When our children were young, we had our own version of the Oregon Trail adventure, many times over. We live in Oregon and both sets of grandparents live in Western Nebraska near the Oregon Trail landmark, Chimney Rock. While we didn’t have the same physical hardships of the early pioneers, we had our own stress-inducing mental hardships each summer involving three kids, two parents, and one automobile.
“How many more miles? I’m hungry! I have to go – now! She’s on my side! He’s the middle-ist kid so he sits in the middle. I’m thirsty. He (fill in the blank) touched me/pushed me/hit me/looked at me!” And so on and on, for 1300 miles (and back again!).
Sound familiar? Too often, desperate parents pull into the nearest convenience store and raid the candy and chip aisles, grab a sweet drink and hope the food will quiet the kids, at least for 30 more miles! Of course, that strategy soon fails, because children end up cranky, tired, and of course, in need of a rest stop.
There is an easier, saner and healthier way to survive long road trips. After all, aren’t vacations supposed to reduce stress?
Planning ahead is the key to making long car trips more enjoyable. Providing stimulating games and activities, healthy snack choices and frequent opportunities to stretch, walk and burn off energy are all positive steps towards preventing friction and promoting fun. Quality break time helps families endure the long hours on the road. Looking forward to a scenic rest stop or a fun roadside attraction is better than the standard gas station and cafe, which is just another place to sit. Taking time to walk, stretch, hike or even swim in the local town pool is often the best remedy for tension and boredom.
To save time, money and stress, pack healthy picnic food and snacks. Aim to eat most snacks and at least one nutritious “picnic meal” from the cooler each day. The tips below will help you get organized for the big trip.
Just like when you pack groceries, be sure to put the more durable items such as water bottles on the bottom and the more fragile items such as fruits and vegetables on the top of the cooler (another advantage: kids will see the fruits and veggies first when opening the cooler). Save your back by packing all perishables in easy-to-tote soft-sided coolers. Put the nonperishable items in separate shopping bags.
The last thing you want on a car trip is a sick kid or two! Be sure to keep plenty of ice or refreezable ice packs in your cooler and make sure you enforce the use of hand washing or hand sanitizer before eating.
Include family favorites from all five food groups. Below are ideas to get you started.
Beverages: water bottles, milk in individual plastic containers, small (4-6 oz.) 100% fruit juice boxes
Grains: whole grain crackers and mini-bagels, sandwiches made with 100% whole wheat bread, baked whole corn tortilla chips, individual bags of popcorn
Fruit: dried apple rings, dried mango, raisins, orange wedges, grapes, packaged apples slices, strawberries, fresh cut-up fruit (melons, pineapple, mango, etc)
Vegetables: baby carrots, whole pea pods, grape tomatoes, pepper strips , broccoli and cauliflower florets, kale, sweet potato or other veggie chips
Protein: nut butters, hummus, lean fresh deli meats, tuna in pouches or pop-top cans, jerky (beef, turkey or salmon), pistachios, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, peeled hard boiled eggs
Dairy: sliced cheese, string cheese, yogurt, bottled smoothies
Other Items: Plates, napkins, plastic tableware, condiments, hand sanitizer, refreezable ice packs, sun screen, bandages and other first aid items you may need
Finally, it is vacation so a treat or two each day adds to the fun. Just make sure the kids have plenty of opportunity for movement and active play.