It’s been well over 10 years since my husband and I took our first road trip as parents, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We set out with a carefully planned itinerary and our generally happy one and a half year-old – and very quickly realized how unprepared we really were, and just how grouchy a hungry toddler could be.
Here are my top tips for a successful road trip (hint – it’s all about the snacks!)
The simple fact is, things take longer with little ones in tow. More stops mean less distance covered – and that means when they get hungry, you’re stuck with what’s nearby, if anything. That first road trip, I clearly remember chewing deep fried batter off yet another serving of chicken nuggets from a roadside diner before begrudgingly feeding them to my daughter. It was the first and last time I travelled without loading the car with healthy snacks.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional fast food fix, especially if it’s a long trip, but here’s how to ensure they’re getting the balanced nutrition they need. Having healthy snacks on hand will keep their mood more stable, and it also means you can buy more driving time between stops if you need it. Packing well also means fewer arguments, less mess and more focus on family fun.
Stick to tried and tested
Stick with foods you already know they like. This is not the time to introduce something new – especially when it comes to the healthy stuff, such as cut up veggies and fruit. Pack some fun stuff too though, it’s a holiday! For my kids, that means popcorn and pretzels.
Packaged food is super convenient, but be sure to choose foods that pack a health punch and are free from artificial color and preservatives, like KABRITA Goat Milk Yogurt and Fruit.
Invest in some divided containers to prevent the dreaded mixing of foods while in transit. And make sure each kid has their own (trust me, I learned this the hard way!).
Pack some cooler packs and find an easy-to-access insulated cooler bag (ours has a panel that is easy for kids to lift without having to open the bag). You can pack mini meals in here, such as sandwiches, cold pizza or pasta for roadside lunches.
Re-usable bottles are your friend (is there anything worse than drippy straws and squishy drink boxes in the backseat of a car?). Speaking of mess, stock up on paper towel for spills and wipes for sticky hands. And invest in a backseat bin to minimize the amount of food that will, inevitably, find its way under seats and boosters.
Make it a picnic
Any food that requires careful chewing (especially with younger children) is best saved for when you are pulled over, especially for younger children. They’ll love having impromptu picnics, and if it’s rainy, lap desks (which we bring for coloring and reading in the car), make great dining tables!
We survived that first bumpy road trip and three kids later, we still enjoy an epic vacation every year. We’ve learned that whether you’re planning a day trip to the beach or a cross-country adventure, the most important thing to plan is what to eat along the way (after all, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey!) You’ll spend less, worry less and everyone will be able to enjoy the ride.
Louise Gleeson is a freelance writer, blogger and mother of four who makes it her mission to find quiet moments in the chaos.