It’s important to maintain a steady meal and snack schedule to help prevent tantrums and hunger-related meltdowns, but sometimes life gets in the way. If you know you’re going to be out and about when snack time hits, your best option is to plan ahead with some drinks and food packed in your diaper bag or cooler. But if plans change, or you don’t have a chance to pack snacks ahead of time, get tips for what to buy and what to skip at places like the gas station or the ballpark.
Water is always the best and easiest option between meals. Giving your toddler milk or juice between meals can fill her up, leaving less room for nutritious foods at mealtime. Plus, juice has as much sugar as soda and can cause tooth decay.
Tip: Pack a few mini (8- or 10-oz.) water bottles in a cooler or fill a spill-proof cup with ice water so it stays cold for hours.
It can be hard to find healthy, baby- and toddler-friendly snacks away from home, so if you can, put a few of these items in your diaper bag or a small cooler before you leave.
- Bananas and seedless clementines, mandarin oranges or tangerines. These are all great options that don’t need to be kept cold.
- A small container of plain toasted oats cereal or crackers.
- A reduced-fat cheese stick.
- A plain, whole-wheat tortilla.
- A container of unsweetened applesauce or diced fruit (look for the fruit cups packed in water or 100% fruit juice, not syrup). For messier fruits, such as sliced strawberries, throw a bib into your diaper bag and use wipes to clean up sticky hands.
- Freeze-dried fruits or veggies. Be sure to choose options where the only ingredients are veggies and fruits, and you don’t see sugar or juice listed on the ingredients label.
- For toddlers, cut up a nut butter and banana sandwich or a turkey and cheese rollup (pair turkey slices with reduced-fat cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla and roll it up).
- Puffs, pouches and other processed baby junk foods (such as yogurt drops/melts or wagon wheels), which have added sugars and added salt your little one doesn’t need.
Pro tip: If you do choose a store-bought “toddler snack,” be sure to read the labels. The American Heart Association recommends no added sugar for babies under the age of 2 and total sodium for the entire day under 1,500 mg, so pick the snacks with the lowest amounts whenever possible.
If you’re on the road and are desperate to get your little one a snack, look for gas stations that are also “travel centers,” as they usually have more options. Gas stations that are attached to fast-food restaurants may also provide more options that are toddler-friendly. Here are some ideas to look for:
- Fresh fruit, such as bananas
- Cheese sticks
- Plain toasted oats cereal
- Crackers, goldfish crackers or plain graham crackers
- Hard-boiled eggs (yes, we’ve seen them!)
- Water or plain, unflavored milk
Cereal bars and fig cookies are loaded with sugar, but if you have no alternative, choose them instead of chips, donuts or other packaged snacks.
More and more public places are stocking healthy snacks and quick foods. If you’re visiting a professional ballpark or amusement park, do your research before you go so you know where the healthy stands or restaurants are located. Look for ones that might have “kids meals,” like fast-food restaurants, as they’re more likely to also sell sides of fruit, milk, etc.
When you’re at the ballpark for your older kids’ sporting events, your best bet is going to be fruit or even a hot pretzel (unsalted, or remove salt as best you can). And, as always, remember that water is the best drink.
Whether you’re at the gas station or at the ballpark, our experts recommend skipping sugary drinks, candy, ice cream, pastries and any hot prepared food. Even if the hot prepared foods seem like a healthy option, you have no idea how long it’s been sitting out.
Safety tip: Letting kids eat in the car can be a choking hazard. If eating in the car can’t be avoided, we strongly recommend steering clear of sharp, dry snacks, such as crackers, chips and pretzels.