The secret to a successful road trip is in the planning, and thinking about details like road trip snacks for kids will pay off down the road.
Traveling with kids can make even the most prepared parent feel overwhelmed. But there’s no need to stress – bringing the right snacks on your road trip can make any journey smoother and more enjoyable for the whole family. And after years of road-tripping with two energetic and always-hungry boys, I’m here to share the lessons we’ve learned and to make your snack planning as easy as pie.
You’ll find everything you need to know in this post, from choosing healthy treats that taste good to keeping the kids entertained and energized with creative road trip snacks. By the end of the post, you’ll be prepared to choose the perfect mix of delicious and nutritious snacks for your family road trip.
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Why Bother Planning Out Road Trip Snacks for Kids?
I’ll never forget the day my good friend pulled into my driveway after crossing the country in a mini-van with her three kids. The car was packed tightly with all the creature comforts of the road, complete with what looked to be, from a new-parent perspective, a week’s worth of groceries.
At the time, J was just a toddler and I honestly thought her approach was a bit overkill. After all, wasn’t making stops along the way part of the fun?
Seven years and countless family road trips later, we are fully road-tested. And I can see how naive the new-parent version of me was. Now that I have my snack-packing down to a science, I know that bringing food with you saves a ton of money and allows everyone to eat healthier and therefore feel better. It also lets you focus on stopping where you actually want to stop. Because loading and unloading a car full of kids takes forever, and it doesn’t feel quite worth it for a gas station Slim Jim.
Read on for our favorite snack ideas, plus the tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way to keep them fresh and fun.
Easy and Mess-Free Road Trip Snacks for Kids
Have you ever been a passenger in your car’s backseat? John and I recently did some wine tasting and hired a service where the driver drives you in your car. This meant removing the booster seats and getting a close-up view of the shocking amounts of paper, wrappers, and other random things that our crazy kiddos had left behind and stashed in the backseat pockets. And oh the crumbs!
It’s safe to say that our family road trips are never truly mess-free. But, including less messy snack choices can help reduce the overall damage. The options below mostly need a Wet Wipe for sticky hands and a scan for dropped morsels at the end of the day.
Healthy and Hearty Snack Ideas
Choosing a protein-rich snack helps you feel fuller longer than sugary options. It also keeps the sugar-rush highs and sugar-crash lows at bay. It’s a good idea to make sure at least one of your snacks is a good source of protein to keep the “I’m hungry….” complaints at a minimum! Some of our favorites on the road are:
- Babybel Cheese: My boys love to grab a wheel of Babybel Cheese for a snack at home, and it’s also one of our lunchbox staples. Their favorite at the moment is the white cheddar.
- String Cheese: Now and then we switch our Babybel wheels for string cheese. I like it for road trips because it’s mess-free and takes a little longer to eat.
- Nuts: You can’t go wrong with Almonds, Peanuts, and Cashews. They are tasty and offer a healthy dose of protein which leaves you feeling energized and satisfied for longer.
- Trail Mix: There’s nothing like trail mix for a good blend of sweet and salty. The amount of protein you get varies based on the ingredients you choose. But its customizable quality is why it’s one of my favorite road trip snacks for kids. Buy a package that’s already made, or make your own at home before you go. My favorite trail mix recipe combines roasted coconut, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and dark chocolate. Yum!
Snackable Fruits and Veggies
Besides proteins, your kids’ favorite fruits are great to bring as a snack option. We leave some of our favorites behind when we’re on the road (no bananas, avocados, or grapes, sigh), but the following are tasty, mostly mess-free, and leave everyone feeling good.
- Apples: Apple Slices are a go-to snack in our family, and it’s no different on our road trips. Since my kids are still pretty young, I usually slice them before we leave to make them easier to snack on. Sometimes I also throw in a small container of peanut butter for dipping.
- Pears: Pears are another family favorite, especially in the fall and winter. Like apples, I slice them and put them in a container before we go.
- Berries: My kids eat strawberries at least once a day. Every once in a while, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries rotate in, but strawberries are one fruit we can’t keep enough of at home. So it’s a no-brainer to bring it on the road with us.
- Mini Cucumbers: Though regular cucumbers make a good snack option too, mini cucumbers are small with fewer seeds and water. They are crisp with a mild flavor and make a regular appearance in our weekly Blue Apron boxes. The boys love eating slices of them.
- Dried Fruits: Though they may not be the healthiest option, banana chips, craisins, and other dried fruits are mess-free treats that are easy to bring on the road. These snacks are higher in sugar than their fresh counterparts, so make sure kids don’t eat the whole bag in one sitting. It’s easy to do when you’re in a car for hours. But dry fruit is better than no fruit when eaten in moderation. And they’re still a healthier choice than candy at the end of the day.
Easy-Peasy Fruit Pouches
If you want a mess-free road trip snack for kids, look no further than pouches. Unless your kids squeeze the contents out, which has happened to us a time or two, the only thing you need for cleanup is a bin.
Our favorite pouch snacks are by Go Go Squeez. My kids probably have too much apple-cinnamon applesauce each week, and it’s been a long time since we’ve gone on a road trip without it. They make smoothies and other fruit pouches besides applesauce.
Mess-Free Sweet Treats to Keep Your Kids Smiling
OK, so overall, I think it’s important that snacks are healthy. Their main job is to make sure your kids have enough energy not to get hangry and fill them up enough that they won’t be asking for a snack every 15 minutes.
That being said, I like to treat our family road trips like true vacation adventures. And for us, that means including a little sugary fun in the mix. In the mess-free category, non-chocolate candies do the trick.
My 5 and 7-year-olds are very into gummy candy right now. I love a good theme for our trips, so I’d most likely look for some that connect with our destination. That means shark gummies for a weekend in Monterey and dino gummies for our Utah dinosaur road trip.
As long as candy is balanced with healthy options like fruits and proteins, I’m ok with the occasional kids’ road trip snack that’s just for fun.
Tip: You might be thinking that these fruits will get mushy or browned. The secret to enjoying fresh fruit on the road is the type of containers you use. Skip the plastic containers and Ziploc bags. The stainless steel food containers I bought for the boys’ lunch boxes this year have been a game-changer! Now sliced fruit and berries get eaten at lunchtime and on the road. These storage containers are similar but come in a wide range of sizes which might be a better fit for a family trip.
Tasty Road Trip Snacks for Kids, Non-Refrigerated
Though coolers make a handy addition to almost every road trip, no one wants to have to dig through them for snacks while on the road. You can leave the cooler for groceries for your destination with this list of non-refrigerated road trip snacks.
Road Trip Snacks for Kids with Crunch
One tell-tale sign that you don’t need a cooler: the good old crunch of your favorite snack foods. The following are some of our go-to’s.
Most of these come in individually sized portions, but I usually buy them in the larger family size and then split them into containers before we hit the road. It doesn’t take that much longer, and I have less plastic packaging guilt. I share more on prepping snacks below.
- Pirate’s Booty: My boys love Pirate’s Booty, basically a modern-day take on cheese puffs. Gluten-free and nut-free, these are easy snackable crowd-pleasers.
- Veggie Crisps: Veggie Straws and Terra Chips offer a slightly healthier alternative to potato chips, but they are just as tasty.
- Popcorn: Popcorn may get a bit messy, but it can be a fun road trip snack for kids. Pop some before you leave, or bring a bag of Smartfood, Skinny Pop, or Boom Chicka Pop with you. All these brands offer fun flavors. And as a bonus, it’s a fun snack to share before turning on backseat movies or audiobook “page-turners.”
- Crackers: For a satisfying crunch with fewer crumbs than other crackers, bring along a good old box of Wheat Thins. These make great family road trip snacks for us, as both generations enjoy them.
- Pretzels: Pretzels and Yogurt Colored Pretzels are both popular snack choices in our family. They tend to be slightly more filling than the crunchy snacks listed above.
- Animal Crackers: Don’t forget to pack some Animal Crackers or Teddy Grams for the littles. They’re especially fun if you’re going somewhere that features animals.
Kid-approved Snack Bars
They make so many great protein bars for kids these days! Mostly mess and refrigerator-free, a box of snack bars is an essential addition to your stash of road trip snacks for kids. They are not only great for the car, but they are also perfect to bring along for hikes or other outdoor activities on your itinerary. The following are some of our favorites.
- Z Bars: Made by Clif Bar, these are Bug’s absolute favorites. Especially the chocolate brownie version.
- Kind Kids: We got these after a Little League game, and the kids enjoyed them. They aren’t as dense as some of the other protein bars for kids, which J really liked.
- Nature’s Bakery: If your kids like fruit filling, these soft snack bar options are popular with families.
Homemade Family Road Trip Snacks
Yes, they might leave some extra crumbs behind. But especially when we pile into the car early in the morning on day one, I like to have something like a special baked treat to enjoy as we start our journey.
Squeeze in some time to make your favorite baked goods together for your trip. It builds excitement toward your adventure while involving kids in the prep process.
- Pumpkin Muffins: This awesome Trader Joe’s pumpkin muffin mix is super easy to make and became a family favorite this year. They aren’t very crumbly which makes them perfect for a road trip snack. Bake some before your next fall or holiday trip!
- Banana Bread: My boys love to bake banana bread. If you have a favorite baked good, make some together before you go and enjoy it throughout your road trip.
- Cookies: Who doesn’t love fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies? If you don’t have time to make cookies from scratch before you go, use a mix. Try one with Ghiradelli chips if you happen to be heading to San Francisco!
- Rice Krispies Treats: They are easy to make, easy to store, and super snackable. And you can shape them into all kinds of fun things to go along with your trip. My favorite was the volcano “cake” I made leading up to our road trip to Lassen National Park. You can get lost down a rice krispies treat Pinterest rabbit hole if you’re so inclined!
Tip: Look for less crumbly bread and cake recipes. Make sure not to use too much flour and add enough butter or oil to give the cake the moisture it needs to stick together. Recipe ingredients like applesauce also add moisture.
Road Trip Snacks for the Cooler
With all the ideas above, you may not need a cooler for your snacks at all! We bring a large cooler on road trips, but it’s often buried in the back of our car. We don’t use it for road trip snacks or even the picnic meals we prepare ahead of time.
Instead of the main cooler, we focus on bringing non-refrigerated snacks. If something does need to be kept at a lower temperature, we pack it in an insulated food storage bag.
We love the bags that came with our camp table and food storage organizer. It’s easily one of the most useful road-tripping purchases we’ve made. We simply throw a small ice pack in the blue insulated bag along with snacks and lunch items. That bag stays with us in the front seat. If you see us on the road, you can bet that we have these food storage bags with us!
Snacks that we might throw in the blue bag are:
- Yogurt Pouches: Like the applesauce pouches mentioned above, Yogurt Pouches are great for a quick mess-free snack. Yogurt tubes are also popular, but they are messier than the pouch design used by brands like Stonyfield.
- Lunch Meats: Sometimes we’ll pack meats like salami to complement the kids’ Babybel cheese and Wheat Thins crackers. Kind of like a kiddie road-trip version of a charcuterie board.
- Sandwiches: We keep our sandwiches in the blue insulated bag too, whatever kind it might be (Bug pretty much only eats peanut butter and honey these days). This is so we can easily grab the bag and go when it’s time for a picnic or snacky stretch break.
Fun and Festive Road Trip Snack Ideas
A family road trip is supposed to be a fun and memorable experience for all generations. And putting a little thought into your family road trip snacks is an easy and budget-friendly way to make sure that experience isn’t thrown off course by grumpy, hungry, kids. Here are a few tips and tricks we use to keep things smooth sailing on our road trips.
Surprise the Little Ones
If you have younger kids, bring along a surprise treat. Vacation is about getting away from the everyday routines of life. So long as you balance the treat snacks with healthy snacks and meals, a little extra sugar won’t hurt.
Let Older Kids Be a Part of the Planning
If you have older kids, invite them to be part of your road trip snack decision-making. Bring them to the grocery store with you and let them pick out something they want to bring along. By inviting them to help you get ready for the trip, you’re giving them more responsibility while also building excitement.
Make or Bake a Special Snack Together
If you are a family that enjoys baking together, allow time to make something together before your trip. This can build excitement toward your next adventure while involving kids of all ages in the road trip prep process.
Tie in Your Destination
I admit that I’m super theme-y when it comes to trip planning and I get that this approach might not be for everyone. But I’m going to share anyway, just in case it resonates.
One of my favorite ways to plan for an upcoming road trip is to identify some things that I hope the kids will remember in advance, and then build experiences for them around those ideas. Layering in related ideas helps, so I look for opportunities to make connections in every aspect of our trip. Right down to the snacks. Does every snack have to relate to a trip theme? Nope! But if I can find a themed angle and have the prep time, I’ll take it.
As I mentioned above, treats like gummies are a simple way to do this. Go to a specialty candy store and you’ll find them in every shape, color, or animal you can imagine! If we’re going to Monterey or anywhere with an ocean focus, you can bet some shark gummies are coming with us.
Rice Krispies treats are also easy to shape into something related to a destination. I once made an erupting volcano out of rice krispies before our trip to Lassen National Park. Unfortunately, the eruption (made with liquid jello) made it too soggy to go with us, so it wasn’t a complete road trip snack success. I’d make some smaller volcano-shaped treats instead next time.
Even better, think about any snackable foods people associate with your destination. Bring apples and pumpkin muffins if you’re headed to Apple Hill in the fall. Make some customized fortune cookies if your destination includes San Francisco. Pack something with garlic (if you dare) should your road trip pass through Gilroy. The list can go on and on!
The 50 Mile Game
When we first started going on long road trips with the kids, I heard someone recommend that we should try to give kids a little surprise every 50 miles. We gave it a try and found that it made the time fly by for all of us. We now try to incorporate it every time we go on a long road trip (though we sometimes make it a 100-mile game on very long trips!).
I use the 50-Mile Game to time our snacks. Though we’re not fanatical about it, we generally keep to a meal/snack schedule that mirrors the kids’ regular day: breakfast, a morning snack, lunch with some snacky sides, an afternoon snack, then dinner. So instead of passing back snacks whenever the kids say they’re hungry, we’ll share snacks whenever we reach a particular mile marker near our usual snack times.
Other ideas for 50-mile prizes are activity books and road trip-friendly games to keep them busy or items related to our destination. These don’t have to be big, fancy gifts. The novelty works wonders, and – as a bonus – keeps the kids from wanting a snack just because they’re bored.
Snack Containers for the Win
As I mentioned above, you can pack snacks that you might otherwise leave at home when you have the right containers and food storage items. The following are our tried and true ways to organize road trip snacks for the kids.
Stainless Steel Food Containers
Since we started using stainless steel containers for the boys’ lunches this year, I’ve noticed that they actually eat their fruit at lunchtime! Berries don’t get mushy and apple slices don’t brown. So, whenever possible, we’ve been trading our plastic containers and Ziploc bags for stainless steel.
We bought their lunch containers at Pottery Barn Kids, and love that the set comes in different sizes for different foods. These can work for both school lunches and road trips if you sort out your snacks before you go. If you prefer larger, family-size containers, these are similar but come in a wider range of sizes.
We didn’t talk much about drinks in this post, because our general rule of thumb is pretty simple. Everyone gets their own reusable water bottle. We don’t bring juices or sodas with us, as those tend to go fast just for taste and they can leave you more thirsty! Keep bathroom stops at a minimum with the water-only rule (though we break our own rule with coffee tumblers for the grown-ups!).
Don’t Forget a Bin for Easy Cleanup
Cleaning up as you go is the easiest way to keep your car decently clean during your trip. It also means a more pleasant experience getting in the car for each leg of the trip. A simple bin like this one can stay on the floor or hang on the back of a seat. Empty it when you get to your destination each day, do a quick crumb sweep, and you’ll be way ahead of the game.
Road Trip Snacks and Car Sickness
I’m not sure if this falls under the “snack,” category per se, but one fruit we never leave for a road trip without is limes.
We received this tip years ago during our wedding weekend when the catamaran we booked for family and friends was facing particularly rough seas. The captain told us to suck on a lime at the first sign of motion sickness. We were also to keep an eye on each other and give limes to anyone with pale lips.
Fast forward to many road trips later, when J started experiencing occasional bouts of motion sickness on the road. It wasn’t consistent, but it was pretty bad when it struck.
As we were driving south from Redwood Country to Mendocino we embarked on a particularly winding section of Highway 1. We knew we were in trouble. Luckily we recalled the lime tip and happened to have one in the car with us. Both boys sucked on limes constantly during that trip. Though there was a fair amount of complaining, we made it to Mendocino without incident.
We now bring limes with us everywhere, and we pass them to the boys as soon as we hit a winding road. With one exception when we waited too long, it has worked for us.
If anyone in your family has occasional trouble with motion sickness, pack some limes along with the rest of your produce. If you don’t need them, just add them to a Corona at your destination.
Final Tips for Road Trip Snacks the Family Will Love
Hopefully, by now you’ve picked up a few tips and tricks about the types of road trip snacks for kids that you’ll want to bring with you on your trip. They go hand in hand with some of our other go-to ways to keep the kids happy on the road. Keep the following in mind when you’re planning what snacks to eat and when and where to eat them.
Bring a Variety of Flavors, Textures, and Colors
Try and remember to pack a variety of snack foods. Crackers and chips can be a delicious splurge on day one, but like any food, too much of the same thing can get boring. And over time, these foods will leave kids lower on energy. Naturally colorful foods have vitamins and health benefits that make you feel better than packaged snack foods. Trust this 80s kid who pretty much grew up with processed orange favorites.
Don’t Stress About Veering from the Norm
Sure, some of the snacks the kids choose might create extra crumbs or be a little more sugary than you’d like. In my opinion, it’s ok to get a little off track and veer away from the norm on a family road trip. Vacation mode means doing things a bit differently than normal. You can always get back into your routine as soon as you get home!
Stretch and Picnic Breaks Work Wonders
Sure, the ideal road trip snack is easy to eat on the go, in the car, and without extra work. But if you’ve been in the car awhile, a snack break outdoors can work wonders on everyone’s mood. If there’s a park or interesting roadside stop you want to check out on the way to your destination, bring some snacks out with you and enjoy them in the fresh air.
At the end of the day, road trips with kids can be a lot of fun. But no parent wants to deal with a hangry kid on a long car ride. Choosing the right snacks is key, and a variety of easy and mostly-healthy options can go a long way toward keeping everyone happy.
With a few planning strategies and a bit of creativity, you can turn your next road trip into a unique experience and create lasting memories for years to come. Don’t let road trip snack time be the bane of your trip. Use it as an opportunity to have some fun and fuel your adventure.
Road Trip Planning Basics
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