Active Service: Travel Snacks for Children
What can the ordinary, travelling parent learn from US Navy Seals about snacking on the go? It’s a question anybody would ask, should their daughter randomly haul The US Navy Seal Guide To Nutrition off a shelf in the local public library. For the benefit of those to whom this has not already happened, let me tell you what I found out: the US military has an excellent supply chain.
Seriously, what is a Twinkie? The ‘Guide has several whole paragraphs devoted to its nutritional breakdown and role in a military person’s snack regime, yet I have travelled to dozens of countries and lived to over, let’s say, twenty years of age, and have only ever encountered the Twinkie as a racially insensitive epithet. I gather it is some sort of prepackaged, high-glycaemic junk food. The sort of prepackaged, high-glycaemic junk food which has, through a kind of magic, been made available to US military forces, worldwide, in theatres of war, because they can. Guys: don’t mess with the US military. Just say yes sir, and may I please try a Twinkie?
Those of us touring without the might and backing of up to eight support personnel for every soldier on the ground [pdf] will get better advice on portable snack foods from the Royal Marines – especially if heading to Asia, where coated peas and nuts are widely available, often in flavours with less slapstick value than wasabi. Or you could just adopt my father’s trick, which he gleaned from the illustrious Australian Army Catering Corps: carry a few non-perishable ration pack biscuits and nobody will ever admit they’re hungry.
In case all of that leaves you feeling either deficient of options or unfulfilled as a nurturer, allow me to provide my own, humble advice. My children have never actually defeated anyone in battle – we try to emphasise diplomatic solutions – but they have eaten lots of snacks in many places under less-than-opportune circumstances.
In general, we want our snacks to be:
- Healthy and sustaining
- Portable and less-perishable
- Minimal prep, minimal mess
- Available at destination (apart from a one-or-two-day supply to get us started)
- Oh, er, and appealing, I guess
Foods We Pack Or Procure
- Dried fruits – a terrific variety of dried fruits is available all over Asia. Dried mangoes is a firm favourite in our house, and sultanas and apricots are familiar solutions. Check the preservatives, though – most contain either chemical preservatives or vast amounts of added sugar.
- Dried seafood – as with the fruits, but stinkier. Ok for emergencies.
- Fresh fruit – peelable for hygiene.
- Nuts – for kids old and toothy enough to chew them reliably. Some nuts, such as peanuts or cashews, are crumblier and therefore easier to start on. Pistachios in their shells are an activity and a snack rolled into one, and the left-over shells make useful playthings for a while. Nuts coated in honey make a special treat.
- Dried vegetables, such as peas or corn. (Beware the salt content, and the occasional wasabi flavouring.)
- Fresh vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, carrots, beans, or florets of broccoli (carefully washed in safe water).
- Puffed rice or grains, possibly in cracker form. Mini cereal packs, eaten dry.
- Tetra packs of UHT milk, flavoured or unflavoured. We find milk tends to be more sustaining than juice. Yoghurt drinks are also favourites here, although they can’t be carried too far. Tip! Cleaned straws provide hours of travelling entertainment. They also allow children over about one to drink from any available vessel, which is useful for when you leave your sippy cup behind on Lantau Island.
- Health food bars – museli bars, sesame seed bars, fruit and nut bars, etc.
- Low-sugar bakery products, such as bread rolls, with or without a spread. All hail the cheese and bacon roll, the olive and herb focaccia, the samosa, and the char siew bao. The list goes on – bakeries have solved many snack dilemmas across the world, in sometimes unique ways. If I’m feeling fancy, a small bahn mi goes down a treat, too, and I never can resist a bit of toast with kaya butter and soft-boiled eggs.
- Which brings me to boiled eggs. Hard-boiled are obviously safer. These are more portable in cold places; even then it’s probably best not to carry them around for too long.
- Dried instant noodles.
- Things on sticks from busy, clean-looking street stalls. And things not on sticks, too. Knishes, for example.
- Little cheeses – as for eggs. Emphasis on little.
Presentation and Eating
- When our kids were under two, our snack catcher came with us everywhere. It cut down the mess and slowed down the eating. (We have a Munchkin snack catcher, but I think they’re all more or less the same. Look for handles so you can tie them on to the stroller or high chair.)
- A rollable, catch-all bib in a wipeable material is obviously a bonus. We always liked our Tommee Tippee Roll ‘n’ Go bib, because it’s simple to use, the pocket sits out properly, and the soft silicon is easily packable, adjustable, and no trouble at all to wash (no fabric seams!).
- Since the kids turned about two years of age, we’ve started to make do with ordinary plastic containers, which are more versatile. The youngest has just graduated to a waterproof-backed fabric bib (bandana-style seems to work best to catch the drips off the chin), and the eldest, to no bib at all.
- A small metal spoon can be a handy accessory. In a pinch, it will even do duty as a butter knife, and I’m sure a Navy Seal could list a few additional uses. If there’s room, we’ll throw in some child-sized cutlery in a plastic container, but we can make do without.
- Alcohol sanitiser and wipes. Always.
I know there’s a whole world of snack foods I haven’t listed, so if you have experience with feeding children under five on the go (or any of the more heroic forms of “active service”), please tell us what you eat between meals when you’re on holiday. When trying to engage our children, we need all the intelligence we can get.
I’m pinning more suggestions from around the web on my Traveller’s Recipes and Snacks pinterest board.