Bringing along snacks for a family trip is a great way reduce food expenses during the trip, in addition to providing better nutritional value than the ever-present fast food restaurants. While fast food restaurants are convenient and readily available, many items on the menu are very high in unhealthy fats and sodium. With childhood obesity doubling in children over the past few decades, parents can make smarter choices by bringing along some food items that can be easily prepared and stored. Here are a few travel snack ideas for the entire family.
Crackers with or without peanut butter have long been a staple for traveling families. Yet again, some are much better than others, especially an assortment of newer crackers. Take, for instance, the familiar goldfish crackers that many children love. While there are other crackers and snacks that can be worse, goldfish crackers contain 250 mg of sodium, less than a gram of fiber and artificial dyes are used for the rainbow version. If goldfish crackers are a must have, better alternatives are the whole grain or garden cheddar versions, although both still contain 250 mg of sodium. Other more sensible choices for crackers include oatmeal animal crackers, multi-seed crackers and even saltine crackers, all with about half the amount of sodium than found in goldfish crackers. Still, all crackers have quite a bit of sodium and should be used in minimal amounts. One other similar snack that should be avoided are rice cakes. Despite being low in calories and containing zero fat, rice cakes have a very high glycemic index, which will affect blood sugar and insulin.
With several varieties to choose from, energy bars are a convenient way to enjoy a healthy snack. Many of the best options on the market, such as Hammer Bar and Rise Bars, are a good sources of vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates with no refined sugar and other nutrients. Other energy bars more commonly found in stores include Clif Bar, Luna Bar and Probar, in addition to others suited for kids, such as Clif Z Bars, thinkThin Brownie Crunch and PureFit bars. Granola bars are also a noteworthy choice but many of the more common labels offer too much unhealthy sugars such as high fructose corn syrup and unhealthy fats.
Fresh fruit should be high on the list of snacks to bring along for a trip. Smart options are those low in sugar such as strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and watermelon. Other common fruits such as bananas, grapes, tangerines and cherries are high in sugar and might be better left at the grocery store or eaten in moderation. Another popular snack often used for family vacations is dried fruit, like raisins, banana chips and apricots. But due to the hydration process, most dried fruit consist of more than 50 percent sugar and aren’t good choices for a health-minded family. A better choice would be trail mix, with smaller portions of dried fruit and nuts.
Like fruit, some types of nuts are better choices than others. Macadamia nuts and pecans are frequently mentioned as the two worst types of nuts to eat because both are high in fat and low in protein. Better choices for travel snacks include raw or dry roasted almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews and walnuts as long as they’re not covered with sugar, come with added salt or are cooked in oil. According to the Harvard Medical School, the best nuts are mixed nuts with little or no sodium that are conveniently found in most any grocery store.
It may be the least popular snack for kids but for health-conscious families, vegetables are a smart and affordable option for travel snacks. Baby carrots and cut celery are among the most widely used vegetables when traveling and finicky kids might enjoy them a bit more when there’s a dab of peanut butter. Other recommendations include snap peas, cucumbers, squash and avocados although these healthy products are technically fruits but often referred to as vegetables. Families traveling with kids also might want to bring along dried vegetables despite the higher cost versus fresh produce. The recommendation is to read each nutritional label before making a purchase.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.