Road Trip Snacks: A Survival Guide for Feeding Kids on the Go

Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC / Stocksy United
Photo by Raymond Forbes LLC / Stocksy United

By Anna Sachse

Once upon a time, you swore you’d never feed your kids in the car. You were not going to be that person with raspberries smashed into the upholstery, milk crusting up your console, and granola ground into your floor mats.

That was before you had to run a dozen weekend errands with the twins, or before you got stuck in rush hour traffic with “starving” (and demanding) little Hadley. Mobile munchies are a necessity for all busy parents, including me, a constantly multitasking mom-of-two.

Here are my six rules for providing kid-friendly, healthy car snacks on the go, whether driving across town or across country during summer break. (My older daughter’s first daycare report card stated she was “good at snacks,” so consider me a pro.)

1. Make Sure Car Snacks Aren’t a Fourth Meal

When on the go, go small. Pack healthy car snacks: easy-to-eat items that won’t replace a nutritious, well-balanced meal.

I like string cheese, low-sodium and whole-grain crackers or bread, nuts and seeds (if your child is old enough), sliced vegetables, dried fruit, and fresh fruit—apple slices are no-fuss and bananas work well if you bring a bag for the peel.

2. Keep an Emergency Stash of Car Snacks

You’re a parent of young children: You’ve got to think like a back-country survivor. Stock your glove box with a few non-perishables like Stretch Island fruit leather or low-sugar/higher fiber and protein granola bars.

3. The Best Road-Trip Snacks Go in Containers

Use anti-spill snack traps/catchers/cups, reusable snack bags, or sandwich-size Ziploc® bags that you can wash and reuse. Let me be honest: None of these methods work all the time (my daughters take immense pleasure in turning snack cups upside down and vigorously shaking to watch their organic cheddar bunnies fly), but at least you get a gold star for effort.

Photo by Giorgio Magini / Stocksy / 1100266
Photo by Giorgio Magini / Stocksy

4. Try to Avoid These Backseat Mess-Makers

Sure, it may seem obvious that the following items should not be eaten in a car, but parenting desperation eclipses logic sometimes. No judging.

Creamy/squishy/gooey things

This includes things like yogurt, applesauce, peanut butter, or as one mom pal of mine learned from a disastrous experience, burritos. Another friend used to swear by the various fruit and veggie pouches, until her son took to throwing them when he finished, staining (and stinking up) her seats. A third friend’s son does well with Chobani’s Greek yogurt tubes, but you may arrive at your destination with dairy in your hair.

Baked goods

You grab a latte for you and a low-fat muffin/scone/quick bread for the little one, nothing packaged, nothing processed, badda-bing, badda-boom. You are so ace at this whole parent-on-the-go thing, right? Wrong. Your kid is going to take that crumbly delight and make it rain. In your car.

Meat

Especially in the summer. Just don’t do it.

Choking hazards

Here’s the official take on what to avoid, but know your own child. One kid I know overstuffs his mouth with popcorn, pretzels, or cheese until he gags, while another has issues with dry cereal, grapes, and carrots.  

Chocolate

Even the tiniest bits like in, say, that chocolate chip cookie bribe, can melt. And then, one day when you’re late for work, you’ll sit in the backseat for a second to grab your briefcase or water bottle and end up with chocolate on the seat of your pants. Right before that big presentation.

5. Consider Buying a Hand Vac to Clean up Car Snacks

I use the powerful Black & Decker Pivot Vac, but you can find others as cheap as $19.99. Also stash some baby wipes in your seat pocket for wayward goo and dirty hands.

6. Carry “Stuffin’ Towels” for Easy-Mess Cleanup

Did you know that in Yosemite National Park, you’re supposed to remove car seats from the car when you’re not in it? Turns out the bears have learned to associate our little tykes’ thrones with a smorgasbord of stale treats (plus they can smell them), and they’ll break into your car to have a nosh.

To prevent a build-up of delectable (or just plain messy) detritus in your vehicle, carry a stack of old towels/washcloths/rags; then, when the kids want to eat, cover all the crevices (a.k.a. Cheerios™ suck holes). Full disclosure: I don’t actually do this, but a far more fastidious friend of mine swears by it and her car looks great. Shake out the towel and voilà! No bear—or ant—bait.

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