Healthy Road Trips

Summer’s on the way, which means it’s time for family vacations. What does this mean for on-the-road meals? Junk food feasts. And when it comes to snacking, choices are often limited to standard fare with sugar and fat that can make kids lethargic and irritable. However, family travel doesn’t have to be a holiday from healthy eating. With just a little pretrip planning, targeted grocery shopping and creative ordering, everyone can have a fun and nutritious adventure.


As if soaring through the sky with bored (or screaming) kids strapped in uncomfortable seats weren’t tough enough, there’s also airplane food. Luckily there are ways to get around the standard rubbery fare. Order a special meal, like a fresh fruit plate or low-fat entrée, to increase your kids’ nutrition quotient, as well as the speed of delivery (special meals are often handed out before the others). Or pack some sandwiches, apple slices (tossed with orange juice to prevent browning) and carrots, which should please any young flier. For a “cooked meal,” bring instant oatmeal packets and ask for hot water. (Tip: Pack plastic spoons, as they are not available on all flights.) Give your kids water bottles with spill-reducing sport tops, and avoid sugary soft drinks.


Though we hate to admit it, food has a way of making the miles pass more quickly. But a steady diet of drive-through meals and gas-station goodies will ultimately zap energy and push up the crankiness factor. Instead, bring a basket and a cooler packed with a variety of healthy snacks. Some cooler models plug into a car’s 12-volt outlet; otherwise, use ice packs and refreeze them at night in your hotel or motel minifridge. Fill your containers with high-energy, low-fat foods and beverages, and restock as needed. Some other car trip tips:

  • Drive Past-not through-fast food eateries; opt for sandwich shops or delis instead. If fast food is unavoidable, zero in on salads or grilled-chicken sandwiches; choose milk, juice or water over soft drinks.
  • Visit Roadsidefruit and vegetable stands. Better yet, look for berry-picking farms-a great way to stretch your legs, meet some locals and get fresh fruit.
  • Have a Picnicat a local park or scenic lookout. You’ll enjoy fresh air, a view, an inexpensive meal and space to run around.
  • Pack a Stash of sealable plastic bags filled with sliced apples, peanut butter sandwiches or individual servings of celery.
  • Keep a Bottle filled with cold water for each person in the car; refill them with fresh water at least once a day.
  • Beat Boredom without adding calories: Listen to a book on tape; play 20 Questions, Find the ABCs, car bingo or magnetic board games.


Try booking accommodations that come with a kitchenette so you can easily make a simple breakfast, pack to-go lunches and eat dinner in if you’ve had a long day. Even if you only have a mini-fridge and a teakettle or coffeemaker, you can prepare plenty of hearty just-add-hot-water snacks. (If the mini-fridge comes stocked with liquor, candy and chips, request that the management empty it before you arrive so you have more space for your items-and fewer costly temptations.) If the room has a microwave, pick up some convenient, nutritious meals in the freezer case at the local grocery store.


Day-and-night dining out can take a toll on the diet-not to mention sibling relations and family finances. But there are benefits to going to restaurants with your kids. For one, it gives all of you the chance to make healthy choices. Selective ordering is what’s called for at sit-down restaurants where kids’ menus are basically french fries with a side of fried chicken, fish or cheese. Fortunately, many restaurants will honor polite requests, so ask to substitute mashed or baked potatoes, fresh fruit or a simple salad for the fries. If you have more than one adventurous eater in your clan, consider letting them share an adult entrée, such as grilled chicken, shrimp or steak. In general, items that are baked, poached, grilled or broiled are lower in fat; avoid foods described as fried, buttery, creamed, or in gravy or cheese sauce. If vegetables have been a rare sighting on your trip, ask if the chef can steam beans or broccoli for the family to share, or at least prepare some raw carrots, celery and cucumbers. To prevent kids from filling up before the meal, ask the server to bring bread and beverages with the main course, not before. Another way around the typical kids’ menu doldrums is to capitalize on the travel spirit: Make local specialties and ethnic dining part of the adventure. If a cuisine is new to your family, ask the waiter what dishes are most appealing to kids, and establish a rule that everyone tastes everything once. (For really picky eaters, most restaurants are happy to serve some plain noodles or rice.) Even if your kids don’t dig the tikka masala or pad thai this time around, the mere experience of being in an ethnic restaurant-the aromas, the decor, the unfamiliar menu-will pave the way for more adventurous eating down the road.