Traveling often means not knowing where your next meal is coming from or whether it will be healthy. And even healthy sounding restaurant options can be deceptive. Instead of stressing about it, because traveling with kids is hard enough, find small, easy ways to fit in healthy foods as you’re able.
My own big tricks are to manage snacking and to use a few tricks to boost the nutrition of restaurant meals and food from room service. So here are my 5 favorite ways to eat healthy while traveling with kids. Or at least, to do well enough so that you can leave the eating-drama baggage at home.
Related: 9 awesome travel snack recipes.
1. Bring healthy travel snacks on the road.
You can set the tone of your trip by making or buying smart snacks for the road. The last thing that any of us want as parents is more stuff to pack and carry, but good food will pay off.
If you’re good at planning ahead and are willing to go homemade, you’ll love these 9 awesome travel snack recipes (pictured) or, if your kids are still wee ones, try one of these healthy, low-sugar baby and toddler cookie recipes. Every single one can be made in advance and a few—the freezable cookies, muffins and granola bars—can be made way ahead.
There’s great inspiration in these brilliant DIY travel snack ideas, too, especially for how to pack snacks so that they are easy to take along. Or, if you’re in the market for some new ones, check out these 7 cool snack containers that beat plastic bags.
But even if you’re bringing along packaged yogurts, healthier snack bars, and baggies full of dried fruit and nuts, you can help make sure it’s all more fortifying than what you’ll find at rest stops and airports; and when everyone in your group is fortified, things tend to go more smoothly. Plus, you’ll probably save money. Have you seen the price of granola bars at the airport?
2. Take control of snack time at your destination.
I know that the last thing you want to do when you arrive at your destination is hit the grocery store, but a 10-minute food shopping trip can make the difference between being at the mercy of restaurants (or ice cream parlors or candy shops) and fitting in some healthy foods. It can be quick!
I look for things like:
–High-protein snack foods (like the Maya Kaimal Chickpea Chips pictured)
-Whole wheat bread (I look for any without high fructose corn syrup or preservatives) and peanut butter or a peanut butter alternative. Conveniently, you can even find a few nut and seed butters in squeeze pouches now, like Justin’s.
If you bring the kid with you, they can be part of the choosing, and maybe more likely to eat what you get. Or, if it’s easier, grab a few minutes to run out to the store if you have another adult who can hang back at the hotel with the kids. The last thing anyone wants is to turn an 10-minute quick trip into an hour-long ordeal.
3. Put an avocado on it!
Okay, I get that not all kids like avocados, but I know a bunch who do, possibly from their baby-food eating days. (Is there any easier a baby meal?). If your kids are into them, a ripe avocado is the ultimate on-the-go nutrition boost. You can throw one in your bag with a plastic knife and spoon and cut it open for a quick snack right out of the shell or add it to a restaurant grilled cheese, fast food burger, plate of pasta—boom, it’s healthier!
(Just make sure you don’t leave it in that bag for a few days or…no more avocado. And if the restaurant is a nice one and already serves avocados as toppings on the burgers, of course don’t make the faux pas of not ordering it from them.)
By the way, this is a trick I use while at home as well. When I can’t bring myself to cook or just don’t have the time, I usually whip out an avocado as the night’s vegetable. They are expensive than other options, but having just two or three of them on hand saves me nearly every week.
It’s so worth it for us—maybe for you, too?
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
When you’re out at a restaurant, feel free to ask for healthier options, even when it doesn’t seem like they exist. Though many restaurants limit kid menu offerings to fried chicken fingers or greasy grilled cheese, you’ll be hard pressed to find a kitchen that won’t whip up a PB&J, or a simple pasta tossed with butter and peas for kids. As a last resort, ask for an old-fashioned cheese sandwich then whip out that avocado.
I get not wanting to be that annoying customer who orders off the menu, but don’t be shy. Your server will say no if the restaurant can’t manage it, in which case, respect the limits and do your best.
Oh, and, if you can, you just might avoid five hamburger nights in a row. That’s metaphorical; I know for plenty of kids, a hamburger with some lettuce and tomato on it is up there as far as healthy meals goes and beats a bagful of Goldfish with a side of ice cream.
Hey, we’ve all been there.
And by the way, this tip is especially effective in baby-loving countries. You don’t even need a baby to make it work! On family trips to both Italy and Greece, I found people were thrilled to accommodate our early school-aged boys who have outgrown that goo-goo ga-ga baby charm. One dinner spot in Athens even made an omelette for my little one! (Paris, not so much, though. Just saying.)
5. Embrace balance. It is vacation, after all.
If there was ever a time to give yourself and your kids a break, it’s while on vacation. Take the time to set yourself up right with that quick grocery run, and then let go. The whole point of adding baby carrots to your kid’s plate at lunchtime is so that you can relax at another meal when they also gobble a mound of fries or drink a soda instead of a big glass of milk.
(That’s my 8-year-old in Mexico having his very first Sprite, by the way.)
As long as you’re making sure that your kids have healthy options at most—or at least some— of their meals, you’re doing your job. Yes, even if they ignore the healthy options that you went out of your way to provide. The way I see it, the point isn’t to force vegetables at every meal on your kids, but to make the point that eating healthy is the fuel they need to keep going on a long trip. And also, to set them up to make their own healthy choices if they are so inclined.
Even kids sometimes tire of eating greasy food day after day for days on end. Hey, it could happen! If not, there’s always that slice of avocado.