Healthy Eating For Family Travelers

By LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD

children's health travel snacks

Packing healthy snacks can keep your family on track during travel. PHOTO BY IMAGERYMAJESTIC/FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

Travel season is upon us, and a lot of Angelino families will escape the commotion of our city by driving up the coast, down to San Diego or east to the desert – or fly even farther afield. While traveling is no easy feat, having a solid eating plan for your trip can help you and your family maintain a balanced lifestyle and protect your children’s health while saving money and time.

Road trips are notorious for pit stops where food choices are limited and fresh fruits and veggies are often lacking. So, while you’re packing suitcases with clothes, toys and beach gear, don’t forget to also bring snacks and drinks along with you in the car.

The key to smart snacking is finding foods packed with fiber and protein, since these keep us feeling satisfied longer. Once you’ve got these snacks in hand, consider taking a few minutes to portion them into individual serving sizes to help avoid overindulging.


Non-perishable snacks I love to keep handy on the road or in backpack include:

  • Turkey jerky
  • Raw or roasted nuts
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Spelt pretzels
  • Seaweed snacks
  • Fruit-and-nut bars
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Packets of nut butter
  • Whole-grain tortilla chips and bean chips

Many high-protein foods are perishable, so use a cooler that will allow you to stock up on things such as string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt tubes, deli meat, fiber-rich sliced veggie sticks and seasonal fruits so the kids can serve themselves. Include frozen or partially frozen bottles of water that will act like ice packs until you drink them.

Travel can be stressful and exhausting. Being prepared with nutritious snacks is key to keeping everyone happy and energized. I also like to keep a small cooler of drinks and snacks in the front seat for the driver and other adults to enjoy. I’ll usually opt for sparkling flavored water, mini cans of soda and iced green tea to keep everyone refreshed and calories in check. Parents can opt for protein bars and snacks with the right balance of carbs and protein to keep energy levels stable on a long drive.

Air travel, of course, requires a slightly different eating plan, since it often requires packing lighter. Start your travel day right with a balanced breakfast including a cooked egg with a slice of whole wheat toast topped with mashed avocado, or whole-grain cereal with yogurt and fruit. Store nourishing travel snacks in a large re-sealable zipper bag and place in an easy-to-access area of your carry-on bag. Check the Transportation Security Administration website for up-to-date rules on traveling with liquids.

Once you’ve reached your destination, it’s fun to eat out and try local cuisine, but dining in restaurants with small children can be a challenge. I usually steer away from ordering off the children’s menu, which usually features items such as buttered noodles, fries and chicken fingers. Instead, encourage sharing of entrees that contain lean proteins such as grilled chicken or salmon with vegetables. Another fun option to help control portions is to order appetizers and side dishes to create a mix-and-match small-plate dinner.

Children's health LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD

As you sit down to brainstorm about your upcoming family trip, make a plan of action for eating together. Being organized and prepared with practical foods and beverages will help keep energy levels and spirits high, while avoiding common food pitfalls and added costs.

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian and food and nutrition writer based in Los Angeles. Her family, which includes two small children, lives in Sherman Oaks. LeeAnn is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietetics Practice-Based Research Network, and the Nutrition Entrepreneurs Practice Group, and provides nutrition consultation to companies and organizations including The Coca-Cola Company and National Fisheries Institute. She’s also the author of the “Everything Glycemic Index Cookbook” and writes a nutrition column for the LA Daily Breeze.

Check out LeeAnn’s Instagram campaign, halfpintchefs, where she features kid-friendly videos, photos and recipes for meals and snacks that kids can make on their own. Each recipe will feature a “super ingredient,” one star ingredient known for its health properties.

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