Food in the car

With planning, snacks in the car can be safe and healthy

Sandy Mo has a long daily commute with her children, Christopher, five, and Emily, three. “We leave the house at 6:45 a.m. and don’t get home until 6:30 p.m.,” says Mo. “The poor kids get really hungry in the car.”

Whether it’s commuting, an awkward soccer schedule or the long drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, most parents find themselves feeding their preschoolers in the car. It’s not an ideal situation, says public health dietitian Lindsay Smith, who works for York Region (Ont.) Health Services Health Connection. “It’s important to supervise children when they’re eating. If possible, we encourage parents to stop, take a break from the car and sit down to snack with their kids.”

But Smith acknowledges that “real life doesn’t always allow that.” So how can we keep kids safe, and the car reasonably clean, while snacking on the road?”

Avoid choking
All of these foods pose a greater danger of choking, says Smith, especially for kids under four, so refrain from offering them:
• hard and small foods, like hard pieces of fruit or veggies, hard candies, nuts
• smooth and sticky food, such as thick peanut butter
• foods that don’t dissolve easily in your child’s mouth, such as popcorn, grapes or chunks of cheese

Avoid mess
• Use a travel tray for the car seat or booster to help catch food.
• If your child needs help opening a container, do it before the ride.
• Beware the squeezable juice box! Try a spill-proof cup instead.
• Consider a plastic drop sheet on the area around the car seat.
• Avoid foods that are sticky, drippy or require utensils.
• Keep paper towels and wipes in the glove compartment.
Most parents favour zip-top bags and plastic containers (especially the divided ones for bigger snacks) for travel. Brenna Dubé also uses a large plastic container with a lid for any garbage to minimize bad smells (any child prone to motion sickness will appreciate that). She just cautions not to forget it under the seat for days (or weeks) on end: “It can get really mouldy and disgusting inside!”

Favourite travel snacks

Nothing chokeable or messy. What’s left? Travel-savvy parents suggest:
• whole-grain crackers
• cheese strings
• mini-bagels with cream cheese
• breakfast cereal (without the milk)
• mini-muffins
• sandwiches in bite-sized pieces
• cut-up fruit or soft veggies
• granola bars
• milk in an insulated sippy cup