Kid-Friendly Car Snacks

By , Hillary Copsey
My family tries to eat as healthy as we can, with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole foods and as few processed foods as we can. Maintaining that kind of eating is harder when you're traveling, but it's not impossible.
We live 1,000 miles away from our extended family, and we make a pilgrimage to see them at least once a year. We used to fly, but now we drive. Either way, gathering snacks for the trip is a big part of my preparations. Snacks stave off hunger and boredom, keeping bellies full of the kind of food you want your family to eat and, in the case of younger children, keeping little fingers busy.

Here's what works for our family.
Everyone gets a water bottle. (If you're flying, keep these empty until you go through security, then fill up at a water fountain.) Then, I pack a variety of fruit and nuts – dried cherries and raisins, whole apples, pears, grapes and easy-peel oranges. Carrot and celery sticks are great with or without peanut butter.
I also try to make our snacks special. Normally, my boys get homemade or unsweetened applesauce and plain yogurt sweetened with honey, but on the road, I let them have the squeeze packs of flavored applesauce and yogurt. It's still better than a vending machine cracker-pack and it feels like a treat to them. (Bonus: No utensils needed and less mess, in theory.) Usually, I bake some cookies, granola bars or quick bread, too, for the trip – something that feels like dessert but still has at least a little nutritional value.
We're lucky to have no peanut allergies in our family, so peanut butter is a big part of our travel menu. I spread it on saltines to make peanut butter cracker sandwiches and make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Cheese – spreadable cream cheese or sharp cheddar slices – on crackers or pretzels is another family favorite. Often, these heartier snacks, paired with the fruits and treats, mean we can skip the fast-food restaurants that usually are our only dining option on the road in favor of a picnic at a rest-stop or in the car.
If you have to stop at a restaurant, choose wisely. (Check out SparkPeople's Dining Out Guide if you need help!) Skip the cheeseburger and fries in favor of a veggie sub and baked chips, if you have the option. Avoid soda and instead get milk, juice or unsweetened tea. Better yet, fill up those water bottles. Split meals to make portions more reasonable.
Finally, I try to remember that travel is only temporary and it's meant to be a fun, memorable time. In other words, it's OK to eat a little junk on the road. After all, it's not like I'm going to be able to stop my mom from feeding her grandsons ice cream for dinner and Cheetos for dessert when we finally arrive at our destination. That's alright because, even at 2 and 4, my boys know that that's a special thing, something only Grammy does, and that when the trip is over, we're going back to real food.
And as my 4-year-old will tell you, after a week of special treats, your tummy just needs some real food.
What is your favorite road-trip snack for kids?

Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and

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GEORGE815 1/28/2021
Thanks Report
RAPUNZEL53 12/31/2020
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MHELFRICK 10/10/2020
I am getting ready to go on a 3 week road trip. These tips are helpful for us, even though our kids won't be traveling with us.
ERIN_POSCH 9/5/2020
thanks for sharing Report
NANANANA 8/26/2020
I love this. Recently, more of my travel has been with grandchildren. The boys are fantastic. At first, whatever snack I had for me, I shared. Then a boy wanted some of my water. I told him it was bubbly. After of a couple of times opening it and passing it to the back seat, I let him pass it forward when I wanted a drink. Now all of them prefer my water if it is available.

The last trips I remember, #1 was a tote bag full of raisins, cut-up apples, and maybe pretzels. The boys were very quiet. When I asked about stopping for dinner, they said they weren't that hungry. #2 I packed lunches, one with gluten free. Our granddaughter refused to eat a cookie if her cousin could not have one. He showed her his. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 8/11/2020
I like blueberry waffles that I have toasted before we leave Report
PATRICIA-CR 8/8/2020
Great suggestions. Report
CECTARR 8/6/2020
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Thanks for sharing Report
Great tips! Report
Good ideas! But I wanted to share a scary experience with my son when he was 6-12 months old and still in the rear-facing car seat mode. I was sitting in back with him as my dad was riding up front with my husband. He was fussy and hungry so I fed him little bits of some kind of food, banana slices? I don't remember. But at some point I realized he was choking, and was able to get the food out of his mouth and throat before we got to a point that I might have needed to initiate the Heimlich maneuver (I'd already been trained in CPR and Heimlich etc for years). I was just shocked at how easy and fast it started to happen, so really want to encourage you parents and older siblings who might be in the back seat with the younger toddlers and infants, really be vigilant about any snack you are feeding a young child in the car. They can easily choke, whether the food is "healthy" or "junk food" - it doesn't matter! Report
We packed up snacks and treats for road trips. We ate in a restaurant if we were going to be on the road to long Report
great tips . . now I just need a family . . hehehe Report
great ideas
We do a lot of road trips to visit family and pack almost all our own food, at least for the drive. Much better options than restaurants/vending machines/fast food/gas stations. Report
I usually go with dried fruit, fruit "leathers", crackers, peanut butter. Just made some fruit & oat muffins for an upcoming excursion. I avoid nuts because of the potential choking hazard, esp. with small children. Fruit-based trail mixes are fun, too! Report
soy chips
Fresh Fruit, like grapes, dates, banana, Report
Lots of memories for me here!
When my sons were wee, there were lots of away days, and no money to buy snacks, lunches, or anything really apart from the petrol!

Apples, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, raisins, hard-boiled eggs (still in their shells for travelling - one of the food bags was always ready for trash), petit filou or other small yogurt snacks, mini baby bels for cheese.
Sandwiches, if it was going to be a long day out, would be tuna or cheese, on bread (again, cost - bread is cheaper than rolls or other fancy stuff).
Drinks for the boys was usually small/individual cartons of ribena or apple juice. For me, bottled fizzy mineral or spring water. I also had a few bottles partly filled with tap water and then frozen. These were then the "ice blocks" for the cool box or cool bag, and certainly helped to keep our food chilled and fresh, while also providing another few mouthfuls to drink, as we headed home at the end of the day.

Lack of money or not, we usually had an ice cream cone or an ice lolly or something similar, especially if it was a warm day - that was probably the food treat! Report
Our two sons are grown with children of their own, so worrying about snacks for kids isn't something we do.

However, we do need to keep some munchies for ourselves (especially for me - I'm an Insulin dependent diabetic), and we follow the same procedures and guidelines. I like to freeze a big bag of grapes to put in our cooler, along with frozen water bottles to keep things cold (and for cold water refills). A bag of mixed nuts, celery sticks and low salt peanut butter and we're on the road.

Thanks to the other folks who contributed here. I got some great ideas to expand our alternatives for snacks. I particularly liked the Clementines addition.

I've never had any difficulty finding trash containers - whether driving, flying or treating ourselves and traveling by train, so if something sounds good I just pack it in. Report
fruits, nuts, veggies, trail mix, crackers, granola bars.... definitely no junk! Report
I always fixed fried chicken, etc. when we went on a day trip & had a cooler in the car since I have five children. We'd have a picnic along the road somewhere. Report
A small jar of peanut butter was a life-saver on a recent trip for peanut butter on a spoon. I kept a small disposable knife for the jar and the spoon could get "reloaded". Unfortunately natural peanut butter gets a bit runny, but it was still a fun treat that my 4-year-old likes, but doesn't often pick at home. Hard boiled eggs already peeled work well in small lunch packs that you can keep cold too. Nuts and tangerines were the other staple items. Report
dont have kids but i treat my body that same way though. when going on a long-distance train/car/bus trip, i pack my bag with dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, plumbs...ANYthing dried) and nuts/seeds (sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds), and of course some sweet (sugar or butter crackers... not cookies) and dried crackers (plain, no-taste ones, like unsalted pretzel stix), plus water. I have always done that. No fresh fruit since there might not be a place to put refuse; no jellies nor spreads. I just suffice til I reach the destination. Report
I also like to bring part skim mozzarella string cheese, and the pre-packaged sliced apples. Cuties clementines that are easy to peel are also great. Completely agree with the individual bottles of water. Thanks for the article! Report
If I remember to pack snacks for our long car trips, it's usually healthy, with one fun, not so healthy snack for them. 9 times out of 10 I don't have time to pack, so I end up getting those healthy containers from the thruway rest stop- cheese (we usually split the cheese since there's so much of it...far too much for one child), carrots, grapes, apples. Extra money maybe, but my kids like it them. Report
Bottle water, fruit, nuts & sandwiches. No junk food or candy for sure. Report
When we traveled when the kids were young I packed sandwiches and fresh fruits always had a ice chest, we also did most of the driving at night so the kids were asleep for most of the trip. Report