Kids who are on the go often need to take their meals to go. It may be an early-morning practice, an after-school session, or a weeknight away game. Bottom line: your child will sometimes be eating in the car.
Buckle up and be strong, because just around the corner, you’ll be faced with a tempting “drive-thru” sign. Of course, occasionally there will be moments where you’ll need to follow the arrow and pull in. Ideally, though, these will more often stay in the category of “sometimes foods.”
Most of the time, you’ll want to plan ahead and pack familiar, healthy foods that will fuel your young athlete for the activity session ahead. You know your child best, so you’re the expert on what will (and won’t) get eaten. If you’re looking for new ideas, here are some tips to help you fill the next snack bag.
Washable bento-style boxes with compartments are a handy solution when kids are eating off their lap. They keep foods separated (a classic kid hang-up) and are helpful to measure portions while you’re filling it. They also give you a bird’s-eye view to ensure all the food groups are covered: protein in one space, carbs in another, fruits and vegetables on the side, and so on.
You can also use a traditional lunch bag or box with reusable mini containers—this is helpful if kids need to eat some items now and keep others sealed for later.
If using cutlery, leave the good stuff at home. Grab reusable plastic utensils or some old mismatched ones, so if they get dropped or lost, it’s not a big deal.
You’ll also want a sturdy, leak-proof water bottle that’s appropriately sized for your child. Speaking of water, bring enough to ensure your child stays hydrated during the in-car meal, at the activity, and afterwards.
The game plan
You’ll need to customize the menu based on your child’s preferences and dietary needs. Here are some of the homemade, travel-friendly foods I rely on:
Smoothies. Fill the blender with whatever ingredients your young all-star will tolerate—berries, spinach, banana, avocado, yogurt, and more. Use an opaque travel mug (so they won’t see the concoction’s colour) with a lid and straw. Instant nutrition.
Cubed protein. Pack cut-up chicken, ham, beef, sausage, tofu, or whatever is left over from last night’s dinner. (Cold pizza is a rare bonus!)
A sandwich (or a close relative). My kids aren’t keen on the traditional “two slices of bread with something in between” style of sandwich, but they will eat chicken or turkey on a bun, sliced summer sausage in a croissant, or a scrambled-egg “Mom McMuffin.” Wraps and pitas are also great if you’re looking for variety.
Pre-sliced fruit and vegetables. Kids often like raw veggies better than cooked ones—my kids will happily munch on carrot sticks and snap peas (which are super-portable). For ease of eating, I always pack apple slices rather than a whole apple. Clementines are super convenient since they are naturally segmented. Whatever your squad prefers, it’s a great idea to have the produce washed, peeled, and cut in advance.
Homemade snack bites. Whenever I ask sports moms about their go-to homemade snack, the same answer keeps coming up. The names vary (snack bites, protein balls, or energy bites), but these no-bake portable snacks have wholesome ingredients and can provide a much-needed energy boost. They freeze well and thaw quickly, so you can make them ahead of time and you can customize the ingredients to suit your taste.
Single-serving options. Individually wrapped snacks like granola bars, crackers, cheese sticks, trail mix, and applesauce squeeze pouches can be a convenient and practical supplement to your fresh menu items. I often toss these in as extra rations for the drive home.
Keeping it clean
Depending on your child’s age and overall dexterity, there’s the very real potential for mess. To be fair, eating in a vehicle is tricky. Sometimes it’s dark. Sometimes it’s bumpy. Things get jostled. Things get dropped. There are bound to be drips and spills, but here are a few proactive steps you can take:
- Keep an extra lunch bag in the backseat, stocked with tea towels, hand wipes, sanitizer, napkins, and spare cutlery.
- Choose foods that are less likely to stain—for example, apples, pears, and bananas instead of colourful berries and tomatoes.
- Make everything bite-sized. Watermelon is a classic game-day choice, but rather than slicing it in triangular wedges, cut it into cubes so it can be eaten with a fork.
- Skip the ketchup or sauce whenever possible. Spaghetti and meatballs won’t match the upholstery.
- Avoid high crumb producers, like muffins. I love them, but they fall apart in my kids’ hands. We’ve had better success with the denser texture of banana bread, cut into finger-like slices.
- Leave the yogurt at home. I have yet to find a format (cups, tubes, mini bottles) that is mess-free on the road. If your kids can handle it, congratulations—and please host a free Zoom workshop to coach the rest of us.
- Bypass chocolate-covered snacks, as they are more likely to melt and get smeared on whatever’s nearby (including your child’s clean uniform!).
Once you get into a routine, you’ll find that you have a regular roster of reliable “to go” foods, and it will be easy to prioritize healthy, nutritious foods.