We’ve just returned from a family vacation in the Caribbean where we unplugged, relaxed and enjoyed time with extended family. While the get-away gave us some much needed R&R, the traveling to and from our destination was an adventure!
Our boys, now 5 and 3, did amazingly well on the four flights, all things considered. Mateo napped during the long stretches and they both ran their little legs off between gates during our tight connections. Danny and I battled some nausea on the journey home, but Noah and Mateo sustained good health and had a cheery disposition from take off to touchdown.
While flight delays, lost luggage, and air turbulence cannot be helped (or avoided, it seems) one aspect of air travel that can be controlled is nourishing food. When you bring your own, that is.
On our recent trip to Atlanta for BlogHer Food, I felt particularly gouged by the expensive, yet tasteless, food options available in the airports and on flights. Knowing I would have the kids along on the next trip, I mentally noted to pack my own snacks and lunch.
Being able to eat well in an airport is rare. Being able to spend little is nearly impossible. For this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less post, I’ll tell you how I managed to do both.
How to Eat Well and Spend Less….in Transit
Planning a bagged lunch and well-stocked snack ensemble for a day of air travel is slightly more complicated than packing for a trip to the local museum or park. Among the things one has to consider are:
- space limitations – I’m leaving my cooler and ice packs at home, thank-you-very-much.
- the food’s ability to be transported – It is crumbly? Will it spill or be crushed? Get soggy? None of that sounds like fun.
- will the food hold at room temperature for several hours? Warm yogurt? Non merci.
- nutritional value – there’s no point in packing empty calories; you can find those in any vending machine.
Travel can be draining, so we want to eat well, i.e., wholesome, nourishing foods. Packing food yourself ensures that you do just that. Instead of limiting yourself to the selection of fast food joints in the airport terminal, your choices begin before you taxi to the airport – in your own pantry and refrigerator.
The ‘spend less’ part comes into play when food is homemade. Stocking up on organic crackers, granola bars, cookies and other treats at the local Whole Foods is going to cost you a bundle, not as much as at the airport, granted, but costly nevertheless.
I’ve already talked about how homemade substitutes for pantry staples can be cost effective and the same goes for travel snacks. A few dozen hearty homemade cookies (like the recipe below) or a Tupperware of addicting fruit & nut crisps can be made at a fraction of the cost of buying them, plus, you can customize them to suit the families tastes. A bonus when some of the travelers are, ahem, selective eaters.
So what does one pack?
Food should be friendly for little hands, easy to eat, not messy, smelly (no eggs!) crumbly, or sticky. It should not require utensils, cutting, assembling or any preparation whatsoever. We’re traveling with small children, let’s be realistic!
- Crackers, pita chips, bagel chips, rice cakes, etc. These homemade fruit & nut crisps can be made well in advance.
- Nuts, seeds, and Trail Mix. We’re partial to pistachios (as a bonus, shelling them keeps little hands busy), and sesame snaps (pictured).
- Dried Fruit. Homemade apple chips are amazing, and can be prepared well in advance.
- Raw vegetables. I packed the boys’ favorites, which also happen to be the sturdiest – carrot & celery sticks, plus a few radishes for me. Cherry tomatoes are great if you have a sturdy container and sugar snap peas always fun.
- Granola bars. We bought ours, but you can certainly make your own if you plan ahead.
- Muffins, scones with cheese or fruit. Customize my basic Best Ever Oatmeal Muffins with add-ins to suit your tastes.
- Sweet Breads. My sister-in-law handed out mini loaves of banana bread on this last trip that was so good, it eased the pain of the 4AM departure. This Whole-Wheat Zucchini Bread with Cinnamon & Dark Chocolate Chunks would be perfect as well and can be made in advance.
- The PBJ. It’s hard to beat. Not only does it hold up well after a full day, but you don’t have to twist the children’s arms to eat it.
- Wraps. With coldcuts and cheese, but only if they will be consumed within a few hours,
- Sugar Free Lollipops. They keep the kids quiet (and occupied) during the customs line-up. Do not use in conjunction with iPhone games. Ahem.
- Firm Fruit – Apples, Pears, nothing too juicy. Note: Consume fruit before passing Customs. My last remaining apple was confiscated when we landed in Mexico.
- Popcorn. A lot of readers on Twitter mentioned this as a family favorite travel snack. Personally, I can’t see how the space it requires makes up for the enjoyment. I’d prefer something a little more substantial, like GORP.
TIP 1: Pack an empty water bottle and as soon as you are past security, fill it at a water fountain to avoid the $4 gouge for bottled water.
Tip 2: Before a meal, whip off your child’s t-shirt, turn it inside out and eat. When the snack or meal is over and faces and hands wiped, return the shirt to it’s proper place. Granted this works well for me because I have two young boys; you’ll have do decide for yourself if this ‘snacktime stripping’ is suitable for your children’s age and sex.
Recipe: Honey-Oat Cookies with Chocolate Coated Sunflower Seeds
I’ve just got iPhone photos of these treats I made for our Mexico trip, but they were a huge hit. The colorful and fun chocolate coated sunflower seeds were an add-in I didn’t feel guilty about and earned mass appeal from the children (and uncles).
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons butter, softened
- 3/4 cup brown sugar (I used Demerara sugar)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 egg, 1 egg white
- 1 cup plus 1/3 cup flour
- 2 cups oats
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 heaping cup chocolate covered sunflower seeds
- Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar until smooth. Add honey and eggs and beat well.
- In another small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and oats together. Add to the wet mixture and stir gently to combine. Add in candy coated sunflower seeds.
- Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake for 7 minutes until golden around the edges and still slightly raw in the center.
- Remove from oven and let set for a few minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before packaging.
Yield: 4 dozen two-inch cookies.
For more tips on traveling with kids, I recommend Tsh’s post on the topic: How to Travel Long Distances with Little Ones (and not go insane). And definitely check out Marla’s Essential Travel Oatmeal recipe. It’s a healthy and frugal breakfast option that she pack from home and enjoys right in the hotel room. Genius? I think so.
What is your most successful wholesome travel snack?