Eating healthfully during holiday travel

The holidays are fast approaching which, for many, means travel. By air, car or some other means of transportation an estimated 43 million Americans will be traveling for Thanksgiving alone. If you have kids, you know that this requires a fair amount of planning, none the least of which is planning for when, where, and how to eat.

In my house, it seems that no matter how many bags, coolers, and lunch boxes I pack, it’s never the right food and it’s rarely offered at the right time. Yet having nourishing foods that the whole family will eat is particularly important while traveling because hunger is the enemy of patience.

I have certainly had to make my fair share of stops at chain fast food restaurants while on the road, but I still do what I can to minimize the need for that. Here are some (healthy and satisfying) tips and suggestions to help make the travel planning go a little smoother – the food part, at least!

Good things come in small packages. I often make the mistake of putting too much of anything in one bag, or bringing the whole bag or box of something then struggling with half-opened, half-eaten items which inevitably end up on the floor. Putting snacks in smaller bags makes it more likely that kids can finish the whole thing. These smaller bags have the added advantage of allowing the kids to sample multiple items while reducing the potential waste.

Have them do double duty. On our (looooong) flight home from Africa I packed snacks that served double duty as in-flight activities. Eleanor’s favorite was using an O shaped cereal (this isn’t my attempt at avoiding product placement, they actually were not Cheerios) to string a necklace which she then got to eat. This provided hours, well okay at least half an hour, of entertainment.

There’s an App for that. You don’t have to wander aimlessly through back country road or airport terminals looking for something to eat these days. In the age of handheld computers, the information is at your fingertips. Someone more capable than myself published a review of airport Apps which you can read here. If you’re on the ground, there are other food-finding Apps including Yelp, Urban Spoon, Push Pin, and Great Food Nearby, among others. (For the sports lovers out there, there’s even an App for exploring menus and locations for foods sold at stadiums and arenas in the US and Canada!)

Choose their favorite. I’ve decided that my goal when traveling is to get from point A to point B with minimal fuss, fighting, and frustration. So when we’re traveling, I lighten up a bit on my food standards. This doesn’t mean that anything goes, but it does mean that snacks might include treats that are otherwise a rarity at home. I find that the kids are excited and more interested in the food because they don’t see it very often. If you have different food goals, then this tip might not work for you.

But also choose quality. Like I said, just because standards are lowered a bit, doesn’t mean that there aren’t some. I’m still going to pack fruits and vegetables, nut, seed and dried fruit mixes, and whole grain foods because these things are still important. And the kids still ask for them, so I want to be sure to have them on hand. Pre-made trail mixes and bags of baby carrots are certainly time savers, but if you can find items in bulk then creating your own trail-mix with exactly the items your family likes is simple, and carrot sticks require minimal effort. I’ve even seen little packets of nut butter (packaged like ketchup or mayo) in the natural food isle of the grocery store, which would accompany carrots nicely – with minimal mess afterward.


Use treats strategically. Kids, particularly young ones, can have trouble clearing their ears during take-off and landing. Getting them to drink helps with this problem – swallowing helps to clear the Eustachian tubes – but sometimes that’s not possible or your kids don’t want to. Here’s another option: give them lollipops (or suckers, if you prefer). Sucking on a lollipop ultimately has the same effect as drinking and, if your kids are like mine, will make them think that “lollipops are just for airplanes.” To limit how much sugar they have, choose smaller pops. Personally, I buy the Organic Yummy Earth brand because they have fewer artificial ingredients, but DumDums work great too.

Know someone who might like this article? Share it with them!

Sign up for our newsletter

Tell a friend about this

Share this recipe

Question? We’d love to hear from you!

Other content you may like