The Best Plane Snacks for Kids
Nutritious ways to keep little fliers well-fed and entertained from takeoff through landing.
Most younger children get giddy when it's time to get on a plane — but that anticipation may last only the first 10 minutes. Often, kids are ready to arrive at their final destination even before takeoff. So, plane snacks must do double duty as healthy nourishment and in-flight entertainment.
Here are our favorite dietitian-approved foods that are nutritious and fun and will make it through airport security. None of these items need refrigeration (because, while ice packs are allowed by TSA, they must be completely frozen, which is tricky). We've included a few homemade snacks as well as quick-to-grab packaged snacks.
Peanut, nut or seed butter: A serving of peanut butter is 2 tablespoons or 1.2 fluid ounces, which easily fits the TSA limit of less than 3.4 ounces of liquid or gel. Scoop a portion of peanut butter into one corner of a zip-top plastic bag; once on the plane, use kids' safety scissors (also allowed if the blades shorter than 4 inches) to snip the plastic bag corner. Then the kids (or you) can squeeze out a thin line of peanut butter "frosting" to decorate crackers with silly faces. Or just pack Justin's Classic Almond Butter or Hazelnut (1.15 ounces) individual packages.
Edamame: Buy these beans frozen in the shell and then pack them in snack bags. Enjoy hours (or minutes) of fun as kids squish the beans out of the shell. A few beans may escape, but most will be eaten.
Meat snacks: Jerky can be too tough for smaller kids to bite. But Vermont Smoke and Cure has Uncured Pepperoni Turkey Sticks and EPIC has breakfast bars like Chicken Egg Yolks and Apple Bar that have good textures for kids.
Fruits and veggies
Trail mix packs: In snack baggies, pack a combo of raisins, dried cranberries and diced prunes such as Amaz!n. On the plane, with a marker, draw sections on a cocktail napkin and have your kids sort each mini piece of fruit into a section.
Fresh fruit and veggies: Don't bring anything round — it will inevitably roll onto the floor and away to the back of the plane. Instead, bring whole bananas, sliced apples, or cucumbers and zucchini cut into stars. About 2 tablespoons of dip is allowed; pack it the same way as the peanut butter mentioned above, or pack individual (1.5 ounces) shelf-stable dipping cups.
Freeze-dried veggies: This is the time to splurge on those fun melt-in-your-mouth freeze-dried veggies such as Thousand Lakes Broccoli Florets (or fruit, like Crispy Green Pineapple). They may be pricey, but not as pricey as anything you'd buy inside the airport.
Cheese sticks: Mozzarella cheese sticks are good, but some kids (my own included) don't like the squishy texture of room-temp mozzarella. But they like cheddar at any temperature; our easy-open favorite is Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar Snack-Size Bars (0.75 ounce).
Yogurt in squeezable pouches: Those that are less than 3.4 ounces are allowed. GoGo Squeeze has a shelf-stable yogurt that is 3 ounces.
Cracker stacker towers: Who can build the taller cracker tower before turbulence makes it all come crashing down? Bring whole-grain crackers and build stacks like cracker-cucumber-cracker-carrot coin-cracker-cheese slice. You get the idea.
No-bake bites: If you have older children, occupy them by having them help the younger ones make quick Healthy Nut Butter Balls while you're packing the last suitcase the night before traveling. To keep them airplane-friendly in the event that another travelers has a nut allergy, swap in sunflower butter. The snacks don't need to be refrigerated and are squishy enough to reshape on the plane so they have a flat bottom and don't roll away. They're a treat for the whole family.
Five tips for savvy-traveler parents
- Food liquids and gels must meet the TSA 3-1-1 rule, so pack food liquids in a 1-quart baggie (and toiletries in another baggie). Since each passenger is allowed only one of these baggies, designate the food as your child's.
- The TSA agent at your airport has the final say on whether your food items will be allowed. Accept the decision and move on. Travel is stressful enough without conflict.
- Bring antibacterial wipes to wipe down the seat and tray table where your child sits. Enough said.
- Pack some of your shelf-stable snacks in your checked baggage for the plane ride home. You don't want to spend the last day of vacation shopping for plane snacks.
- If you bring peanuts or peanut butter, ask the flight attendant before you unwrap the item if there are any passengers with peanut allergies on board.
Serena Ball, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer and savvy-traveler mom of four children. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.