Menu

Traveling with toddlers can be, well, tricky. But one of the most fun parts, in addition to just being in new places, is getting to eat different food. But since our little people are not always as enthusiastic about a change in their routine, I aim for an overall balance to our trips to help us all enjoy ourselves. A big part of this is our approach to food, which includes the food I pack for us and what we choose to eat in restaurants.

Here are my top 10 tips for traveling with toddlers and big kids.

1. Overpack snacks

This one might be obvious but it's worth mentioning anyway—pack more snacks than you think you will need because you just never know. I always buy a few low-mess snacks that we don't often have at home to make things feel more special and fun.

We like:

  • Cheese crackers
  • Fruit leather
  • Freeze-dried fruit
  • Raisins
  • Mini Larabars or granola bars

All of these are easy to stick into a diaper bag to pull out whenever you need them—for snack time or to help quell tantrums and redirect less than ideal behavior when in public. (Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops, right?). And Cheerios remain an all-star travel snack in our house... and lollipops for emergencies!

2. Plan lunch breaks on travel days

This sometimes isn't possible, but when it is, I try to plan ahead for an interesting lunch break. If on a road trip, this is usually a park with a playground so we can eat outside (weather permitting) and run around for a bit. It could also be a stop at a grocery store with a good prepared foods section or a classic diner. Or, if in an airport, I like to let the little one choose something special to eat with her lunch. (Jamba Juice usually has a good selection of healthy kids' snacks!)

3. Pack breakfast

When a hotel doesn't include breakfast in the fee, I try to pack us something yummy rather than spending $12 per person on a restaurant meal that may or may not get eaten.

Some favorite foods to pack include:

  • A batch of muffins or bars
  • Shelf-stable milk from Horizon or Organic Valley,
  • Packets of nut butter from Justin's
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Fresh fruit.

All of these also make good snacks or lunch options so they get eaten in my family no matter what. Keep them in the mini fridge overnight as needed—or in the regular fridge if you rent a house.

4. Make the most of free food

If you are staying at a hotel with an included breakfast buffet (like you get at a Hampton Inn), graze the buffet for the best offerings. To me this means grabbing fresh fruit, yogurt, milk, peanut butter packets, and maybe oatmeal—and not being afraid to take any leftovers with you, especially if your kiddo tends to be distracted at breakfast and super hungry come morning snack! And that bowl of apples and bananas sitting in the lobby? Those are for you, my friend. (Just be sure to give them a thorough wash before handing them over to the wee one.)

5. Always order an appetizer

When eating in a restaurant, entrees can vary widely in how long they take to arrive at your table. Appetizers—hummus and pita, edamame, chicken satay, sweet potato fries—can help keep the little one occupied and happy. Playing with straws, in addition to drinking from them, can also help pass the time, as well as books and crayons.

6. Order an entire entree with multiple components

When the kid's menu looks lackluster or there are things on the regular menu that I think my girl would prefer, I often order something for us to share. Some of the most successful meals that we've shared include jambalaya, stir-fry, seafood pasta, and burgers with sweet potato fries.

These dishes include many different ingredients for the little ones to choose from, which helps ensure that there is something they like on the plate—it's okay if that winds up being half of a roll and some cheese! Restaurant portions are often big enough that we can comfortably share an entree, though I do usually order an extra side of veggies or an appetizer to make sure we both get enough to eat.

7. Consider the kid's menu

I know, I know, everyone is always saying that kids meals are the worst. But in my experience, the quality of the kid's menu totally depends on the restaurant and it's unfair to say that they are all terrible because, in fact, there are some good ones. So I evaluate each one on its own. Also, you know what? A really good grilled cheese is completely delicious. So if that would make your kiddo really happy, I say do it. See also: Pancakes in fun shapes with whipped cream for breakfast!

8. Eat dinner early

Since you never know how long a restaurant meal can take (this goes for a meal at a friend's house, too), start early to allow for plenty of time to eat and get back to the hotel for bedtime. We usually go around 5 pm or 5:30 pm. This also means that the restaurant is usually less busy, making for a better experience all around—especially if your toddler needs to get up and walk around a bit at some point in the meal. (This is a reason that we often go to brewpubs—they tend to be spacious and have ample room for little legs to roam!)

9. Stay in sometimes

Being in a new place and being out and about all day can be exhausting, especially for toddlers who thrive on routine. And while we love to eat out when we're away, we also aren't afraid to admit it when we're all a little tired. I often find the local natural foods co-op, local grocery store or farmer's market so we can get takeout to bring back to our room.

The prepared food section and salad bars make it easy to stock up on small amounts of finger foods you know your kiddo likes, without breaking the budget. We LOVE staying in Air BnBs with this in mind since it's 100% easier to put the kiddo to bed early when you're not all in the same hotel room.

10. Have fun!

Traveling is often so invigorating and the perfect opportunity to indulge and loosen up around meals. So try foods you don't normally have (dessert included!) and show the kids that there's more to life than the food you always eat at home. Have ice cream in the morning or try a dish you never have before to model your own eating adventure to the kids.

And P.S.: Be sure to pack extra wipes, always and forever.

Originally posted on Yummy Toddler Food.

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Back when my husband and I were creating our wedding registry, it was a fun, low-pressure opportunity to select some new dishes and linens. After all, I knew a thing or two about stocking my home and making the "wrong decision" with thread count was the only thing that posed any risk to my sleep at night.

Fast-forward a few years to when I created a baby registry before the birth of my first child—and I found the experience to have a much steeper learning curve. Unlike those sheets, it felt like a bad swaddle or bassinet selection would be catastrophic. Unsure of what to expect from motherhood or my baby, I leaned heavily on advice from friends who already ventured into parenthood. (Starting with their reminders to take deep breaths!)

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Now a mom of three little ones under the age of four, I'm happy to be in a position to pass along some baby registry wisdom.

Go shopping with a veteran parent

As first-time parents, my husband and I barely knew the difference between a bouncer and a swing, let alone what specific features we would want. So when a mom friend recommended we head to Walmart to build my registry together—because she found them to carry the trendy brands she loved AND make registering a breeze during her pregnancy—I leapt at the chance.

By walking through the aisles together and actually getting to see the products, I was much more confident in my registry selections. Thanks to that quick, in-store tutorial from my friend, I understood exactly how to match a perfect infant car seat with an extra base and stroller—which is something I would have been clueless about on my own.

Include items at a variety of price points

When it comes down to it, a registry is really a wish list. So, while I had a personal budget for a stroller if it had to come out of my own pocket, this was an opportunity for me to ask for the stroller of my dreams. And, wouldn't you know it? A few family members went in on it together, which made a bigger price tag much more manageable.

At the same time, it's nice to include some of the smaller ticket items that are absolutely essential. I can't even begin to tell you how grateful I was to skip buying my own diapers for those first few weeks. (With super cute patterns, these are also surprisingly fun to give, too!)

Think about the gifts you would like to give

The first time I bought a mom-to-be a gift after my own child was born, I knew immediately what to look for on her registry: a diaper bag backpack, which I had come to have very strong opinions about after battling falling straps with my first diaper bag. This allowed me to feel like I had a personal touch in my gift, even if I brought one pre-selected by her.

I also appreciate it when my friends clearly incorporate their style into their registry choices, like with adorable baby outfits or nursery decor—and there's no sweeter "thank you" than a picture from a friend showing your gift in use.

Ask for things to grow with your child

Even though it's called a baby registry, there's no need to limit yourself to gifts to use before their first birthday. (To this day, I still have people who attended my baby shower to thank for the convertible bed that my oldest child sleeps in!) Knowing that, I would have included more options with long lifespans into my registry—namely, a baby carrier that can be used during the newborn months, baby months and well into the toddler years. A well-designed baby carrier would have saved my back from serious pain because it would have allowed me to comfortably and ergonomically carry my toddler as she made her way into the 25lb+ club. One brand that's designed to grow with your baby and accommodates 7-45 pounds (up to about four years old) and offers both inward and forward-facing positions is Ergobaby. With several different design and style options, you can easily find one that caters to your parenting needs. From an all-in-one carrier, like the Omni 360, that grows with baby from the newborn stages into the toddler years or a newborn-specific carrier, like the Embrace (and don't worry you can later upgrade to a carrier for an older baby, I recommend the 360 Carrier). The best part? All ergonomic designs are supportive and comfortable for both baby and parent, offering extra lumbar support with breathable, lightweight mesh styles. Everyone (even grandparents!) can get a kick out of babywearing, which is a nice and welcomed break for parents. Having one of these on my registry would have certainly made those first few years so much easier.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

This article was sponsored by Ergobaby. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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