When you’re constantly on the road with your young athlete, going between school, practice, games, and other activities, you’ve likely dealt with a hungry, irritable child in the backseat. Unfortunately, stopping for fast food along the way can be expensive and unhealthy, which isn’t good for busy athletes who depend on nutritious foods for recovery.
But with just a bit of planning, it’s easy to stock your car so that you’re ready to tackle any amount of hunger with cost-effective, tasty, and healthy options.
Here are a few easy options for every type of road trip:
Homemade Granola Bars
Skip loose granola or store-bought bars in favor of simple, homemade energy bars, which offer whole grains, nuts, and dried fruit for a balanced snack. TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, prefers homemade options since you can control exactly what ingredients go in, and avoid preservatives or sneaky added sugars. It doesn’t have to be fancy: This five-ingredient recipe only takes minutes to make!
Easy Fruit + Nuts
Grapes, pre-sliced apples, and clementines are all ideal car-friendly options. Skip anything that drips, like oranges or mangoes. Then add a handful of nuts or some peanut butter for dipping to increase satiety: The carbohydrates from the fruit will provide a quick hit of energy, while the fat and protein from the nuts will keep your athlete satisfied for longer. Vary both your nut and fruit choices for a variety of nutrients. Cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, peanuts, and roasted pumpkin seeds all provide healthy fats, but each have different micronutrient profiles and provide different vitamins and minerals. Portion control is key with nuts though, since it’s easy to accidentally eat several portions at once. Either portion out a ¼ cup in plastic baggies or buy individual packs.
Veggies & Hummus
Because hummus isn’t as liquid as most other dips, it’s a much better alternative for car trips than something like ranch dressing. It’s also better for your athlete, thanks to the healthy fats, protein, iron, and vitamin B6 that it provides. Pair this with carrot and celery sticks for a less active day or add some whole grain crackers for a heftier snack if your athlete has been exercising.
String Cheese & Popcorn
For kids (and even teens!), string cheese is one of the most classic snacks around. String cheese provides seven grams of protein in an 80-calorie, easy-to-eat, and tasty package, perfect for snacking on longer trips. If your child is more of a foodie, you can experiment with slices of different cheeses, like a sharp cheddar or sweet mozzarella. Pair your cheese with a small bag of natural popcorn with no artificial butter flavoring, which is a satisfying whole-grain, high-fiber treat. Popcorn can also be used to add bulk to an otherwise calorie-dense trail mix.
There’s no easier way to get a picky eater to eat greens like spinach and kale than with a smoothie! Blend up a scoop of peanut butter, a chopped banana, a 1/2 cup of milk, a handful of ice cubes, and a handful of spinach with a dash of maple syrup or honey. If it’s blended well, your young athlete won’t notice the sneaky greens and they’ll be getting protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber. With smoothies, an 8-ounce serving is great for younger kids, while a 20-ounce serving is perfect for your teen athlete.
In Your Glovebox
Keep a few spare snacks in the glovebox for days when you just didn’t have time to prepare. Single-serve bags of trail mix that you’ve made yourself with unsalted almonds, walnuts, and cashews, plus a dried fruit like raisins or dried cranberries, is a great option that will keep for a long time. A few kid’s-sized Clif Bars, which are made from less-processed ingredients, are also good to have in an “emergency” hunger situation. And lastly, keep a water bottle or two hidden away — thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so ensure that your athlete has something to drink as well.
Don't Forget the Water Bottle
Skip juices, sodas, and sports drinks after practice in favor of water alongside your athlete’s snack. It’s easy to rely on juice boxes to satisfy irritable kids, but the added sugars aren’t optimal. Add a splash of lime juice or an electrolyte tab if they don’t like the taste of water alone.
A little preparation goes a long way toward getting your athletes healthy fuel as you commute to and from practice, school, and games. For more healthy and tasty recipe ideas, check out these TrueFood Recipes!