Travel Bites: Keeping the Family Healthy (and Hydrated) on Vacation

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine
By Martha Ruch

With the end of school in sight and summer approaching, many of us are making travel plans for the upcoming months. According to a 2016 AAA survey, more than one-third of Americans planned to take a family vacation of 50 miles or more away from home, with road trips (69%), national parks (49%) and theme parks (42%) being the most popular types of vacations for families surveyed. Vacations to international destinations (26%) and cruises (19%) rounded out the most popular vacation options for traveling families. No matter where your travels take you, chances are you’ll be on the road or in the air for a while, and you will get hungry and thirsty along the way. Once you get to your destination, you may encounter tempting treats you’re not used to having at home. Let’s look at ways to keep the family happy and hydrated vs. “hangry.” Just like when you are at home, having a plan for meals and snacks on vacation is always a good idea.

Meals and snacks to go

Travel food for car trips is the easiest to figure out, because you can pack a cooler. Depending on the time of day, easy-to-pack (and eat) meal ideas include mini bagels, fresh or dried fruit, homemade smoothies (car trips only, in small, securely lidded cups) and small yogurts for morning meals; sandwiches or wraps, cut up vegetables, pretzels and trail mix for lunch-time meals; and cheese sticks, nuts, jerky, individual bags of dry cereal, and protein bars for snacks.

Whether you’re driving or flying, packing an insulated lunch bag for each family member ensures everyone has his or her preferred food at their fingertips.

If you’re driving, make sure to pack water bottles (which can be frozen and used to help keep food cool along the way) and other favorite beverages as well. Gatorade, iced tea, and individual powdered mixes you can add to water work well. Carbonated and sugary drinks (including milk and juice) are not a good idea as they will most likely end up sprayed or spilled along the way, making a sticky mess in the car. Don’t forget a canister of wipes for pre- and post-snack clean up, as well as a small bag for garbage.

Rules of thumb for car or air travel: Leave the stinky (tuna, blue cheese, garlic, hard-boiled eggs), sticky (drippy peaches, syrup, jam, honey), super crumbly (crunchy granola bars, NutriGrain-type cereal bars), and greasy foods (salami, potato chips, pizza) at home.

Are we there yet?

We all know someone who goes on vacation and comes back five pounds heavier (or more). For some reason “vacation” seems to imply undoing all of our healthy habits, which in a week’s time can take a toll. Naturally, once you arrive at your destination, you will want to partake in the local cuisine (or your parents’ home cooking), which is great as long as you remember to use moderation and not abandon your healthy diet and exercise.

If your travels take you to one of our national parks, you’ll be interested to know that the National Park Service has a “Healthy Parks, Healthy People Plan” that includes a healthy and sustainable food program that provides standards, guidelines, tools, and resources for parks and concessioners to help ensure visitors have healthy food options.

Headed to a theme park? Eat a good breakfast before arriving and pack some healthy snacks to tide you over instead of caving and buying ice cream at 10 a.m. At lunchtime, scout out a grilled chicken sandwich, veggie burger, or salad for lunch. Beware the hot dogs, fries, giant sugary drinks, and other temptations: Just say no!

If you normally decline bread or dessert at dinner, do so when traveling, as well. If you always have a smoothie for breakfast, stick to that rather than ordering the Extreme Waffle and Sausage plate at the hotel. Similarly, attempt to keep your children on a regular meal schedule that includes familiar foods, which may help prevent meltdowns, tummy aches, and mid-afternoon slumps.

For healthy snacks on vacation, scout out a farmer’s market, where you can buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables, as well as shelf-stable foods and other handmade items to take home as souvenirs or gifts.

Ways to get some exercise in a new location include walking to restaurants or other destinations, taking a family walk (or swim) before or after dinner, running around a playground with your kids, taking an early-morning jog on the beach, hitting the hotel gym or pool, or going to a fitness class. If you’re exploring a national park or making the rounds at Disney, you probably are getting a lot of walking in every day. Just make sure to stroll right past the fried dough stand.

Martha Ruch is the owner of Simply Delicious Personal Chef Service, helping busy families come together at the dinner table since 2007. Find pictures, recipes, cooking tips and more at simply; on Facebook @SimplyDeliciousPersonalChefService; and on Twitter @chefmartha