How to pack snacks for every type of summer vacation

Whether you travel by plane, train or automobile, summer is the time many of you take a break from your routine. Yet, can you still keep the family reasonably nourished? The answer is yes. Here’s how:

By car


  • Pack a variety of finger foods. Pack nutritious finger foods for children who are able to feed themselves. Containers filled with sandwich triangles, cheese cubes and cut-up fruits and vegetables easily can be pulled out of a cooler. Make sure they’re cut up into small enough pieces to prevent choking. Soft food such as berries, bananas and cooked vegetables are safest for children 5 and under.
  • Involve the kids. “Grade school-age children can participate in the packing of healthy meals and snacks for the car ride,” says Kelly Sierra, a registered dietitian from Clarendon Hills and mother of three. “Give each child his own set of containers to fill with food such as cheese, yogurt, vegetables and dips such as hummus or guacamole. Label each container with the child’s name.”
  • Give each child his own food bag. Help your child pack whole grain crackers and cereals, trail mix and whole or cut-up fruit that can be packed into his own bag. Each child can graze as he wishes during the car ride. Just ¼ cup of California raisins counts as a serving of fruit and is a tasty way to help meet recommended daily fruit servings.
  • Pack sandwiches. Sierra, who has a private practice offering in-home nutrition counseling to families and individuals, recommends sandwiches for road trips. “They hold up well, can be made in advance and store flat in a cooler.”

By plane


  • Comply with TSA regulations. Packing snacks and meals for air travel can be tricky because of restrictions on food and liquids. Snack foods and sandwiches must be wrapped properly and scanned in the X-ray machine. Liquids greater than 3 ounces are not permitted except for baby formula, breast milk and juice. Jarred baby food is permitted. For more info, visit
  • Fill up the backpacks. School-age children can use their backpacks to hold individual healthy snacks and meals. String cheese, whole or cut-up fruits and vegetables, sandwiches and little containers of canned fruit easily can be packed.
  • Buy a meal before you fly. It may be easier to buy a meal in the airport shortly before you board. Look for restaurants that offer subs, sandwiches and bagels instead of fried fast food.

Keeping food safe

However you travel, keep food safety in mind. A rule of thumb is to keep food stored at between 40 and 90 degrees for less than two hours. If the temperature is 90 degrees or hotter, this time limit changes to less than one hour. When traveling by car, the coolest place is where people sit and not in the trunk or back of an SUV. For more on food safety, see

In spite of the food and nutrition challenges, you can provide your family with some semblance of healthy eats while still enjoying good summertime food. Bon voyage!

This month’s Good Sense Eating recipe

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