Keeping Kids Healthy & Happy On Road Trips
Schools are out for summer (or nearly there) and that means lots of families are hitting the roads. Our family will be exploring the Pacific Northwest between Portland and Vancouver, Canada this summer. Sitting in the car for several hours at a stretch isn’t any healthier than sitting all day at the desk you’re taking a break from. And being cooped up together for hours can actually undermine the togetherness you want your travels to foster.
Here are five tips for staying healthy—mentally and physically—on long road trips with kids. What tips would you add?
Keep Your Family Fit & Happy On Road Trips
Know your family’s limits
We’ve learned through trial and error that road we can drive for about three hours before we have to get out of the car, and a break every two hours is really better for fending off road fatigue. The longer the total drive is the more stops we make to switch drivers, stretch our legs, eat a real meal or run around.
Overall, six or seven hours is the longest our family can stay in the car in one day. More than that becomes an endurance test for all of us, so we’ve learned to find an overnight stop to break up longer drives.
When we are driving to a series of destinations, as we will be this summer, we plan an itinerary that gives us at least two nights at most of our stops to give us a chance to settle in a bit. One night here and another there is unsettling for kids, especially small ones. And it increases the chances of forgetting a favorite hoodie, stuffed animal or iPod behind, which is way too stressful.
Get out of the car
When you decide it’s time for a break, don’t just pull over onto the highway rest area. They usually don’t have a lot of green space where restless kids can run around and you can stretch a bit. Use Google Maps, websites like Kaboom and apps like Oh Ranger! Park Finder and Playground Buddy to find state and local parks near the highway. Kids can burn off some energy at a playground. Or you can all get some exercise if you pack a soccer ball, lacrosse sticks, Crayola Grab ‘N’ Go chalk games, or portable, quick-set-up games like this a mini tennis and volleyball net or a tetherball set. These games pack up surprisingly small and are worth the space they take if they help the kids settle in peacefully for more driving.
Eat healthy snacks
We all snack in the car as much to fend off boredom as to stave off hunger. At the very least we can make road-trip snacks healthy. If your family prefers sweet snacks, dried or freeze dried fruits won’t melt in the sun or go stale.
If your family likes salty, crunchy road-trip foods stock up on some of the great alternative chips on the market today made with ingredients like seaweed, kale, peas or quinoa.
I recently discovered HipPeas, a gluten-free, vegan puff made from chickpeas, a legume kids usually like. It comes in zesty flavors “far out fajita,” and “pepper power” and very mild vegan cheddar. A group a tweens I had over recently devoured the “Bohemian Barbecue” and two who like spicy food liked sunshine Sriracha the best. None of them leave orange cheese powder all over your hands. On our next road trip I’ll try making my own snack mix by mixing the HipPeas with other family favorites like pretzel chips, pea crips, nuts or dried fruit. They’re widely available but if you want to try them and can’t find them in your local supermarket, you can buy them from Amazon like I do.
On a trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion Park, I made sure our family stayed hydrated during all our long days hiking in the hot dusty parks. The day I wound up dehydrated and not feeling well was our least active day. Why? I forgot to drink water while sitting for several hours in a sun-drenched, air-conditioned car.
Blasting the heat in winter and AC in summer keeps the air in a car pretty dry. So give everyone in the family water bottles and remind them to drink something at least every hour or so.
Turn off the screens
It’s very easy to say, “engine on, screens out,” and not hear a peep from the back seat for the duration of the ride. But watching videos or playing computer games for hours on end isn’t any healthier for kids in the car than it is at home.
It’s not as hard as you might think to break up screen time with other activities. Some families rely on podcasts, books on CD or Audible, so even if the kids are using electronics they’re not staring endlessly at a screen.
We like to play play car games (Here are 5 favorites) because they pass the tine for all of us. We also play converation starter games like This or That or Beat the Parents. Smart Games’ IQ line and path-making games are good for keeping kids (and adults) occupied on their own. Some kids like following the journey on an old-fashioned map. And it’s becoming more apparent that letting kids stare out the window, bored can be a really healthy thing.
We like the start out with the non-screen stuff and reserve the screens for that last stretch of the ride when everyone is going a little stir crazy. It’s easier to not give them than to take them away.
This post is brought to you by HipPeas. Follow them on Instagram for their latest news and munching ideas.
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