? What are some of your favorite places to stop? Share you best tip for eating on the road by leaving a comment below!