Family Travel Planning: Dining and packing for small travelers

Genie Davis December 7, 2010 No Comments

Baby Travelling Gear

Baby travelling gear


Possibly the two most important elements of any trip – with or without children – are what you’ll eat and what essential but sometimes forgotten items you’ll bring on your journey. 

Let’s start with a look at mealtime. Not exactly a news flash, is it? When you get hungry, you get cranky. Small children are often small eaters, and often hungry. And that means – often cranky. Small children who are traveling and cranky…well, let’s just not go there. 

Instead, make sure your little ones are well fed and ready to sight-see. Sounds easy, but on an extended road trip or when you’re trying to avoid both fast food and high end establishments, as our family most often does, it can be a juggling act. 

Travel Snacks for Kids 

Here are some tips to make feeding your brood a less challenging endeavor. First of all, whether you’re going by car, plane, train, or boat, be sure to have plenty of that all important beverage at hand: water. Now obviously these days you’ll have to buy your water at the airport after passing security, but this is not a time to save a few dollars and wait for the beverages on board. Any number of delays can happen, and water not only hydrates and refreshes healthy bodies of all ages, it can be a real life saver to the smaller set. A thirsty child trumps a hungry child any day in terms of unhappiness. When we drive by car, we do keep our nalgene bottles handy for ecologically sound refills, but because you never know what water supplies are out there on the road, we also keep two flats of bottled water in our car at all times. And we use them. 

Portable healthy snacks are the next step. Children of all ages will enjoy a crunchy cracker – but make sure it’s low sodium. Excess salt will make kids thirsty and tired. And much of the salt in processed crackers isn’t a sprinkle or two of sea salt. It’s a preservative. A great alternative: unsalted matzoh, available at any grocery store. For toddlers, Zwiebach crispy crunchy bread is relatively low in sodium, and like many foods for small children, just as tasty for older kids too. Pureed apple sauce, mangos, sweet potatoes aren’t just baby food anymore. They can be a dipping sauce or topping for older kids too. Our favorite toppings though are peanut butter and almond butter, both low or no-sodium, available in convenient individual foil packets at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, and some Safeway chain stores. If you don’t have a local seller, look on line. Incredibly portable, high in protein, and healthy, too. Bananas are also a great snack, easy to eat, come in their own disposable wrappers. And of course, most kids love candy. And some candy is healthier than others. Read the sodium content and list of preservatives on the labels of the major brands and you’ll be surprised at the difference. We’re big on peanut m&m’s, because – assuming there are no peanut allergies in your family, of course – the peanuts are a small source of protein, and the candy is relatively healthy. I’m a Hershey bar with almonds fanatic for much the same reason.  A bag of chocolate chips mixed with unsalted almonds or pumpkin seeds is also both a great treat and food source. Whatever you choose, try to avoid heavy corn syrup and preservatives in the mix. 

Pizza on the Road

Mmmm…pizza. Sometimes a great food-notion.


And now, inevitably, it’s meal time. Just as you’ve chosen healthy snacks, select healthy dining. No matter how quick and easy, or how familiar, avoid fast food. It’s inexpensive and filling, but not fulfilling – in terms of essential nutrients or dining pleasure. By the same token, you’ll want to avoid the convenience of a possibly overpriced hotel restaurant where the kids are going to have few menu choices amid a hushed atmosphere. Our top pick in any town is ethnic restaurants. Regardless of the diet of our family members – and we have one special diet, one vegan, one meat eater, and one pescatarian – it’s the rare Italian restaurant that doesn’t offer a salad, a meat-free pasta, a meat dish, a fish dish. We also like Thai and Chinese, but not the take-out variety which often presents pre-prepared food difficult to custom order. Surprisingly, given the range of our diets, a family style steak house or diner will often have great side dishes or be able to custom prepare a basic meal without the diet elements we wish to exclude. 

Packing Tips 

So, with meal time and snack-sustenance discussed, let’s take a look at the other top travel concern in our book – packing. 

Packing luggage

Packing…don’t forget the kid-essentials.


No matter where you go, no matter what the season, we’ve always been glad when we brought these items along and frustrated when we have not. First, a swim suit, even in winter – we’ve discovered heated pools and jacuzzi’s and not had our gear; and a rash guard for the kids to protect them from sunburn. Second, a night light. A small night light is often handy even for adults stumbling to the bathroom in an unfamiliar and dark hotel room, and it can prevent many bumps and bruises for little ones, as well as offering a reassuring glow. Third, if your tots are very small, bring a cloth high chair along. If you’re dining in your room, voila, your little one can join you at the table. Fourth, paper and pencil – or crayons, or pen – great for drawing, journal making, doodling, note taking. Our kids brought unlined notebooks with them from the time they could scrawl a line on a page. Great entertainment, and handy when you have to jot information down quickly, too. Lastly, don’t forget the guide book. There may be something you missed when you read it the first time, a number or name you wish you had along; or you may simply enjoy reading a succinct summary of the places you are visiting or are about to go to the children if they’re of reading age. 

So there you have it – some tips for things to eat and things to bring that should keep your family happy on the road and off, whether you’re visiting family and friends or exploring an exotic locale. Remember, happy travelers of all ages are well fed and ready for the pool!

avatarAbout the Author:

Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling.

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