Spring break for a lot of families brings sun, fun and road trips! The end of winter is in sight everyone! While adventurous road trips often call for the need of portable snacks, if you're not prepared, food choices can go down the drain pretty quickly. And poor food choices can actually make crabby kids even crabbier with horrible sugar swings.
Plan your cargo
First things first: food safety. Investing in a well-insulated cooler will save you money in the end as you'll be able to pack sandwiches and dairy for quick on-the-go meals. Nonperishable foods can be stored in a strong portable bag -- thirtyonegifts.com is a great site for this.
Plan your portions
Just like mindless eating in front of the TV, it's easy to fall into the trap of incessant snacking while on a long drive. Think about your kids' normal routine at home, when they snack, how much you typically dish out. Try to mimic this schedule while on your trip as much as possible. Knowing that they'll still want to munch a bit extra, chop up extra bags of fruits and veggies but try to avoid falling back onto nonnutritious options.
Additionally, pack snacks into individual portions that are easy to pass around the car without a mess. Pre-slice fruits and veggies, portion out trail mix and as many snacks as possible into small, resealable bags.
Stick simply with water or unsweetened iced tea. Avoid sugar-laden beverages like soda or Gatorade. Depending on the age of your kids, you might stick with pop tops or metal water bottles that are easy for little fingers to open and close. Freeze these the night before so you can free up room in your cooler for perishables.
Snack or mini-meal options
• String cheese and crackers. Choose a whole grain cracker, like Triscuits, portion out six to eight crackers with a string cheese in a resealable baggie for easy access.
• Gorp (or trail mix). Head to your local grocery store that has bulk bins. Give each child a small bag and let them mix and match their own trail mix. Stick with nuts and fruits, with chocolates as a minimal additive.
• Plain popcorn. Air pop as many servings of popcorn as you need ahead of time and portion into your bags. If the kids need flavoring, they can sprinkle their choice into their bags, shake it up and enjoy without making a mess.
• Sliced fruit and veggies. Great mess-free options include, apples, bananas, grapes, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, carrots and sugar snap peas.
• Vita Muffin Tops. Easy, portable and can help settle a sweet tooth without giving in to a bag of M&M's from the gas station.
• Granola bars. Try Kind Bars or Lara bars for the biggest nutritional punch in a small package.
• Stuffed pita. Letting each kid pack their own pitas will help ensure a peaceful on-the-go meal. Try stuffing with egg, cheese and ham for an easy breakfast sandwich or hummus, cucumbers and turkey for a quick lunch.
• Sabra Hummus To-Go. Already portioned for you, this package has two parts: one side hummus, one side crackers. Can't go wrong.
Don't forget cleanup
Almost just as important as planning your food is planning for the cleanup. Decide whether you want to have one central garbage bag or mini-garbage bags near each kid's area (grocery bags work well for this). Keep a package of baby wipes available to keep sticky fingers from making a sticky car and a roll of paper towels for any extra clean up.
Above all, enjoy your week off and enjoy your family. I hope everyone has a safe, fun and sunny spring break, whether you're traveling or sticking close to home. Enjoy!
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• Christina Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist, is the owner of Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness, nourishedliving.com. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Northwest suburbs.