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how to take a road trip with young kids: food and snacks. (including gluten- and grain-free!)

One thing that seems to stump me every. single. year. as I get ready to pack for our road trip to South Dakota is what on earth to feed everybody on the way.  Feeding seven people on a daily basis is hard enough, but once you factor in needing to pack foods that won't melt, rot, stain or smell, and that don't pose the risk of choking, and that can be easily passed back and forth without spilling... ugh.  And add to that the fact that I'm very strictly gluten-free, and this year the kids have been mostly grain-free... well, I felt a little overwhelmed when it came time to plan for food.  But it really didn't end up being that complicated!

We pack a box of dry foods in the front of the van, and a cooler of refrigerated stuff in the back.  If you pack light (which I will talk more about tomorrow), you'll have plenty of room for a cooler.


This is all I packed for a family of seven for a week and a half away from home.  (There is a pack and play behind the cooler.)  I'll show you my packing list tomorrow!


For breakfast, we just do something simple like granola or Larabars and water while we drive our first stretch.  It kills time, and it doesn't make a huge mess.  Then I'll frequently let the kids have a snack at our first rest stop a few hours later, which is usually just something small like an applesauce pouch or a fruit leather, with water.

We usually take a much longer break over lunchtime to eat a picnic lunch and play at a park.  That's when we'll pull out the cooler and dole out stuff like deli meat, string cheese, fruits and veggies, a small soda, etc.

For our post-naptime afternoon stop, I may or may not let the kids have a snack, since I don't want them to spoil their appetite for dinner (we don't usually serve any snacks at all at home, so they're used going for longer periods without needing something).  For dinner, we usually stop somewhere quick for hot food, which seems to revive everyone enough to make it through until we get to our destination.

So you see that, other than breakfast, the kids aren't really eating in the car at all.  They're not making a huge mess.  They're not getting grouchy from boredom-eating.  They're still eating (semi-)healthfully.  It's a win-win-win.


Most of this stuff was found at Aldi, and while all of it is strictly gluten-free, it is not all strictly grain-free (some contains corn oil, etc.)  Make sure you check ingredients for yourself!


Here are some of the foods that have worked really well for our kids:

Dry foods:
Dried apple slices
Gluten-free granola and granola bars*
Potato and sweet potato chips
Fruit leather
Applesauce pouches
Beef sticks
Beef jerky
Veggie crisps
Freeze-dried fruit
Larabars
Dried seaweed (um, we only tried this once.  Never again, but maybe your kids will love it.)
Bark Thins chocolate (just for grown ups!)
Almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, peanuts
Rice cake snacks*
Pouched tuna or tuna salad


Cooler foods:
Hard boiled eggs
Deli meat or salami
String cheese
Grapes (or other easy-to-eat-without-getting-sticky fruit)
Baby carrots
Lettuce
Cold drinks

*Gluten-free, but not grain-free

I also make sure I have ample chocolate on hand for myself, and sour gummy worms for Todd, because: Road Trip with Tons of Little Kids.  Grown ups need special fuel.

I put the box of dry food somewhere that I can reach it from my seat, and where it won't get trampled by little legs or feet.  You can also see in the picture below that I pack a jug of water - it makes it easy to refill water bottles without needing to use rest stop bathrooms (gross!), and when you're traveling with bottle-fed babies like we have in the past, it makes it a breeze to just mix up a bottle when you need to.  (Or, if your baby is picky about temp, heat up some extra water before you leave and keep it in a Yeti or Thermos.)  Last year, I found an awesome jug of water with an easy-pour spigot, which made things even simpler.




Tomorrow I'll show you the master packing list I always use for packing the van and our suitcases.  It makes it so much easier to make sure I'm packing light (but not too light), and that I'm not forgetting anything.  It's easy to lose track of something when you're trying to organize travel for so many people!  This list makes my life a million times easier, plus I've found a couple products I can't live without on our trips that I'll tell you about.  See you tomorrow!

1 comment :

todd said...

sour gummy worms or my road trip go to e'ery time!