Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers
Traveling with toddlers can be stressful under the best of conditions. You don’t need to add worrying about food to your to-do list. And yet, you cannot travel with your toddler(s) without some fuel for their energetic and growing bodies and minds! Never fear, here are some ideas for healthy travel snacks for toddlers that you can easily grab and go!
Akiva is 3 years old now, which is 36 months, and he has already been on 48 flights. He’s been on road trips and traveled on cars, buses, boats, and bicycles. He’s been in taxis, on ferries, and on vans and of course has traveled on foot and in a carrier. He’s pretty well-traveled.
Akiva is also an eater. He’s about average when it comes to food – he is neither a child without limits (I know some of those) nor is he a picky eater for whom one mouthful is a meal (I know some of those, too). This makes him very good for experimenting on. My child, my (healthy travel snack) guinea pig. 🙂
Kids Need Healthy Travel Snacks
As adults, most of us do not snack much during the day. Our bodies simply do not require a constant stream of fuel to keep us going. (Of course because I am writing about snacks, now I want one!) But children have smaller stomachs and have a lot of energy, which uses up their fuel more quickly. They need snacks to get them through the day.
Kids are also growing and learning constantly. Every situation is an opportunity to learn. Going through the airport scanner is an adventure. Riding on a bus without needing to be in a car seat is like a holiday in Rome. But all that learning means kids’ brains are burning through their calories, which means they are going to get hungry.
And you cannot rely on airlines or airports to be able to provide healthy food. Yes, there may be a “vegan” or “vegetarian” option, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “healthy” option! Even vegan or vegetarian meal options can come packed with sugar and salt, not to mention lots of unnecessary oil. Airport restaurants are no better: Airport restaurants are designed for convenience and speed, not health. There have been times when I have had to scour a dozen airport restaurants and shops just to be able to find some plain, uncut fresh fruit. That said, in a pinch many airports today are now featuring juice bars. Fresh juice can be good fuel but fruit juice also packs a whopping load of sugar. (If you are getting fresh juice for your child, try if you can to get vegetable juice.) Better are smoothie bars (smoothies contain whole fruit, which means the fiber in fruit, which slows and steadies fruit sugar absorption, is still being consumed).
Of course the temptation is out their to ply your kids with unhealthy travel snacks. It is so easy to justify. “They deserve something special for this special occasion,” or, “I need to give them something delicious to distract them/keep them quiet/make them stop screaming their heads off on the plane so the United stewardess doesn’t kick me off.”
But travel is exactly the time when your kids need healthy food the most. They need balanced nutrition to help keep their hormones and emotions well-balanced. They need the extra energy to be able to handle all the new experiences. They need extra fluids to help keep them hydrated on airplanes. They need foods that will calm them and enable them to sleep whenever possible to alleviate the fatigue of travel and overstimulation. They do not need added processed sugars that will give them sugar highs and lows, and energy bursts and crashes they cannot control. They do not need salty snacks or snacks high in sodium that will dehydrate them further. And our of courtesy for the people who own and have to clean your conveyance, they do not need really messy snacks. (Or courtesy for yourself – when I flew United and Akiva dropped some sandwich crumbs the stewardess made me pick them up. Of course, United Airlines is evil incarnate and should never be flown, so this probably should not come as a surprise.)
(Also, a musical interlude because I can’t help myself)
Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers When You Fly
There are lots of healthy and delicious snack options, even when you consider that flying has lots of requirements: You don’t want anything too heavy because you have to carry it, or too big because it will take up too much room you need for carrying other things (like diapers and iPad backup batteries). You also don’t want anything too fragile that will be crushed into an inedible mush or will make a big mess. And of course you can’t bring anything liquid above a certain size if you’re traveling in America. With all those parameters in mind, consider these snack ideas:
- Muffins – Muffins can be savory or sweet. I often make savory muffins loaded up with fresh veggies like carrots or zucchini. You can also add toppings/fillings to savory muffins – Vegemite, hummus, and tahini are our favorites. Sweet muffins can be used as a yummy treat to distract kids without needing to give them a sugar rush. I load mine up with fruit juice pulp – the extra fiber helps slow down sugar absorption and releases energy more smoothly, which is exactly what kids need! You can also bulk up sweet muffins by spreading them with natural 100% peanut butter. Muffins also hold their shape pretty well, even if they get a bit bumped around.
- Oatmeal – If you need a good morning snack, oatmeal travels very well. Snack sized servings should pass through security just fine (although I have never had a problem with food for my “baby”). I make steel-cut oatmeal and load it up with chia and flax/linseeds, fresh and dried fruit, coconut oil, and make it creamy using rice milk. Non-dairy oatmeal travels really well and with all the fruit in it, it tastes so great my kids never care if it’s hot or not. (Some airlines will be happy to warm it for you though if you ask.)
- Fresh Veggies & Dips – Fresh vegetables and dips are a great snack combination for kids. Try cutting up celery, capsicum/bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and carrots. Kids can snack on these on their own or dipped in something like hummus, tahini, babaganoush, beetroot dip, or red pepper dip. If you’re in America, though, you will have to bring just a small enough portion to be able to get through security.
- Peanut Butter and… Anything! – Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I do bring peanut butter when I travel. It’s a nutritious food with healthy fats and proteins that give kids good fuel. It’s great as a dip or as a spread. Of course you can make the traditional peanut butter sandwich or spread peanut butter on two crackers and slap them together. But you can also spread peanut butter on all sorts of things. Use peanut butter to fill celery logs (you can stick raisins in to give it some sweetness), or slice apples thinly and make peanut butter apple “sandwiches.”
- Fresh Fruit – Fresh fruit is sweet, juicy, and nutritious. Choose a travel-friendly fruit like apples or oranges as opposed to bananas, which squish easily. You can also cut up fruits like apples, pears, and peaches and put them in a disposable or reusable plastic container.
- Crackers – I make my own vegan gluten free crackers from vegetable pulp, but you can also buy some really healthy crackers as well. Crackers give kids the chance to crunch on something and are easily eaten by them on their own, freeing you to tend to younger kids or just to relax a bit. Veggie pulp crackers give kids extra fiber to help keep their digestive tracts running smoothly and conventional crackers made of grains and/or seeds give kids needed carbohydrates.
- Cookies – I pack lots of healthy homemade cookies for a treat when we travel. In our house, cookies are a special pre-naptime treat, so when the cookies come out my kids usually settle in for a rest right away. I have a couple different kinds of cookies I make, one with oatmeal and fruit and the other with oats, whole wheat flour, fruit, and carrots. Either way, I know my kids can have cookies guilt-free, with whole fruits and no added processed sugar.
- Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is my secret weapon. My kids think of dried fruit as candy, which a lot of it is. Dates are sweeter than most candies you can buy and tamarind is more deliciously sour than sour candy. Drying fruit concentrates its sugar and flavors. When my kids are crying out of control on the plane, dried fruit inevitably quiets them down. It also keeps them chewing hard during takeoff and landing, when they need to chew to equalize the pressure in their ears.
I hope these snack ideas make it feel easier for you to travel by air with your toddler. Healthy travel snacks don’t have to be hard to make or find, they don’t have to be complicated, and they can be toddler friendly.