The Secret to Packing Food for Family Road Trips Without Losing Your Mind

A lesson in avoiding the colossal mess that is a car seat covered in crumbs.

By: Foodlets

Photo by: fstop123/iStock


There are two car seats and a pair of boosters in my van — that’s four seats devoted to small kids. I mention this because if you saw the back of my Honda after driving to Florida from our home in North Carolina, you’d be shocked to learn that a giant DIDN’T crumple up an entire cracker factory and sprinkle the whole thing everywhere. How else could there be such a colossal mess? Crumbs everywhere. Everywhere.

And that is why I’m more strategic about snacks for road trips these days.

I try to pack a bunch of fresh food that will keep everyone happy and hydrated — but not too hydrated (if you know what I mean!). But we always stop at least once to get gas, and when we do, everyone gets a treat. It’s a simple way to get a win. Otherwise, here’s my packing plan for long road trips with kids:

When it comes to gear, I keep it basic. That means water bottles filled the night before and chilled in the fridge, wipes (even though my littlest one stopped wearing diapers two years ago, I keep buying wipes because they work magic on sticky fingers) and a small cooler with a few good snacks.

I always pack fruit that won’t smell before, during or after coming into contact with little fingers. That’s a hard no on bananas but yes to grapes, oranges and apples. But don’t forget a garbage bag for the stems, peels and cores. Better yet, bring frozen grapes in a zip-top bag. Not only will they keep the cooler colder, but frozen grapes take a long time to eat, which counts for everything on the road.

Another rule of thumb: Don’t bring anything that requires a spoon. Though they’re usually cheaper, I skip the applesauce cups and go for fruit and veggie squeezes instead. Ditto for anything that will spill — especially dairy. Goodbye, yogurt. Hello, individually wrapped cheese.

I also try to have one or two homemade treats on the road. My favorite is a snack mix. Strawberry-Pretzel Snack Mix or Valerie Bertinelli’s Everything Snack Mix have potential, but my favorite is our DIY Snack Bags and Necklaces because kids make can make both themselves AND be occupied for at least 30 minutes while I’m prepping for the trip myself. Win-win.

Our other favorite snack ideas that won’t end up on the upholstery: Baked Apple Chips, Peaches & Cream Fruit Strips, No-Bake Chocolate, Fruit & Nut Bars and Strawberry Protein Balls.

The idea is to keep it simple, finding recipes that travel well and make you feel good about serving the people wearing headphones in the backseat. Which reminds me about the last thing I always do: charge up the devices but get at least one book on CD for the whole family to enjoy together. I’m all for personal entertainment, but there’s something really sweet about breaking out the homemade snacks and cranking up The BFG on audio book together on the open road. Especially when every seat isn’t coated with crumbs by the time my GPS announces we’ve arrived.

Photo: iStock

Related Links:

Next Up

How to Make Your Kids' Lunches Adorable Without Losing Your Mind

It takes literally seconds to add a splash of fun, color and excitement to your kids' lunches. Trust me on this — it doesn't have to be fancy.

The Great Food Truck Race Road Trip: California

Discover food trucks in California as part of Food Network's On the Road Guide.

Should You Take a Fast Food Road Trip?

A new ranking of the best cities for fast food lovers may make it easier if you do.

Regional Barbecue Road Trip: Memphis

Regional Barbecue Road Trip: Memphis

Regional Barbecue Road Trip: Carolinas

Here are 5 must-try spots for an ultimate Carolina barbecue tour, plus where to find great Carolina 'cue outside of the Carolinas.

Take an Ice Cream Road Trip (the Best Kind of Road Trip)

Embark on an ice cream road trip, and find out where to get great ice cream – and gelato and sorbet – from coast to coast.

The Best Store-Bought Road-Trip Snacks for the Whole Family

These 10 snacks will keep you satisfied every mile along the way.

Take a Fried Chicken Road Trip

Once a Southern specialty, fried chicken has made its way onto restaurant menus across the country.

BBQ Road Trip: American Traditions & Recipes

Region by region, we tracked down favorite recipes and tried-and-true tips from some of America's leading barbecue experts.