Footloose and schedule-free sunny days are the hallmarks of summer living for many families. Your children and neighborhood friends bustle in and out of the house, you stretch out the evenings basking in the summer skies, and you relish the slower pace of life and the longer daylight hours.
But then, you schedule a family vacation.
You work and re-work schedules, sleeping arrangements, entertainment, campsite reservations, and credit card points. You beg and plead with the powers above that no one will fall ill, fall injured, or fall out of favor with other members of the family.
We all want to get a good return on our vacation investment in the form of fond memories. One way to improve your chances of a fun-filled trip is to feed your family so they are well fueled.
Sure, vacations are the embodiment of leisure and indulgence, but our food choices may spoil our celebrations if they make us sick or over-indulged.
Here are a few tips to stay safe and well fueled during your summer travels:
Fuel for Fun
Hot dogs, s’mores, snow cones, and cheeseburgers are all essential parts of an American family summer. However, in between these “essentials,” fuel your family with nutrient-rich whole foods to keep them running at their best.
Here are a few nutritious on-the-go options:
Homemade or wholesome trail mixes – Think whole grain cereals, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. A bit of chocolate can top it off nicely.
Nuts and seeds – Seasoned, spiced, or plain, if trail mix isn’t your favorite.
Fresh veggies for dipping – Sugar snap peas, bell pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and celery dip nicely in hummus, guacamole, homemade greek yogurt ranch dip, or any store bought dressing in small to-go cups.
Low sugar, high fiber granola bars – like Kind Breakfast Bars.
Hydrating drinks – Water, 100% fruit juice boxes, V8 vegetable juice, Kefir, and ready to eat smoothies like Naked Juice. Be sure to watch portion sizes on beverages other than water. Without the bulk of fiber, a little juice goes a long way.
Yogurt cups – Aim for low-sugar alternatives. Try plain yogurts with fruit mix-ins and granola.
String cheese or cheese wedges
Homemade or Healthy Choice popcorn
Peanut butter and almond butter to-go pouches
Fruit cups and pureed fruit pouches – You can purchase ready-made or make your own at home with reusable plastic pouches and cups. Try mandarin oranges in a pop-top can. Aim for choices packaged in 100% fruit juice instead of heavy syrup.
Fresh fruit – Clementines and apples are resilient travel fruits. Wash your fruits, except berries, ahead of time for convenience. Bring along nut butter or fruited yogurt for dipping.
Low-sugar dried fruit leather – like the Stretch Island brand that Costco carries.
Whole grain pitas, tortillas, and breads – for spreads, rolls, and wraps.
Flavored tuna foil packets – like the lemon dill or Thai-style from Starkist.
Follow Food Safety Protocol
Avoid dreaded food sickness downers by abiding by these food safety rules whether you’re creekside in the canyon, car pooling with the kids, or curbside at the Ritz this summer:
Keep raw meat separated completely from ready to eat foods during travels. Be sure raw juices can not leak onto other foods.
Wash hands and surfaces frequently–especially before and after food preparation and before eating. Pack sanitizer and towelettes if you anticipate being away from running water and soap.
Cook foods to the right temperatures (a simple food thermometer can make a world of difference in your kitchen. You’ll never have to worry about overcooking meat again just to make sure it’s safe).
Use insulated coolers and ice packs to keep meat, luncheon meats, tuna or pasta salad, cut up fruit and vegetables, and perishable dairy products cool.
Fill the cooler as full as possible, keep it out of direct light, and open it only when necessary to help it maintain a cold temperature.
Chill foods promptly to refrigerated temperatures within 2 hours. This means that if your road trip is 6 hours, don’t plan on saving your packed turkey sandwich for the last leg. If it is especially hot out, food should not sit out for longer than an hour.
If you are in a hotel with a mini-fridge make use of it promptly for leftovers, if not, toss them.
Bacteria grows exponentially given the right conditions. It is better to be safe than sorry and away from home while miserable with “indigestion” or worse.
Young children, older adults, and pregnant women are especially at risk for foodborne illnesses. When in doubt, check the FoodKeeper App created by www.foodsafety.gov to be safe. It gives specific food safety recommendations for every food imaginable.
Fuel well, fuel safely, and remember to have fun!
Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian who owns the nutrition consulting company, Foods That Fit. She specializes in working with individuals and organizations to make their health and lifestyle goals fit into real life. She believes that getting back to the basics—preparing good, wholesome foods at home—is the first step to improving health.