real_food_on_the_roadThank you to Loralee Leavitt, author of the new book Road Tripping: A Parent's Guide to Planning and Surviving the Annual Car Trip, for contributing this guest article.

At home, you work hard to provide your family with tasty, healthy meals. But when you're traveling, the meals fall apart. Soon you're ordering fast food and trying to silence that inner scream: "Those chicken nuggets aren't really chicken!"

Even when you're traveling, you can help your family eat good healthy food. With some preparation, good car snacks, and acceptable produce, you can feed your kids almost as well on the road as at home.

1. For a long day on the road, stave off food stops by packing portable meals, such as sandwiches or bento boxes. If you make the food your children usually eat, you'll make it easier for everybody.

2. For trips that last longer than a day, you can bring sandwich fixings like peanut butter, jam, cheese, packaged tuna. If your children prefer perishables such as lunchmeat, consider taking a cooler. You can pack food for several days in a cooler, whether you're bringing sandwich toppings and condiments, vegetable sticks and hummus, tinfoil dinners for campouts, or casseroles to microwave in hotel rooms. Just make sure that the cooler stays cold, whether you buy new ice every day, or use dry ice and keep the cooler tightly sealed. Rick Walton, co-author of Road Tripping, travels with an electric cooler, which plugs into the car to stay cold.

3. Fruits and vegetables make great car snacks. They're filling and nutritious, and you can find plenty of varieties that won't stain your car. Before you leave, cut some apples, wash grapes, or peel carrots, and pack them in a small cooler that's easy to reach when you're driving. If you're running out of time, you can also find ready-to-eat produce choices at the grocery store, such as grapes, sliced fruit, and peeled carrots. One family buys vegetable trays to take on the road.

4. Carefully check labels of processed snacks, even those made from fruits and vegetables. Gummy "fruit" snacks are candy in disguise (they contain as much sugar as gummy worms). Some vegetable snack chips have as much sodium as potato chips. Some prepared fruit snacks, like rolls or bars, contain hardly any of the fruit advertised on the label. Real dried fruit contains most of the vitamins and nutrients of fresh produce, but can get stuck in teeth and contribute to cavities. When you can't stop to brush teeth, it's a good idea to finish snacks with fresh fruits or vegetables like apple slices or carrot sticks to help clean teeth.

5. For families with specific dietary needs, a road trip can be especially daunting. If you can't pack everything that you need, Kendra Peterson, mother to a gluten- and dye-free family who blogs at, has several ideas for meeting these needs. For instance, you can scout for specialty stores along your route to pick up extras. Use smartphone aps to help you find gluten-free and vegan restaurants and shops, which often have other allergy-friendly fare. You can also order packages ahead of time and send them to your destination so that your food will be ready when you get there.

When you bring your own food, or plan ahead so that you can eat what you want, you'll be able to stave off children's complaints of starvation and keep children happy in the car. You'll be able to enjoy your family time as you travel, especially with good food.

For more ways to enjoy family car trips without going crazy, check out Loralee Leavitt's new book, Road Tripping: A Parent's Guide to Planning and Surviving the Annual Car Trip, with tips from dozens of families and 100,000 miles of road trips. Loralee Leavitt is also the author of Candy Experiments and the creator of

Image credit: Wendy