If you’ve ever found yourself huddled in the backseat of a car with bags of Goldfish crackers, Cheerios, and a squirmy toddler strapped in a carseat, you know the mess kids can make on road trips. And boy, do I mean mess!
Now I don’t have any kids of my own, but I do have my friends’ kids, so I’ve seen the chaos a single two-hour road trip can do to the nerves of parents and kids alike. (I’m the person waiting at the other end of the road trip to gleefully sweep up the kid so mom and dad can have a breather.) But maybe what’s worse (and less easily recovered) is the carpet and fabric of the backseat after that lengthy trip. You know what I’m talking about. That sticky, icky, gooey mess that’s left behind when soggy cereal pieces or half-eaten gummies go for a roll through all the dirt and hair of the backseat. It’s just the best, right?
Since I don’t have any kids, I had to seek out the advice of some experts: parents. Specifically, I asked for advice from my circle of friends and read the sage words of Christopher Elliott, a dad who traveled for 300 days with his kids. If anyone is going to have some insight on keeping your flock of offspring fed without flipping your lid, I’m guessing it’s him.
Here, the two main rules for feeding your kids, plus a few ideas for helping you keep their tummies full while you’re covering miles on the open road.
Avoid sticky and crumbly things.
Gummy bears come to mind here. They’re not providing any real nutritional value anyway. Opt for wrapped pieces of fruit leather. One piece is easier to pick up than 20. They’re also shorter and more manageable than foot-long fruit leather options.
Baobites are a great gummy alternative. They’ve still got the bite and squish of a chewy fruit snack, but they’re not sticky on the outside. If they tumble, nothing will stick to them. Plus, they’re made from superfood juices like blood orange, peach, and mango. Cooking Light editors are partial to pomegranate.
Skip super-processed cereals and puffed snacks.
They’re just an endless supply of carbs with little in terms of nutrition. They also are excellent at getting lost between car seats and disappearing into dust when stepped on.
Instead, pack fruits and vegetables. Cutting them into bite-sized pieces will encourage little ones to gobble them up. If your kids like their carrots, grapes, and other fruit and veg a little on the chilled side, pack a small cooler with individual serving bags of favorite snacks so you can easily grab one from your seat or the tot can reach one from theirs. Cooler bags are especially great because they can be squeezed to fit just about anywhere. A hard-sided cooler isn’t so forgiving.
Stock up on squeezables.
Apple sauce and fruit-veg purees in pouches are all the rage in kid dining these days. They are also handy because you don’t need a set of silverware or an extra set of hands to help the kid eat. They can just grab and eat. We at Cooking Light are fans of Peter Rabbit Organics and Happy Family Organics. They even have SHINE Organics, a line of squeezable fruit and superfood purees for adults and older kids!
Roll up some snacks.
If you’ve got your cooler bag, make a few simple rolls-ups with your kids favorite sandwich foods. Think low-sodium deli meats, cheese, spinach, and hummus on a whole-wheat tortilla. Or how about a little marinara sauce, sliced chicken breast, and a sprinkle of mozzarella on whole-grain naan? Roll these cup, slice in half, and plop them into your cooler for a quick bite.
Make your own bars and bites.
Lots of snack bars on the market today have less than impressive ingredient lists. If you make bars and snack bites yourself, you’ll know exactly what’s in them. Pick from our list of DIY Snack Bars, make a batch, cut into manageable bite-size pieces (less likely to crumble and fall apart), and drop them in a zip-top bag for the road. Our Chocolate-Peanut Butter Energy Balls are already bite size.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Kids may be quick to snack when really they’re just thirsty. (Hey, adults do this, too.) Keep a fresh water bottle beside your kiddo at all times. If they like their water chilled, look for insulated bottles, like Takeya’s 14-ounce Thermoflask Bottle.
This article originally appeared on CookingLight.com.