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

18 Best Store-Bought Road-Trip Snacks

The sweet and salty snacks are ideal for long car rides.

The Secret to Really Good Banana Bread

Preheat your oven and pull out your favorite banana bread recipe, because this trick means never having to wait for bananas to ripen on the counter again.

Guy and His Family Begin an Epic RV Adventure on All-American Road Trip

Tune in on Friday, June 3 at 9|8c to watch as Guy, Hunter, Ryder and Lori pack up the van and hit the road.

The Secret Ingredient to the Best Glazed Meatloaf

Your meatloaf will taste meatier, richer, juicier and just flat-out more delicious thanks to this unexpected addition.

The Secret Ingredient Your Holiday Cheese Board Needs

This tip from a Parisian cheese shop may change how you build your boards.

The Secret Ingredient That Makes These Cookies Extra Chewy

OK — it's beans! But not in the way you think.

The Secret Ingredient to the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese

Sorry, butter and milk — you’ve been replaced.

Why Ramps Are the Secret Ingredient for Next-Level Pesto

Everyone's about to start freaking out about ramps — here's the most impactful, crowd-pleasing way to use them.