This Dietitian’s Tips for How to Fuel your Little One’s for Vacation Success

Traveling is work! Vacation with little ones is work! Children thrive under routines and familiarity and vacations strip them away.


A trip shakes up their world. They have a new bed, different room for sleeping, unfamiliar food, extra sweets and eating out, altered schedule, more activities, increased time spent with the same or new people. No surprise that they sometimes react to this “fun vacation” with not-so-fun behavior. Let’s look at what happens when they are eating differently.

Abundance of Sugar and Simple Carbs

You are on vacation. This may mean more ice cream, candy, chips, sweets, fast food or restaurant food and eating off schedule. Nutritionally, this equates to less fiber, less protein, more sugar, more simple carbohydrates, more fatty foods, and likely less fluid intake.

 For their little bodies (or your own) this manifests as:

  • constipation (less fiber, less water intake, sweating more, less fruits and vegetables)

  • inconsistent blood sugar levels (moody or hangry)

 When someone eats foods high in sugar and simple, low-fiber carbohydrates and doesn’t pair that food with protein and fiber, blood glucose levels will rise rapidly and fall quickly. You feel depleted after about an hour and need to eat again to raise the blood glucose level (read this past article on this topic!). Eating like this for several meals and days in a row causes your child to have less control of their emotions. That sweet treat has just turned sour!

While those foods are fun things to eat on vacation, I have found families have more fun (and save money) when they balance some of their meals. Choosing to make half of the meals and snacks something that fuels the body will reduce the negative effects of vacation eating. Here are some nutrition tips to help your family have a more enjoyable vacation.

7 Meal Tips for Minimizing Vacation Meltdowns:

  1. Start by loosely planning your vacation. How long will it take to travel there? Are you flying or driving? Think about the accommodations when you arrive. Is there a mini-kitchen or breakfast provided by the hotel? Will you stop at a store for groceries when you arrive? Discuss the main things you want to do or accomplish on the vacation.

  2. Pack a cooler for snacks and meals on the road. Choose a protein source and pair with fruit, vegetables or a grain option.

    • Make about 15 to 20 energy bites to bring. These have protein, fiber and fat.  They can provide a fueling snack or the main entrée for a meal.

    • Bring fruit. Apples, cuties and bananas travel well.

    • Pack cheese and whole grain crackers.

  3. Choose a place with a kitchen or fridge and microwave. This allows you to make simple meals and snacks vs. eating out for every meal.

    • We make breakfast at our place as we like slow mornings on vacation. Having familiar foods and simple meals on hand will start your family’s day fueled well.

    • Ideas: oatmeal, fruit and eggs; cereal, milk and fruit; energy bites and fruit

    • Kids tend to eat more at the start of the day and then eat progressively less. Optimize their meals by providing their normal meals at breakfast.

  4. Plan to eat out for your first dinner meal and take the leftovers home for lunch the next day. If you packed breakfast items, now you are set for the first two meals and can focus on the fun activities (beach, pools, etc).

  5. Plan the dessert or sweets to coincide with a meal or protein rich snack. Pairing protein and fiber with ice cream will help your child have more stable blood glucose levels and more stable emotions. Those desserts and sweets are simple carbs which cause quick spikes and falls in blood glucose. Protein and fiber cause slower fluctuations of glucose and emotions.

    • Have meat or cheese and veggies for dinner, ice cream and/or cookies for dessert.

    • Eat peanut butter and apples with your iced and sprinkle covered donuts.

    • Pair Bamba puffs or Hippeas chickpea puffs with candy

  6. Let them eat the chicken nuggets. Kids are on vacation too. Better yet, save money and pack or buy their favorite frozen chicken strips or nuggets. These are familiar and safe for most kids. Added bonus of a good protein source. Pair with fruit and edamame for an easy stay-in meal.

  7. Remember they will need down time, rest time or naps. We schedule 1-3 hours of rest time back at our place to help everyone regulate their emotions, play quietly or sleep. This also allows for a meal or snack in a calmer setting back at your place.


Eating differently on vacation can have unintended negative consequences for children and their parents. You can make some simple changes to fuel their bodies well, help them regulate emotions and have more fun on your next trip. Take a couple of these tips and see how balanced eating can lead to less meltdowns.

If you are stuck and needing help to feed your family, let me help you learn to plan meals and snacks that fuel your child. Families I work with are learning how to pair foods to optimize their child’s body, mind and emotions. You can sign up for a self-paced online course taught by me or contact me about one-on-one visits.

You can enjoy vacations and traveling with kids and not let food meltdowns take the fun out it!

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