Ways to Prevent Kids from Eating Junk On Vacation

Planning a vacation soon? Here's how to avoid a junk food overload while you're away.
child dipping a chip into tomato sauce

child dipping a chip into tomato sauce

Photo by: Mikey Smith Photography

Mikey Smith Photography

Many families are hitting the beach or the slopes for some quality time. If your vacations are usually filled with junk food, here are some simple strategies to upgrade your travel food game.

Day Trips

A few hours in the car can easily lead to a dietary disaster. Instead of hitting up every rest stop on the turnpike, plan ahead and make it fun. Pack a finger-food-filled picnic. The menu shouldn’t be fancy; include healthy kid faves like good old PB&J, and turkey and cheese wraps. Complete the meal with 100 percent juice drinks, something crunchy like popcorn and some fresh fruit. Keep food cool in a small freezer bag with an ice pack so you can save the pit stops for seeing interesting landmarks or filling up the gas tank. If packing ahead isn't an option, scout out healthier places along your route or hit up a grocery or specialty foods store instead of settling for fast food.

If the car ride is longer than two hours, be prepared with extra nonperishable snacks for unforeseen traffic jams and other delays. Whole-grain pretzels, nuts, granola bars and applesauce pouches don’t require refrigeration, and if you don't use them, they can easily be saved for another time. Finally, bring along a small garbage bag for trash so scraps don't populate the entire floor of your backseat by the end of your trip.

Overnight Trips

When travel plans include plane rides or overnight hotel stays, families typically rely more heavily on takeout and restaurant options. There are some things you can do to ensure that not all meals are over the top.

Resorting to eating out for every meal can get pricey and lead to a lot of extra junk. Having a small arsenal of healthy favorites on hand for small meals and snacks can help keep everyone happy and satisfied (including parents!). If the trip will be extended beyond one night, try to get a room with a kitchen or kitchenette (even a fridge and microwave can go a long way). Find a local grocery store ahead of time, where you can pick up staples like milk, bread, breakfast cereal, fruit, snacks and sandwich stuff. If you'll be traveling to a more remote location, consider shipping a small box of these items to your destination ahead of time. Shipping is often more affordable than the upcharge of grocery stores in resort locations.

Let It Go …

Wherever your travels take you, remember that the food is part of the fun. Don't expect your family to eat perfectly (or even eat normally) when on vacation. Find the happy medium; allow for some special treats, but also take the opportunity to teach your kids that vacation isn't a free pass to eat like crap. Help them learn to make smart choices combined with a few special splurges — it will serve them well as they grow into adult travelers.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.