We still had to cross the river and drive an hour before getting to Grandma’s house but as I made my way down U.S. 27, the screams of my toddler were undeniable. He was hungry.
And I was antsy. I didn’t want to stop for a meal with such a short distance to go but our stash of animal crackers was exhausted and my patience was limited.
A sense of relief washed over me when the familiar golden arches shone in the distance. Within 10 minutes, I was pelting him with chicken nuggets, and he was quiet.
As Americans gear up for the holiday travel season, it’s inevitable that we will have to eat on the road. But situations like mine can be avoided with proper planning, says Jennifer Harrison, registered dietitian at Lutheran Hospital Weight Management and Bariatric Center.
Pack it up. “When I travel, I get bored. And when there’s nothing else to do, I want to eat,” Harrison says. “Kids fall into that – ‘Mom, I want a snack.’ ”
What to snack on? Protein is good because it helps keep you fuller, she says. String cheese and yogurt are great for children. Other options include wheat crackers with cheese, low-fat animal crackers, pretzels and fruit.
“Carrots and celery with peanut butter and hummus are good, too,” she says. “Kids like to dip things, I’ve realized. If they have something to dip it in, it makes it more appealing.”
Stay hydrated. “If we get dehydrated, we sometimes mistake that for hunger,” Harrison says. “For kids, adults – we all need our 64 ounces a day. That hasn’t changed, and we need to do our best to get it in.” She suggests bringing refillable water bottles for everyone in the car. Let children pick a fun water bottle and keep it next to them during the ride.
If children want something other than water, low-fat milk is the next best choice. Harrison says that juices often have a lot of sugar and calories, as do sports drinks.
Word games. Anything fried is an obvious red flag but Harrison says to be wary of things that are labeled “spicy,” which often means fried, and things with sauces. Instead, look for items that are grilled – even burgers.
Meal time. Sometimes, a meal on the road can’t be avoided. Fast food might be the convenient choice, but Harrison suggests packing a picnic to eat at a rest stop.
“It might be cold and snowy but if it’s not, it’s something to do. Kids can enjoy that and look forward to that,” she says. “Try making a wrap and cutting it into bite-size pieces … a normal PB&J sandwich. You don’t have to get fancy.”
And if you have to hit the drive-thru?
Check out your options online, first.
“Get a plan for when that happens and so it’s not a spur-of-the-moment thing,” she says. “You know what the healthy options are at the place, and you won’t feel guilty about it.”