Travelling with kids is a whole new ballgame, even if you’re a seasoned traveller. Keeping up your healthy eating habits while travelling with kids can seem like a doomed mission. But, it’s not! Read on for my 6 very best tips for healthy travel with kids.
I was born with the travel bug. My parents and grandparents have explored most corners of the earth, so I suspect it’s genetic. By the time I was 10, I had lived in 3 different countries and 7 different houses. Now at 37, I’ve lost count! Through the years, I’ve travelled for fun a lot too – weekend trips within and out of province and south of the border, plus many longer trips to the Carribbean and around Europe.
I love to explore new places (and new foods!), and with all this travelling, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to eating healthfully. Sometimes I’ve brought coolers and coolers full of food with me, and other times I’ve tried to (mostly) fly by the seat of my pants. Now that I have a kiddo, we still travel, but not quite as much. And, we’ve had to take another perspective in our healthy travel food planning: how to feed a picky toddler on the go!
This past weekend, we hit the road for a little cottage country vacation, and while I didn’t spend days in advance planning and packing meals, I definitely brought a good variety of healthy options with us! As I packed everything up, I realized that some of my healthy eating on the road habits might be helpful to those of you planning summer travel now that the weather is nice! Read on for my 6 best tips for eating healthy while travelling with kids:
Book a hotel with a kitchen whenever possible.
Depending on where you’re staying, some level of cooking equipment should be available to you. This makes it a million times easier to prep and keep some healthy options on hand. Keep some fresh salads, fruit and pre-cooked organic meat in the fridge, cook up some eggs on the stove or in the microwave, and bring along some nut butter for snacking and high-quality dairy or non-dairy milk for your morning coffee.
On our trip this weekend, we booked a condo unit at a big resort – equipped with a separate bedroom and a kitchenette including stovetop, microwave, minifridge and dishwasher! Renting an AirBnB or a cottage is another option that will likely net you a kitchen. But even standard hotel rooms often have mini fridges and microwaves. If they don’t, try putting in a request with the guest services team before your stay – if you’re extra kind, thankful and give lots of notice, there’s a good chance they will help you out!
Check out restaurants and menus beforehand.
I do this pretty much any time I eat out, to be honest. Most restaurants have healthy options, but the key is to have a plan before you sit down to order, starving, with grouchy kiddos, just desperate for food-in-bellies-now. Take a few minutes before you leave (or do it in the car if you’re not driving) and look up some healthy restaurants in the area you’re headed to. I usually google “city name” + organic and “city name” + vegetarian. I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t actually expect everything to be organic, but the restaurants that cater to those populations generally have healthier fare. In addition, if you’re a meat eater, take a look at steak houses – generally you can find a high quality cut of meat and request salads and seasonal veggies as your side. Once you’ve picked your restaurant, look at the menu and see what fits the bill for fresh, whole food options. If you already know what to order when you walk in, it’s much easier to skip the junk. No matter what type of restaurant you find yourself in, look for lean cuts of meat or veggie burgers, seasonal veggies and salads, and grilled or roasted veggie dishes. Basically, you’re looking for a good portion of protein and then veggies to fill at least half your plate.
Kids snack often, and they thrive on familiarity and routine. Having a hangry, melting down kiddo as you’re trying to sit down to a dinner out is no fun for anyone. And, tired, hungry kids are far less likely to be interested in healthier options. Their little bodies are begging for fuel, fast, and that tends to drive them to the simple carbs over everything else. So how can you avoid the “only plain pasta with cheese” meltdown? Keep them fueled with good options throughout the day, so they don’t get to that desperate hangry place at all. That means having balanced snacks with you – ones that include protein, fat and carbohydrate. I highly recommend bringing some familiar options from home, because let’s face it – when you’re travelling, everything is new, and that can be hard on little ones. I’ve definitely noticed that my guy is a less adventurous eater when we travel, and part of that is likely that he’s maxing out his “new experiences” gauge with all the new sights, sounds and people. If I bring snacks he knows and loves (and that fill that fat-protein-carb requirement), he’s on a much more even keel throughout the day (and at dinner time).
Side note: when it comes to adults, much of the same applies. Balanced snacks are essential, especially if you’re indulging a bit more on vacation-mode. The more you can work in healthy proteins, veg and fat, the less likely it is that you’ll find yourself on the blood-sugar rollercoaster with no way off.
Skip the kids’ menu.
This one goes along with the suggestion on restaurants above. Sadly, most kids’ menus are a beige disaster of simple carbs, deep fried junk and ice cream for dessert. If you’re lucky, you might find veggie sticks and dip as a side dish. Restaurants (and much of society) assume that kids only like plain, carby junk food. And, if that’s all you ever give them, then yeah, I guess that’s your fate. BUT, kids all over the world learn to love all kinds of interesting flavours and textures – repeated exposure is the key. There is no reason you can’t order off the adult menu for your little one – think of it as another exposure to healthy food, plus if they see you eating it, they’re much more likely to try it themselves. If your kiddo has a small appetite, most servers will have no problem bringing out a half portion (with the rest packed up), if you ask nicely. And, again, make sure you’re not going into dinner with a tired, cranky, hangry child – and they’ll be way more likely to try the salmon and roasted veggies you order.
The in-between meals are the perfect opportunity to bump up the micronutrient value of your day. Serve some chopped up fruit and veggies, some easy, mess-free protein like grilled chicken strips or hard boiled eggs, healthy fats in the form of nuts, seeds or olives, or even some leftover veg and fish from the night before (remember that half portion you set aside at dinner?). The bonus is that these items are much less expensive than a lunch out when you bring them along or pick them up at the grocery store, and they can be easier to eat on the go. Lay them out on a picnic table buffet-style, and let the kiddos have at it. They’ll get an opportunity to exercise some autonomy and control over their meal, and you’ll be happy since you just served up a bunch of healthy options.
Grocery stores are your friend.
So, you know it helps to have a bunch of fresh fruit and veg, plus some easy meats and proteins on hand. If you don’t want to (or can’t) haul it with you, locate a grocery store near your destination, and pop in every couple of days to restock your fridge or cooler with fresh options. This is also a good opportunity to make use of some of the convenience foods grocery stores offer up – think pre-made salads, pre-cooked chicken, fish, or veggie trays with hummus or guacamole. If you’re staying somewhere with a full kitchen, Bob’s your uncle: you can pickup and make whatever healthy meals you would cook at home! Also – I highly recommend finding the local health food store. Not only can you pick up some of the specialty items you might like having at home, it’s a great opportunity to discover some new favourites and get recommendations on healthier restaurants in the area.
So there you have it: 6 tips for healthy travel with kids. But, I have a bonus tip for you (and in some ways, this one is the most important of all)!
The whole point of vacation is to relax, spend time together, and experience a new culture or destination. And I firmly believe that eating (and trying new foods) is one of the most enjoyable parts of travelling. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I would never tell you that you can never have treats. My approach during vacation is to save room for the really, really good stuff. Don’t waste time on the run-of-the-mill junk food treats that give you a quick hit of sugar and then leave you feeling crappy. Instead, indulge in the foods that taste really amazing – enjoy them purposefully, consciously, and without guilt. Your next bite or your next meal, brings you back to the healthy options – because there is no shame in enjoying something delicious, there’s no reason to throw in the towel. Healthy travel can include both indulgences and nutritious foods.
What Did We Bring?
Wondering what healthy travel essentials we brought along on our trip? Here’s the list:
- Fresh fruit and veggies: avocado, bell pepper, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, pears, strawberries, grapes. I sliced most of this up and kept it out on a plate on our coffee table and deck – ready for little hands whenever a snack attack happened!
- Healthy fats: olives, coconut manna, almonds and walnuts. These were perfect for snacking on between meals and in the car – lots of fat and fibre to tide us over.
- Proteins: sliced salami, cheese, tuna. Cheese and meat were perfect to add to our fruit and veggie trays. The tuna came in handy for extra protein when we picked up to-go salads for lunch one day.
- Familiar treats: Annie’s Homegrown graham bunnies, hummus, the above fruits and veggies. We ate some of these on our 2.5 hour car ride, plus they made a handy dessert!
- For my coffee: heavy cream, MCT oil, collagen powder and lion’s mane mushroom powder (an adaptogen). I’m playing around with a fat-fueled approach, with slightly lower carbs and lots and lots of fat. To really start my day off well, I’m drinking a fat-loaded coffee first thing in the morning, and I add some collagen for protein and lion’s mane powder to help balance hormones and mood. I’m loving the effect of this, so it only made sense to bring it along on vacation!
Are you planning on travelling with your kids this summer? Do you have any favourite healthy travel tips?