Every minute counts on a road trip with kids. When they're melting down, your destination can't arrive soon enough. Stopping for meals and snacks takes precious time that could be spent on the road, not to mention a big chunk of your travel budget. Packing your road trip snacks requires just as much advance planning and precision as everything else does when traveling with children. Resist the urge to toss everything into a bag and hope for the best -- packing your food the right way doesn't take much longer.
Things You'll Need
- Grocery or tote bag
- Non-perishable snacks (crackers, trail mix, etc.)
- Napkins and hand wipes
- Plastic food storage bags
- Cardboard box or large bag
- Paper towels
- Garbage bags
- Plastic utensils and plates
- Large cooler
- Small cooler
- Cold packs
- Perishable snacks (cheese, fruit, vegetables)
- Plastic food storage containers
- Two appliance thermometers
- Water bottles
- Jugs of water
Choose a sturdy grocery or tote bag. Pack a one-day supply of nonperishable snacks inside. Portion trail mix, peanut butter -- or cheese-filled crackers, raisins or other family favorites into small plastic bags to hand directly to each person. Tuck napkins and cleaning wipes into this bag.
Fill a cardboard box or large reusable bag with larger packages of snacks, such as whole bags of pretzels, loaves of bread with jars of peanut butter and jelly, bags of fruit and bulk-sized bags of dried fruit and nuts. Refill the small snack bags from this box each day to place in your smaller bag. Add a roll of paper towels, garbage bags and plastic utensils and plates.
Place the smaller bag of snacks within reach of the front passenger seat, or near the oldest non-driving passenger, so this person can distribute snacks easily. Store the larger container of snacks in the trunk, or if there's not room, on the backseat or its floor.
Freeze enough ice packs to fill the larger cooler and the small cooler each cooler halfway, leaving top halves of space for perishable food. If you don't have enough cold packs, freeze water bottles after removing about 1/4 of the water from each to prevent cracking.
Buy perishable snacks the day or two before your road trip. Choose cheese sticks, squeezable yogurts, small containers of hummus, lean deli meats, peeled hard-boiled eggs and washed veggies like snow peas, pepper strips and carrot sticks. Slice apples and oranges, and store the slices in plastic containers to prevent bruising. Pick up juice boxes and caffeinated beverages for the adults, too. Refrigerate or freeze, depending on the food, until just before leaving home.
Pack your coolers in the hour before your trip. Pack a one-day supply of cold snacks in the cooler bag and the rest in the large cooler, layering items between ice packs and frozen water bottles. For food safety, place an appliance thermometer in each cooler and ensure the temperature in the coolers doesn't rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Set the small cooler bag near the small bag of snacks in your car. Place the larger cooler in the back seat, if there's room; this spot tends to be cooler than the trunk, especially in summer when an air conditioner is on in the car. If there's no room in the back seat, place the cooler in the front of the trunk where it can easily be reached during pit stops.
Fill one large water bottle for each traveler and set it at his seat. Set one or more jugs of filtered drinking water into the large cooler, if there's room, for refills along the way.
Tips & Warnings
- Fill the coolers. If the food doesn't fill the cooler, add more ice. Filled coolers stay cold longer. If the cooler must be in the sun, cover it with a towel.
- Avoid snack foods that are high in fat, suggests Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Judy Caplan, as they'll make everyone feel sluggish. Salty snacks should also be limited, since they'll lead to thirst, more water drinking and thus more rest area stops.
- If traveling with children under 5 years of age -- when children haven't quite got chewing down pat -- don't pack goods could easily get lodged in the windpipe such as popcorn, grapes, candy, especially hard candy, nuts, raw carrots, meat, especially hot dogs and other objects that could choke if not chewed thoroughly.
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