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Surviving road trips with hungry kids

road tripping.
road tripping.
Desert Road by douglasjonesjr via Flickr

Traveling with kids is no easy task and trying to keep everyone healthy and eating well can seem impossible. Road trips don't have to mean road food – and it shouldn't. Too many bad meals will leave everyone feeling sluggish and little kids tend to have, ahem, digestive issues when eating high doses of new foods. Instead, bring tons of food that the whole family is used to eating every day.

As we get ready to head out on a summer road trip ourselves, here's a few tips I've picked up from past trips to help you eat well on the road without breaking the bank or relying on fast food for cheap, quick meals.

  • Pack a Cooler. Don't trouble yourself with messy ice, freeze a dozen or so water bottles or two gallon-sized bottles of water. If you keep the cooler closed most of the time, the gallon-sized ice bottles can last for a few days. Pack it with string cheese, natural peanut butter, cut fruit and melons, and easy to eat veggies.
  • Give Everyone a Reusable Bottle. Don't get in the habit of stopping for pop and juice at every gas station, and don't rely on juice boxes to keep the kids hydrated. Give everyone a cool reusable water bottle and keep it filled with your melting water from the cooler. Not only will your kids stay hydrated, but your car will thank you for keeping sticky spills away – especially if one of your kids is a juice box squeezer like mine...
  • Pack a Bag of Fruit. Apples, pears, grapes, and oranges don't need to be kept cold so fill up a whole bag with your kids' favorite picks. Grab some bananas, too, but don't keep them in the same bag as the rest as they tend to ripen faster.
  • Pack the Goodies. Instead of picking up pretzels and cookies every time you stop for gas, pack a few goodies and snacks that you can dole out periodically to keep the munchies at bay. This way you can be in control of how “bad” the goodies are and reduce the amount of processed snacks and junk food that everyone's eating – and save money at the same time.
  • Know Your Restaurants. When all else fails, know which restaurants have a menu that you can live with so you're not fumbling and making bad choices in a rush. For example, we usually rely on Subway or Chipotle for emergency road food stops because – at the very least – the majority of the food served is fresh and relatively unprocessed and we know all three kids will eat there. It's not ideal, but it's better than Happy Meals.
  • Don't Plan Your Stops Around Food. Long road trips require plenty of stops for the kids to stretch their legs and run off some of the crazies that build up after hours in the car. Don't plan your stops around restaurants and food. Instead, find open spaces where you can stop and pass out a few sandwiches and let the kids run.

    Highway rest areas are a good choice, but parks and scenic areas are even better – especially if you're traveling through an area that's new to you. Google Maps and Roadtrippers.com can help you find places to stop that are more exciting than cheeseburgers and fries so your trip can be more fun AND healthier.

As a final note, don't forget that all of your plans will be thwarted by the kids. All of your careful planning will be turned on its head and everything will descend into chaos. You might be wondering why in the world I would advise so much planning if it's all going to fall apart?

That's because the most important thing you need to bring is patience, flexibility, and a willingness to go with the flow. If every kid is sleeping and you're scheduled for a stop, KEEP GOING! If your next stop is an hour away and the kids are at each others' throats, it's time for an unscheduled stop. Changing your plans on-the-fly after a lot of planning is a LOT easier than trying to wing it as you go!