Nutritious fuel for your family’s road trip

Life has certainly changed since you sang “Vacation, all I ever wanted, Vacation, had to get away” along with The Go-Go’s way back when. Vacation has taken on a whole new meaning. Whether you travel by plane, train or automobile, summer is the time that many of you take a break from your routine. Yet it is possible to continue to keep the family reasonably nourished while enjoying your holiday. Here’s how:

By car with the very young

Pack a variety of nutritious finger foods for children who are able to feed themselves. Containers filled with sandwich triangles, cheese cubes and cut-up fruits and vegetables can be easily pulled out of a cooler. Make sure they’re cut up into small enough pieces to prevent choking. Soft foods, such as berries, bananas and cooked vegetables are safest for children age 5 and under.

By car with school-age children

Involve your kids.

“Grade school-age children can participate in the packing of healthy meals and snacks for the car ride,” says Kelly Sierra, a registered dietician from suburban Chicago 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.” Sierra recommends giving each child his own little cooler if space permits.

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. For example, just one quarter cup of California raisins counts as a serving of fruit, and is a tasty way to help meet recommended daily fruit servings.

Pack sandwiches.

“They hold up well, can be made in advance, and store flat in a cooler,” says Sierra, who has a private practice offering in-home nutrition counseling to families and individuals (

By plane with the very young

Comply with the Transportation Security Administration’s 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 then scanned in the X-ray machine. Liquids greater than three ounces are not permitted — except for baby formula, breast milk and juice. Jarred baby food is also permitted.

By plane with school-age children

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 can be packed easily.

Purchase a meal before you fly. It may be easier to buy a meal in the airport shortly before you board. There are a variety of healthy options available to you and your children. Look for restaurants that offer subs, sandwiches, and bagels — instead of fried fast foods.

Keeping food safe

However you travel, keep food safety in mind. A rule of thumb is to limit food kept at between 40 and 140 degrees to 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 — not in the trunk or back of an SUV.

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

For more information on air travel regulations, visit

For more information on food safety, visit

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is the 2011 Illinois Dietetic Association Outstanding Dietetics Educator of the Year. She is also consultant to the California Raisin Marketing Board. Follow her on Facebook at Christine Palumbo Nutrition.

Raisin Peanut Butter Spread

Just two tablespoons make a quick, healthy snack if there’s a jar of this in the fridge.

(Prep Time: 10 minutes. Cook Time: 10 minutes. Ready in 20 minutes. Yields about 1-1/2 cups. Makes 12 servings.)


3/4 cup raisins

1/2 cup apple juice

2 tbsp. honey

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup creamy peanut butter

DIRECTIONS: Measure raisins and apple juice into small saucepan and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer for eight to 10 minutes or until raisins have absorbed all the juice. Stir in honey and cinnamon; cool slightly. Stir in peanut butter. Spread onto graham crackers, bread, mini-bagels, apple slices or celery sticks.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: (per 2 tablespoon serving) Calories 170, carbohydrates 16g, protein 6g, total fat 11g, cholesterol 0mg, fiber 2g, iron 2mg, sodium 100mg, calcium 21mg.