A dietitian’s guide to food for kids on a road or plane trip

By Sophie Auld

If you’re heading off on a family holiday, it can be tempting to pack foods for the kids that are big on convenience but low on nutrition. I plead guilty to stuffing bags full of salty and sugary snacks into the car, and stopping en-route for a greasy feed.

But there is a better way that will save money and have your family feeling great on arrival at your destination.

Lisa Renn is an accredited practicing dietitian, and a spokesperson for the Dietitian’s Association of Australia. Here, she opens the lunchbox on doing travel food right…

Early habits have lifelong consequences

Getting it right early sets your kids up for a lifetime of better choices. “It’s important that you don’t start teaching your kids that a longer trip is a free-for-all on the lollies,” Renn says.

While lollies may be an easy option, packing snacks that are easy and healthy is possible. If family travel is something you’ll be doing frequently, put some thought into the food you’ll have along the way. Here are Renn’s top tips:

Super snacks

  • Fruit that’s sliced, left whole or even in snack-packs filled with natural juice
  • Cheese cubes for a protein kick that will fill hungry tummies
  • Veggie sticks, rice crackers or wholemeal biscuits with dip
  • Pikelets, scones or English muffins topped with nut butter, fruit or ricotta cheese dusted with cinnamon (add diced, sliced, grated or frozen fruit or vegetables to wholemeal batter for extra nutrition)
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Nuts or nut bars for kids over five years old (take care on planes, where you might encounter people with allergies)
  • Yogurt tubs or squeeze tubes (look for ones with less than 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams)

And when the snacks won’t cut it, try these…

Hunger busters

  • Sushi or rice-paper rolls make a healthy meal the kids will love
  • Sandwiches: go for wholegrain bread with a healthy filling, including protein and some veggies

And if you don’t make a habit of it…

Take-away is okay

A fast food or take-out meal won’t hurt, provided it’s occasional. As Renn explains: “If families have a once-a year long trip, and a take-away meal is part of ritual and tradition, then that’s totally fine.”

Now your food is sorted, here’s the lowdown on drinks:

Hydration inspiration

Skip the sugar-laden beverages, unless you like a carload of hyperactive kids or the wrath of your fellow plane travelers. Renn recounts a time when her son “got half a glass of Coke in him and was bouncing off the walls”.

If you’d prefer a peaceful trip, opt for water. Add a strawberry, watermelon slice or squeeze of lemon and stash it in a cool bag for a refreshing drink.

Playing it safe

Keeping your cool goes for the food too. Always pack perishables (like cheese, yoghurt and sandwiches) in an esky to keep your food fresh and tasty. Nobody wants to kick off a holiday with food poisoning!

By following these tips, you’ll start your holiday off with more money in your wallet, settled bellies, and calmer kids in tow.

Time for a holiday?
Car hire

Previous 5 tips for road tripping with young kids
Next Top 10 national parks Aussies want to visit