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If you want to make a road trip food list for a family vacation that involves a lot of car travel, then you’re in the right place. We’ve taken many family road trips over the years, so we now have some experience in picking out the best food for road trips.
Kids are notorious for asking ‘are we nearly there yet?’ along the way, but surely the second most commonly heard words involve how hungry they are! This is why a good stash of the best road trip snacks is always the number one priority on our road trip grocery list.
While some treats will help to keep kids happy, we’ve tried to include as many healthy road trip snacks as possible. If the children are going to be eating more or less constantly, we want at least some of what they consume to have nutritional value. Too much refined sugar might only make them hyperactive, anyway, which isn’t great when they need to stay in their seats.
So what can you include on a long road trip food list? That is of course your call, but we cover everything from make-ahead meals for your road trip to non-perishable road trip food you can keep in the car for those snack attacks.
Whether your priority is road trip food on a budget, making a healthy road trip food list or simply finding ideas for good road trip snacks, this guide is here to help you stave off the hunger pangs (as well as the boredom of a prolonged car journey).
Don’t go anywhere before you’ve checked out this guide to road trip snack ideas and make ahead meals for a road trip. All the best food for traveling in the car as a family can be found here, saving you time as well as money!
Why write a road trip food list?
There’s a whole bunch of reasons why a little planning can go a long way when it comes to road trip food ideas, as follows.
Road trip snacks help beat the boredom
Many of us are tempted to eat when we’re bored, so packing plenty of food for long road trips can quite simply help to keep the kids entertained. Especially when you include the best travel snacks – such as favorites of theirs or even exciting new foods to try.
Healthy car snacks can become reality
It’s often hard to find healthy foods to eat while traveling in a car when you stop at gas stations or make other quick pitstops. Selecting your own snacks to take on a road trip in advance helps to ensure you have more control over what your kids are consuming – and gives you more choice too.
You can buy cheap food for road trips
Stock up on good travel snacks – or even make-ahead meals for traveling – and you can save a small fortune. Whether you take homemade road trip snacks or buy them already packaged, it can be so much more cost-effective to buy from the grocery store before you leave than from the likes of the overpriced gas station shops you’ll pass along the way.
What to look for when choosing food for road trips
Before you make a final decision about what food to take on a road trip, it’s worth bearing these factors in mind.
The messiest road snacks
First, let’s take a look at what we don’t recommend! The best road trip food is not that which will leave a permanent mark on your car’s upholstery. Who wants to spend the first part of their vacation cleaning up the car interior?
Even when it’s not that warm, chocolate will quickly melt when held in little fingers, and if wiped on the car seats may either leave a brown stain or a greasy mark you can’t clean off. Chocolate is also high in both sugar and fat.
Potato chips are full of salt – and again they can leave greasy imprints behind. When crumbled into lots of tiny pieces they are also really hard to clean up – even with a powerful vacuum cleaner. Too much salt will also make children more thirsty.
Yes, fresh and dried fruit is a must for any snack list for a road trip – but choose carefully. Certain fruits, like berries in particular, really can stain clothing and your car interior. So while blueberries make great finger food and are packed with goodness, they’re not so great when it comes to cleaning up.
Check out the fruits listed below for some good family road trip snacks that will not leave a permanent reminder of your trip on your kids’ favorite clothes or the car seats. As well as berries, avoid oranges, mandarins and tomatoes, which can squirt out juice everywhere and leave stains.
Drinks other than water
We’d recommend giving the kids nothing but water to go with those snacks for traveling in the car. Soda can make a really sticky mess if spilled, and as for milk – you might never get rid of the remaining sour odor. Even fruit juice might taste so good that they drink more than they need, leading to cries for a restroom stop before another is actually due.
Nothing more than a bottle of water is really required to keep everyone hydrated. If it will be warm in the car, you could freeze the drinks bottles the night before to make sure each person has their own chilled drink.
Car trip food prep time
When you’re planning those road trip lunch ideas and snacks for car rides, don’t forget that you’re taking a vacation. Before you even leave you’ll therefore have to pack all the bags, check over the car and leave everything at home as tidy and organized as possible for your return.
So how much time will you really have to prep healthy road trip meals and snacks? Realistically, would a good supply of non-perishable road trip food work better, or perhaps a combination of both?
Could the kids help with car trip snacks?
Depending on the age and abilities of your children, could they help with the prep? If you can depend on them to make easy road trip meals or pack the best car snacks for all the family, then you may be able to delegate.
It’s also worth getting them involved when it comes to the next factor on the list – keeping the car in as clean and tidy a condition as can reasonably be expected!
Cleaning up after road trip sandwiches and snacks
Getting everyone to clean up after themselves as they go will make life much easier all around. Cleaning the car when you get there will thus be much less of a chore.
Where this is concerned, investing in certain items to pack alongside those easy meals for road trips and snack food for a trip can really make life much simpler – and cleaner!
In-car trash can
Buying a trash can for your car means there’s a place to put all the wrappers and packaging – rather than on the floor or all over the seats.
Most types hang over the headrest of a front seat, so they’re easy for the kids in the back to access. They’re generally very affordable and should last for years.
Taking a stack of napkins is always a good idea – you can use them for wiping fingers and faces, mopping up spills and they could even be drawn on or used as origami paper if the kids run out of things to do.
Choosing recycled napkins is better for the planet – and may also help to ease any guilt you have about using some throwing away packaging!
Wet wipes or baby wipes really come in handy when a dry napkin isn’t quite up to the job of cleaning up a sticky or oily mess. Especially if you have younger kids.
As they’re designed for sensitive skin they shouldn’t cause any irritation, and again choosing eco-friendly baby wipes means doing your bit for the future.
If you have kids, keeping a stain removal product in the car is a good idea, period. Tide to Go makes a handy stick, which is easy to store in a door pocket or the glove box.
Carrying food to bring on a road trip
Finally, think about how you can carry all your food for a road trip. You may have items to use for this already, or it may be worth buying some of the following for future family adventures.
Rubbermaid take alongs
Take Alongs by Rubbermaid or other similar containers can be used to hold everything from essential road trip snacks to those simple road trip meals you want to pack. They come in all sorts of packs, shapes and sizes.
Take & Toss cups
Rather than using them for drinks, take and toss cups can be used for sharing out and holding snacks while on the move.
A ziplog bag is great for carrying those snacks to bring on a road trip. It can even help reduce mess by catching the spills or crumbs as you go if you munch while leaning over the open bag. (It may also come in handy in the event of travel sickness too.)
A cooler is a must unless you want to stick solely to road trip snacks that are non refrigerated when the weather’s hot. Think about where you’ll keep it when choosing, as in some cases a bag might be easier to squeeze in if space is tight.
Cooler ice packs
Don’t forget to buy some cooler ice packs if you’re ordering a cooler to keep everything cold and fresh. Pop them in the freezer the night before – perhaps along with your water bottles if you want chilled drinks.
Don’t forget about having to hydrate! A good water bottle for each family member is ideal to take on vacation, as you can save on costly bottled drinks. A reusable water bottle is also again better for the environment.
Food for road trips: The best food for road trips ideas
Here are some of our top suggestions regarding what food to take on a road trip. Where possible, we’ve gone for less messy, more healthy options!
PB & J sandwiches
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – or one or the other – make good finger food. Cut into ready-to-eat pieces; bite-sized is ideal for younger children.
Pita fingers or bagels
As pita bread and bagels are less crumbly than other breads, they make the best road trip food for those who love baked goods. Cut them into fingers or pieces beforehand to minimize mess.
Many kids love pasta so much that they will happily munch on it cold. Stir in some red or green pesto after cooking to add a little flavor.
You can cut a block of cheese up into cubes if you like – or go for Babybels which require no prep at all.
Hard boiled eggs
Packed with protein and iron, these are a great way to supplement all those in-car carbs. Ask the kids to peel the shell off over a ziploc bag or container – or you could do that part for them if they pass it to the front.
Ham or poultry, such as chicken or turkey, are ideal for cutting into cubes to eat as protein-packed finger food.
Mini salami is great for a salty umami hit and again can be bought individually wrapped.
Being less juicy, bananas are also a less messy fruit option.
For the younger ones, don’t forget to cut grapes in half as they’re a choking hazard.
Apples & pears
Pears and apples are also among the least juicy fruit choices and require no prep at all.
Dried fruit is one of the best foods to take on a road trip, and there are so many kinds available. As well as ever-popular options like raisins and apricots, there are freeze-dried fruits and dried fruit slices too. Plus fruit bars, roll-ups and other options that may seem more like a sweet treat than a healthy alternative!
Lots of kids will happily eat cucumber, and you can either cut it up or buy mini ones that are ready to munch on.
Sweet or bell peppers are often popular with children, especially in the case of the sweeter, milder varieties. You can either buy tiny ones or slice them up.
Many children love the sweet taste and bright orange color of a carrot. Buy baby ones, or cut them into sticks.
Sugar snap peas often appeal to kids, and they’re also one of the least messy veggies around!
Some children do like the savory flavor of celery, and it’s simple to slice up into pieces or fingers.
Cheerios come in family sized bozes or individual pots, and are also available in a range of flavors.
Kelloggs’ Froot Loops come in small pots or as bars, as well as in the usual bigger boxes.
Chex come in various flavors and are ideal for packing into snack containers.
As with Chex, Kix come in a range of flavor options.
Kids’ multipacks of cereal comes with lots of little packs they can munch on in the car. The Kellogg’s variety packs contain cereals such as Apple Jacks, Mini Wheats and Frosted Flakes, and come in boxes or even small bags or pots of Tiger Paws, Raisin Bran, Pops and more.
Other non-perishable foods
Granola bars are normally the best option here, as they contain slow-release sources of energy like oats. They also tend to be lower in sugar than other kinds of cereal bar.
Fig Newtons also make great snack bars for kids on the road.
Kids’ snack bars
There are all kinds of kids’ snack bars available, from fruit-filled ones to cereals drizzled with chocolate.
Energy balls are usually packed with goodness, and make very easy foods to take on a road trip. Great for adults and kids’ snack attacks during the journey.
Trail mix is a great compromise, as there are little goodies in there to tempt the kids. As long as they actually eat the nuts, seeds or dried fruit as well as the sweets!
These come in so many shapes, flavors and sizes to suit every kid (and grown-up), and they contain fibre as well as energy.
As in-car snacks go these are pretty good – and often gluten-free too.
There are various multipacks of savory crackers. Love Corn make packs with four different savory flavors, while Nabisco offer boxes packed with two types of Ritz plus Cheese Nips and Wheat Thins.
Pretzels also come in handy snack packs and a range of flavours and shapes.
Individual bags of nuts make a good savory snacking alternative to potato chips.
Mostly it’s made from beef, but some dried meat strips are made using other products like pork, turkey or even salmon.
A little better for kids than standard potato chips, as these are baked cheesy snacks.
Goldfish are also baked instead of fried, making them a little healthier.
Not so good for you, maybe, but it is a vacation! Get the kids to eat these less crumbly potato chips over the carton to minimize the mess.
Lollies don’t only make small sweet treats, they can also be good to suck on if you’re going up and down hills as it can help stop kids’ ears from popping.
What kid – or adult – can resist a mini pack of Haribo Gold Bears, Mini Rainbow Frogs or a tube of Mega Roulette?
Which food for road trips will make it onto your road trip food list?
What will you choose as the best food for a road trip? There are lots of healthy and tasty options to pick from, and sometimes it’s easier to snack as you go rather than sticking to regular mealtimes.
We hope this list of road trip food ideas has given you some inspiration regarding healthy snacks for traveling, road trip lunch ideas and road trip snacks for adults and kids.
Even just a little forward planning can make all the difference when it comes to good food for long journeys taken in the car as a family!