Family Road Trip Food 101

By Bonnie Anderson, Domestic Budget Goddess

Cranberry Yogurt Mini Muffins_road trip food

Planning your family road trip food in advance can save time, money, and stress.  Last month we got a new (to us) van. This is a big deal for our family since all of our vacations consist of family road trips. We LIVE in our car. Literally. We are the crazy road trippers who travel straight through 24 hours without staying in a hotel and make our 5 kids sleep through it all. I thought it was crazy at first, but I now believe this method is the cheapest and best way to travel with kids.

New van = new rules.

Previously, when it came to road trip snacks, I pretty much did whatever was most convenient and didn’t worry too much about the cost, health, and mess factors. Now that I have a car payment (my least favorite thing about the new van) and a spotless car, I am super motivated to change the way that we family road trip. I guess you could say I am ready for a road trip snacks makeover. I want our road trip snacks to be cheap, I want them to be healthy, and I want to keep this car spotless.

Some might think this is impossible when traveling with kids, but I have a few tricks that are going to change the way you eat in the car as well as some family road trip recipes that are simple enough that you will want to make them all the time. They are perfectly healthy snacks for kids on the go.

So, what are the best road trip snacks when traveling with kids? The answer is: anything you want your kids to eat.

It is amazing the things that kids will try in boredom or desperation. This week I packed myself a bag of veggies to eat while I waited in the school pick up line. To my surprise, my non-veggie eating toddler was reaching for the bag and finished off the entire thing while we waited in the car! Family road trips are a perfect time to try new foods with your kids.

Let’s start with the obvious healthy choices:

 



Veggies and Fruit

These are some of the easiest snacks to pack, they have minimal mess (especially if you don’t pack dip), and they can even be some of the cheapest too! Instead of going out and buying a whole bunch of food, use up whatever you have in your fridge before you leave. Chances are after being gone for more than 3 days whatever is in there will be spoiled anyway.

Here are some of my favorite fresh road trip veggie snacks:

  • baby carrots
  • sugar snap peas
  • sliced cumbers
  • little peppers
  • cherry tomatoes
  • celery sticks
  • cut up broccoli
  • cauliflower

Get creative with dips. Everyone knows that toddlers are CRAZY about dipping. I can get my 2-yr-old to eat just about anything if I put some ranch in front of him. Veggies really can be perfect toddler snacks for road trips.

Some great veggie dips are:

  • ranch (of course)
  • peanut butter
  • hummus
  • guacamole

Most grocery stores carry them in individual packets, or you can buy “bento boxes” with dividers to separate the dip from the veggies. However, a cheaper way to go is to save those sour cream or cottage cheese containers, put a small baby food jar or a similar container with a lid in the middle, fill it with your own homemade dip, and pack veggies around it. Your kids will think you are a genius!

 

Road trip food 101_veggies

These dip containers also work for any of your favorite fruits. I usually pick whatever is in season to save money.  Some fruits that I recommend include:

  • apples
  • pineapple
  • grapes
  • clementine oranges
  • kiwi
  • bananas
  • peaches
  • pears
  • strawberries
  • watermelon

These fruits pair well with:

  • peanut butter
  • caramel
  • Greek yogurt.

If you are doing the more “juicy” fruit, make sure to tape a plastic fork on the top to avoid sticky fingers.

Vacation food for kids_fruit bowl

If you are worried about the sticky mess of fruit and dips in your car, you can also do applesauce pouches (a favorite at our house) or dried fruit. Store bought dried fruit can be pricey and loaded with added sugar. Making your own with a dehydrator is easy and gives you more control. Purchasing a dehydrator is a great investment and gives you lots of options. Homemade fruit roll ups are one of our very favorite family road trip recipes.




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Homemade Fruit Roll Ups

My kids love these homemade fruit roll ups more than store bought brands.  They take up to 24 hours to dry in a dehydrator, so plan your time accordingly.

Course Snack
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Bonnie Anderson

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts Applesauce homemade or no sugar added
  • 1 packet Kool-Aid (13 oz) pick your favorite flavor

Instructions

  1. Mix applesauce with kool-aid packet.

  2. Spread 1/2" thick on fruit roll sheet in a dehydrator.  Dry according to your dehydrator's directions (usually about 24 hours).

  3. When dry, lay on plastic wrap, roll up tightly, and cut with scissors through roll into desired servings.

Protein

When traveling with kids protein is a must if you don’t want to be handing snacks back every 30 minutes. Here are some of our favorite protein road trip snacks:

  • String cheese
  • babybell packs
  • lunch meat
  • peanuts
  • almonds
  • beef jerky
  • frozen yogurt tubes
  • hardboiled eggs (whole, peeled or made into egg salad)
  • canned chicken (mix with mayo to make chicken salad)
  • Pediasure or other protein drinks
  • milk boxes (Gossner’s foods sells shelf stable milk boxes that doesn’t have to be refrigerated and comes in lots of flavors)

Protein or granola bars are also a great option (but they can be messy and pricey too if you find the ones without oodles of sugar).

A cheaper option to protein bars is to make your own protein bites before you go. They don’t require baking and can be made days ahead of time and tossed into a container in the fridge until you are ready to go. You can adapt them to whatever your kids like. This is a great family road trip recipe that leaves lots of room for adaptations:


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No Bake Road Trip Snack Protein Bites

These protein bites are easy to make and require no refrigeration.  They are packed with dates, which are both healthy and delicious.

Course Snack
Prep Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Author Bonnie Anderson

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup natural peanut butter (or any other butter)
  • 4 pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp ground flax
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp raw honey use more or less to help form balls
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients in food processor and process until evenly incorporated.

  2. Form into small balls.  

  3. Pass these bites around in a large container or package them into individual snack sized baggies for each child.

Carbs

When traveling with kids there is just no getting away from the carb snacks. These are my kid’s road trip snacks of choice, but also some of the messiest and least healthy. I knew this would be the hardest thing for me to change in our road trip snack repertoire. But it had to be done because I was tired of vacuuming up all of the crumbs! They were in every little crevasse of the seats! Pretzels, crackers, popcorn, graham crackers, goldfish, dry cereal, rice cakes, bread, chips; these are things I decided we would stay away from with our new van.

The two road trip carb snacks that I have found do best with crumb control is mini bagels and mini muffins. There are times when we pull our kids right out of bed into the car and I like having a breakfast they can eat on the way (that isn’t dry cereal…. oh the crumbs…). I love these Sistema lunch cubes that I found for this purpose. I pack one up for each kid with a mini bagel with smear and/or a few mini muffins (must be bite sized to avoid crumbs), some fruit, and a hard boiled egg. Breakfast is served. The mini muffins can be made ahead of time from a box, purchased pre-made in packets (slightly more messy and expensive), or made from scratch.

These are my very favorite made-from-scratch breakfast mini muffins. They can be made ahead of time, are virtually crumb free, and have lots of flavor:

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Cranberry Yogurt Mini Muffins

These easy muffins can be made ahead of time, frozen, and then thawed when ready to eat.

Course Snack
Prep Time 20 minutes
Total Time 29 minutes
Author Bonnie Anderson

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup plain, vanilla, or strawberry yogurt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup canned whole cranberry sauce

Instructions

  1. Mix wet ingredients together.

  2. In a separate large bowl, mix dry ingredients.

  3. Combine dry and wet ingredients and stir gently.

  4. Spray mini muffin/cupcake tin with nonstick cooking spray.  Pour in tablespoons of batter directly into tins.

  5. Bake at 400 degrees for 9-10 minutes.

Of course, as with everything I mentioned, make sure that whatever you would normally keep in the fridge you pack in a small cooler. I like to freeze water bottles ahead of time and pack them in the cooler as ice packs as well as in every cup holder in the car. It gives us something to drink as they melt (water is the only drink allowed in the new van) and keeps our food safe to eat.

Traveling with kids isn’t a one size fits all. If you are the type that cares more about convenience with road trip snacks then buy the prepackaged convenience snacks. If keeping your car clean is top priority, then make that your goal when picking out road trip snacks or making family road trip recipes. Half of the fun in vacationing is getting to your destination, but that doesn’t mean that you need to spend all of your money on the food to get you there.

 

Hopefully some of these ideas can help you to accomplish all of these things at the same time with minimal effort. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and a change in the way you think about family road trips to makeover your road trip snacks.

Bonnie Anderson

Bonnie Anderson

Domestic Budget Goddess, Core Contributor

Bonnie loves finding a great deal that can get her closer to the next exciting adventure with her husband and 5 kids. Her degree in Family and Consumer Sciences has helped her to claim the title of the “domestic budget goddess” by neighbors and friends throughout Central Illinois and Northern Utah.

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