Road trips call for great musical playlists, memorable in car photo-ops and conversations and of course, plenty of snacks to keep everyone happy! As a family of 6, when we pile everyone inside the minivan for a road trip, we want to avoid bickering, whining and grumbling bellies. Having well-balanced, healthy snacks (that are still fun!) are important. Find out how my family chose healthy road trip snacks for everyone, aged toddler to adult on our recent drive to Palm Springs. I’ve included my healthy road trip food list that includes suggestions on substitutes for favorite road trip snacks.
Family Road Trip Must-Haves
Recently my family headed out to Palm Springs for the weekend. It was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour drive that stretched out to nearly 3 1/2 hours. We’d intended to hit the convenience store to fill up on snacks but were stuck in traffic, unable to get off the freeway. As you can see, at least one of the kids was not pleased!
Why Are Road Trip Snacks Important?
Snacks are especially important for kids. Their stomachs are smaller and they burn off their food quicker. Healthy road trip snacks for kids can prevent dips in blood sugar as well as crankiness in the car! Keep in mind that snacks should not be replacing regular meals on the road. If you’re taking a very long drive, skip the fast food drive thru. Try to stop every 2-3 hours so that everyone can get out of the car, stretch and have a snack. Full meals should stay on your usual time schedule. Read my eating out tips for dining with kids.
There may be times on the road trip that everyone will want to eat a snack while driving. Consider snacks that are less likely to make a mess (ie: choose applesauce in a squeezable pouch instead of a cup that requires a spoon). You’ll also want to think about the foods that may be choking hazards for younger kids, avoiding raisins, popcorn and nuts. My friend Becca at This Crazy Adventure Called Life has more tips on the best road trip snacks.
Choosing Healthy Convenience Store Snacks on the Road
My family and I recently took a road trip to Palm Springs, driving from San Diego. It took us over 3 hours driving there in traffic. We stopped at a convenience store to grab snacks for the trip. The NACS survey shows that convenience stores offer the top three reasons that most people stop on the road: 96% use the restroom, 95% get gasoline and 91% buy food and drinks! Convenience stores that are also a gas station make this the perfect rest stop location while on the road.
I took my kids inside to see what kind of healthy snacks they’d choose for the road. The teens didn’t want to be on camera (figures!) But my 6 year old was all smiles while he took me around the store to show me which road trip snacks he thought were the healthiest.
What Constitutes a Healthy Snack?
When choosing a road trip snack, aim for these general healthy guidelines: A snack should be around 150 to 250 calories, contain about 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and not have more than 12 grams of fat. The best snacks are low in sugar, fat, and salt. Protein and fiber will help you feel full and satisfied between meals.
We aim for choosing healthy snacks that have no trans fats and are low in sugar and sodium. We consider beverages to be a snack as well, since so many of them are high in sugar and we try to avoid this.
Take a minute to look at the labels before choosing snacks. The front of the packaging can be misleading but if you read the label on the back you’ll see the low-down on calories, fiber, protein, fat and sugar. Also look at the “serving size”. Some snacks are really intended for two people. This small “healthy” protein bar had 21 grams of sugar. Too much for us, so it was a “pass”.
Healthy Road Trip Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Within 10 minutes of hitting the road, our toddler was down for her usual mid-day nap. We pressed on, driving as far as we could while she slept. However once she awoke (earlier than we’d anticipated), she was hungry and ready for a snack! These are a few healthy snack choices for toddlers and preschoolers.
Pack a spill proof sipper cup with you to fill with your toddler’s favorite beverage. If you have a cooler, grab a bag of ice from inside the convenience store and fill it so you can stock up on bottled milk and water. Then when you stop for a diaper change, refill your toddler’s cup along the way.
Use a “spill-proof” travel snack cup for toddler snacks on the road. I was able to fill my daughter’s snack cup with bite sized snacks, like dry cereal and the toddler favorite, Goldfish crackers! If they dropped onto the floor or in the car seat, these dry and mess-free snacks were easy to clean up. She happily snacked and then finished up her nap (thank goodness!)
Elementary Aged Kids Healthy Road Trip Snacks
When it comes to beverages, my 6-year old goes straight for the flavored drinks like Gatorade. We don’t allow him to drink energy drinks or soda but I agree, sometimes water is boring! Purchase flavored water enhancement, like Mio. This will add flavor to plain water without adding any sugar.
My kiddo can be very particular about his food (aka: he’s a picky eater, like I was as a child). He loves to eat chips for the salty crunch. I’m not a fan of messy cheesy-coated fingers in the car or the crumbs inside the booster seat! Consider these chilled pickle chips instead.
Cheese, crackers and deli meat is an easy grab-n’-go snack while traveling. These smaller sized Lunchables trays are great for sharing and ideal for road trips. Low in calories and fat but high in protein. Deli meat is higher in sodium so be sure to drink plenty of water. My kids also enjoy individual meat-wrapped cheese sticks for a protein-packed snack.
Healthy Road Trip Snacks That Appeal to Teens & Adults
My teenagers are generally healthy eaters on a daily basis. Naturally they also like to treat themselves to something sweet when on vacation. It’s not too hard to find something fun to eat on the road that won’t make them crash and burn with too much sugar. These are some good snack choices for teens and adults.
The convenience store offered wrapped hard boiled eggs, a perfect choice for my husband. My big kids went right to the jerky. There was a great variety to satisfy varying taste buds including teriyaki, jalapeno and sweet & spicy.
Protein bars are always the first choice of my husband and me. However many of them are high in sugar as well. I found this high protein bar that is also low in sugar (only one gram). It’s a fun treat that is also going to satisfy more than a candy bar. So much better than any of the best road trip junk food and you’ll feel a lot better after indulging.
Healthy Snack Swaps
While we avoided the candy aisle completely, you may want to choose something like this for the family to share. Licorice is a popular choice and while it does have sugar, it’s also fat-free.
Snacks that have a salty & sweet combo are what I (and my sweet tooth!) gravitate towards. Certain trail mixes can contain a high percentage of candy or sugar, negating the healthy parts, like the protein-packed nuts. These trail mix blends had a nice mix of nuts and seeds with dark chocolate for sweetness. Nuts contain the healthy fats which are good for you, so feel free to indulge!
When driving the long-haul, grabbing a caffeinated energy drink may be tempting. Be sure to check the label to see how much sugar the can contains. You’ll probably be better off with black coffee or diet cola to avoid the sugar high and then the crash!
Chips are a popular choice, but many are high in sodium and covered in artificial flavorings. Consider multi-grain chips, low-sodium popcorn or crackers if you’re craving a crunch. If you like a chip and dip combo, nix the fatty bean dip or sour cream mix and choose this savory hummus and pretzel combo!
When snack time is over, everyone in our car gets a bottle of water to drink and I hand out sugar-free gum to chew (not for the toddler!) Sugar-free gum is a great after-snack choice. For my kids, gum signals that snack time is over. It also cleanses food from the teeth and can help with ear pressure when traveling through higher elevations. It’s a road-trip must-have for us!