by Sheri Wallace
As road trip experts, we drive thousands of miles every year as a family. We're the people who can hardly wait to pack everyone in the car and find a new scenic byway, a downhill grade over 10%, or an unknown territory. Notice I say "we" because our whole family is an expert on everything that goes with a road trip. But, typically, as the mom, I'm the one most concerned with nutrition and vegetables as we travel. It's far too easy to grab onion rings when you stop for gas, a root beer float at a roadside stand and top that off with cheese curds you've seen advertised for 200 miles — not exactly pediatrician or cardiologist approved.
To make healthy eating easier takes a little planning, but you can do it. The first tip coincides with the first rule of the road trip. Stop rushing. When you sit down to plan the trip, it's tempting to try to do 600 miles a day, but you'll live (maybe) to regret that. Slow down and allow plenty of time to enjoy what you find around the next bend. That lets you plan meals much more easily and adjust for your family's needs.
You might get on the road early before breakfast, let the kids sleep a little and then stop for breakfast. Or, eat breakfast in the car and stop for a mid-morning break. You get the idea. But a healthy breakfast makes everyone a lot happier – and doesn't cost a fortune. We're fans of bagels and hard boiled eggs or chicken – nothing too messy. We avoid food dyes and sugar as much as possible — keeps the tantrums less likely.
Getting gas is not where we eat, take a break, or buy anything. Except for gas. Planning your day in advance lets you have a pretty good idea when the kids will need to get out of the car and when you'll need to stop for gas. Stop before the fill-up and let everyone work off some steam. Eat a picnic and play a game of Frisbee. See who can climb the rocks the fastest or do some geocaching. But, do it before the petrol. If you get snacks or a lunch break combined with the scheduled stop, no one will suddenly go into convulsions at the sight of cookies or Cheetos. Avoiding temptation is 90% of the game.
Involve everyone in the healthy eating game. We consider food out of the cooler free. Everything else is budgeted and we set a daily budget of about $20 for food not out of the cooler. You can set a personal budget or a family budget and let people make choices. Even the little people. If you feel it's your decision to stop now because you really have to have that ice cream sandwich and you don't have money for the root beer float later, it's your own tragedy. Money left over from the budget can go to souvenirs or attractions you didn't have money to schedule. You'll probably be shocked at how much ice cream suddenly isn't as important as another day at Wally World.
We try to use the food budget as a way to teach map reading, build interest in upcoming stops and try local foods we aren't familiar with. Farmer's markets or ethnic supermarkets are a fun topic of conversation. And it works really well. If you add up the empty calories and junk you miss along the way it's probably pretty substantial.
Keep the cooler stocked. It's hard to suggest a healthy snack if the cooler is empty. We tend to stock up every couple of days and be sure we can make sandwiches at the drop of a hat. Our longer trips usually involve our trailer so we stop at a rest area and make hot food quickly and then get back on the road. We mix it up and try to not fall into a rut, and most importantly, we let everyone pick foods. Maybe your family appoints everyone a day and they manage the cooler inventory or you just stick to snack appointments. You'll be shocked at how much the backseat can talk about food choices and what they might do with their next budget. Older kids can make a competition out of calories or grams of sugar, etc.
Sometimes you just have to let it go. Get out and have that root beer float or the fried cheese curds. Try to make it special and not a Taco Bell or some other restaurant you have at home, but once in a while, familiarity is a good thing. Every day is a new day and no matter how much junk you're avoiding you're still avoiding some. Stay positive and don't try to do too much too fast. No one gets healthy overnight – especially on a road trip!
Sheri is an experienced publishing, public relations, and marketing professional and the editor at http://www.roadtripsforfamilies.com/.