Eating in the car is something we're all now very used to because of the pandemic. Using your car as a "third space" for dining has even been touted as a trend for 2021. But parents of young kids have always known the importance of good snacks on a long car journey or even a short one. Not only does a well-planned car picnic stave off hunger, but it can also be a good way to keep those busy hands and minds entertained for a few minutes. Not to mention the fact that you can save time, money and a bit of sugar-and-fat-laden guilt by packing snacks instead of stopping at the drive-through. If you are looking for new ideas to make your car picnic even more enticing, we've got you covered.
1. Ranch snack mix
My Fearless Kitchen has it figured out: seven simple ingredients (most of which you probably have in your cupboard), one microwave and three minutes of your busy day. You can pack the yummy results in individual snack bags so no one fights over their favorite bits. This is one snack that will provide sustained moments of happy crunching.
2. Mini taco hand pies
If you’re looking for more of a meal than a snack, but still in a bite-size package, try Lemons for Lulu’s mini taco hand pies. They are crispy and flaky, thanks to the prepared refrigerated pie dough, and you can adjust the seasonings depending on your tastes. If you’re feeling extra adventurous (or have older kids who are better at eating on the go), pack single-serving guacamole for dipping along the way.
3. Mini banana chocolate chip muffins
Easy to make and easy to eat, these adorable mini banana muffins from Six Sisters Stuff only require one bowl and 10 minutes to whip together. Make a batch ahead of time and pop them in the freezer. Then, when you’re ready to jump in the car, grab a few and let them defrost as you head out on the road. In addition to chocolate chips, toss in a handful of coconut shreds, toasted nuts or butterscotch chips.
4. Pizza pasta salad
Do you love pasta? Do you love pizza? Do you love to sneak a few veggies into your kids’ meals? Try Caramel Potatoes' pizza pasta salad recipe. It has all the great flavors your kids love in pizza, is easy to transport and can be packaged in individual containers — we like small Mason jars. Don’t forget to pack a few forks to avoid messy fingers.
5. Bean snacks
Packed with protein, fiber and flavor, these low-calorie roasted broad bean (a.k.a. fava bean) bites will help see you through to the end of the road. Bada Bean, Bada Boom snacks come in seven flavors, ranging from sweet cinnamon to spicy wasabi, and are a great vegan alternative to meat-based dried car snacks (we’re looking at you, jerky). With a satisfying crunch and enough protein to make you feel full for hours, these snacks just have a touch of sunflower oil, seasoning, beans and no funny stuff.
6. Nut butter packs
Packed with protein and fiber, you can eat nut butter plain, squeezed straight from the package, or bring along a container of sliced apples or your favorite crackers to schmear. If you’re not a fan of PB, Justin’s offers flavored and plain almond butters, too!
7. Flavored popcorn
Super-crunchy and fun to eat, this guilt-free snack from SkinnyPop Popcorn is low in calories and packed with fiber. Best yet? Buy the single-serving bags and each kid and grown-up can choose their favorite flavor to bring along, whether they like it plain, cheesy or sweet.
8. Infused water
Does all of this snacking leave you a little parched? Pick up a variety pack of Hint Kids Water. This infused water has zero sugar, sweeteners, preservatives or artificial flavors. But it does have one convenient straw to keep the water from spilling all over your seats.
9. On-the-go snack packs
Let the kids do some of the legwork and help them pack their own snack packs for the trip. Get some inspiration from Gluesticks Blog and use lunch box sandwich containers or other plastic container. We love the idea of letting the kiddos pack what they like, as long as there is “at least one fruit, vegetable or cheese in each pack.”
10. Better bark
Okay, we might have snuck this one is mostly for the parents. But during the final stretch of the trip, everyone will enjoy this slightly indulgent snack from BarkThins. And, don’t feel too guilty: There are plenty of healthy fats (from cocoa butter and almonds), non-GMO ingredients and eight flavors to please everyone in the car.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2020, and updated in January 2021.