Five Tips for Eating Healthy while Traveling with Kids

Ditch French fry overload but keep the fun with these top tips from a pediatric nutrition expert.

Traveling with the family should be about having a good time and making great memories. However, the nature of travel can unravel your child’s healthy diet. We all know what this can lead to: tummy aches, sugar highs and cranky kiddos. The good news is that you can keep kids feeling happy, healthy and satisfied on vacation by following a few simple rules.

“A family vacation is a great opportunity to role model for your kids and introduce your family to new types of foods while still having fun and allowing for treats,” says Emily Ostrowski, Sparrow Health System Pediatric Registered Dietitian and member of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here are five tips for eating healthy while traveling with kids:

Plan ahead and pack healthy snacks.

Combat hunger pangs that can lead to bad choices by bringing some healthy snacks with you. Be sure to include things that you know your child likes. For family road trips, packing a small cooler with nutritious snacks will save time, stress and money as you make your way to your destination.

“Fruit cups, fresh fruit, popcorn, dried fruits and nuts and/or seeds, yogurt cups, cheese and crackers and cheese sticks are all good choices,” says Ostrowski. “These snacks will help keep kids satisfied and provide them with essential nutrients.”

If you’re flying, you can still avoid the expensive, sugary and otherwise unhealthy foods found at the airport. Instead, opt for cheese and cracker packets, fruits, vegetables and milk, Ostrowski suggests. “These foods offer more nutritional value and will help keep kids energized during their journey.”

Make the most of dining out.

A little research goes a long way. “Before going to restaurants, check out the menu. See if there are options your kids will enjoy eating that will also offer them solid nutrition,” says Ostrowski. Another benefit is that you will have some go-to’s before you arrive so that if kids get hungry, you’ve got it covered.

Once you’re at the restaurant, it’s likely that kids menus will have some unhealthy choices. Ostrowski suggests asking for substitutes. “Instead of a sugary drink, ask for water or milk for your child. Skip the fries and ask for a fruit cup for your child or even a larger salad that the family can share.”

What about all-inclusive resorts or over-the-top buffets on a cruise or at a hotel? “Adults can remind children about balance before they get in the buffet line,” Ostrowski says. “Have everyone choose a protein, vegetables and grains. Choose water or milk to drink and pair a sweet treat with a side of fruit.”

Be prepared for food-related challenges.

“Some kids have a hard time eating outside of the home,” says Ostrowski. Having something familiar on hand is helpful when the choices for kids are limited or your kids just don’t like something.

“If you have a child who isn’t a big ‘food explorer’ don’t force the issue. If they like apples, for example, ask the restaurant if they can offer applesauce,” Ostrowski says. Non-perishable fruit pouches or cups are also excellent things to carry with you, she says.

Ostrowski explains that it’s also important to consider the length and location of your trip. “If you’re gone for a few days, you can pick your battles. For a longer trip, do some research so you know where you can find at least a few healthy options your kids will want to eat.”

Balance healthy eats with vacation treats.

Treats are part of the vacation experience but you can find ways to make sure your kids get enough good stuff. There are many ways to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. It’s all about balance, Ostrowski says.

“If you have a pizza night, share a salad with the family. If kids want a sugary soda, offer them chocolate milk instead so they get some protein and nutrients. Try a restaurant that offers things like a healthy but tasty stir-fry with vegetables. If kids want a sweet treat while you’re out and about, have them try a yogurt and fruit smoothie.”

Vacation is a great time to make healthy food seem like a treat as well, says Ostrowski. “If you’ve been wanting to expose your kids to a new healthy and or/ethnic food, you could say ‘We’ve never had sushi together, let’s try it tonight,” she says. Because you’re on vacation, it makes it more special and kids may end up enjoying the experience.

Role model healthy foods and drinks.

Of course, you don’t want to indulge in the world’s biggest waffle cone while limiting your kids to a strawberry smoothie.

When dining out, balance your own meals between healthy foods and treats. For moments when hunger strikes, pick up some healthy snacks that the whole family can share, she suggests.

One of the best things you can do? Make water your go-to drink. “Set a precedent that everybody hydrates with water,” Ostrowski says.

Hot weather and increased movement can take a toll, especially for younger children. Keep everyone’s water bottles filled at all times, says Ostrowski. Another benefit: when you make water the drink of choice kids will be less tempted by things like unlimited soda refills.

It’s important to set a balance on vacation, says Ostrowski, but the last thing you want to do is cause stress about food. Being prepared is the way to go. “Eat well, but enjoy your food and the experience!”

To learn more about helping your child eat a healthy diet, visit

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.


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