We’ve been travelling around Australia on our van life adventure for nearly 1.5 years, so I thought it was about time I shared my tips for keeping kids healthy while travelling. When we set off, I was determined that we would continue our healthy way of eating and living, blissfully unaware of just how challenging this would be in remote outback Australia. Travelling with kids is no easy feat and it often means they’re are away from their usual eating habits and sleep routine, which leaves them more vulnerable to getting sick. No matter where you’re travelling to, or for how long, some early preparation, planning and smart packing can help keep you and the kids happy and healthy while you’re away.
As a Nutritionist, I’m all about using food as medicine, so making sure we ate well on this trip was my priority. Although I prefer to feed my family organic whole foods, those preferences have not always been an option on this trip – especially when you’re in the middle of the Australian desert. If you can afford it and it’s available, organic, wild-caught and grass-fed produce will always be a healthier option for your kids, but for this article I won’t specify a preference for anything.
Here are some ideas for keeping kids healthy while travelling:
It can be really hard work keeping kids healthy and feeding them good food while you travel, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether it’s a long-haul flight overseas or a road trip around Australia, preparation is the key to success. If you’re not prepared, then you’ll end up with “hangry” kids and you’re only options will be convenient, fast or processed food. Think ahead, make meal and snack plans, pack some food to take with you, then you won’t ever be caught out. If you’re camping and have a freezer, batch cook some meals and store in these hand vaccum sealer bags. If you don’t have a fridge, you can make this and this using just dry storage ingredients.
Keeping healthy snacks on hand is essential when you have kids, but especially important for surviving long days travelling. Invest in some stainless steel containers, like these, and some silicone reusable pouches like this, so you can make up individual snack packs for the kids. You can also keep a tub in the car filled with healthy snack options, for everyone to help themselves, like (and I’ve kept this list to items you can find at the supermarket):
- Raw nuts & seeds
- Died seaweed snacks, like these or these
- Beef jerky, like this
- Power bars, like these or these
- Dried fruit, like these
- Fresh fruit, like apples & mandarins
- Roasted fava beans or chickpeas beans, like these
- Plain popcorn, like this or homemade
- Crisp breads like these or these
- This pumpkin seed crunch
- Muesli bars, like these
- These potato chips cooked in coconut oil
Do check the ingredients list of any packaged food and avoid: preservatives, additives, vegetable/seed oils, trans fat, soy, flavours and colours where possible.
For lunch-on-the-go, I find these foods travel well in a cooler bag with an ice pack:
- Rice cakes, like these or these
- Avocado, spread on rice cakes or eaten straight out of the skin
- Boiled eggs, eaten as is or as a sandwich topping
- Cheese, like this
- Tinned salmon like this, eaten as is or as a sandwich topping
- Fresh veggies like: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, celery and carrots for munching on or dipping in hummus or nut butter
- Instant miso soup (just add boiling water)
- Natural yoghurt pouches, like this or this
- Hummus, I make mine using this recipe
- Nut butter, for spreading on crackers or dripping fruit and veg in
- Olives like these
- Fresh fruit like: blueberries and bananas
Start The Day Right
There’s nothing worse than hearing “I’m hungry” 5-minutes in to a long day of travel. Commercial breakfast cereal or toast, will spike kids blood sugar levels and leave them feeling unsatisfied and hungry not long after. Making sure kids start the day with a wholesome, nourishing and filling breakfast that includes: protein, slow-release carbohydrates, fat, fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals, will fill their tummies and sustain their energy throughout the morning. So, if they’re having toast, make it wholegrain or sourdough bread and add an egg, baked beans, nut butter or hummus. If they’re having cereal, choose one that’s low in sugar and contains some whole grains like rolled oats or puffed brown rice, then add some nuts & seeds and top with full-fat natural yoghurt. Smoothies are great if you’re kids aren’t hungry first thing or you’re in a hurry to get going, just make sure to include some protein (nut butter, seeds, protein powder, collagen powder) and healthy fats (avocado, coconut oil), and why not throw some veggies in there too (a little spinach, beetroot or zucchini usually goes unnoticed). My favourite quick travel breakfast is my Bircher Muesli – make up a few batches in containers, then all you need to do is add water, grated apple and yoghurt in the morning.
No one wants their kids to get sick when they travel, especially when it’s a much-anticipated family holiday. Changes in their environment, water, food and sleep and the constant exposure to new bacteria and potential pathogens, puts strain on kids immune systems. Making sure their guts stay happy and healthy – over 80% of their immune system is housed here – is key to maintaining their body’s natural defenses.
Eating fermented or “cultured” food is a great way to keep their guts happy and encourage beneficial probiotic bacteria to flourish there. These foods include: sourdough bread, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha and apple cider vinegar.
Our gut bacteria also love to feed on prebiotics foods (fibre-rich foods that by-pass digestion). Apart from providing fuel, this process helps acidify the colon making it harder for harmful bacteria to survive. The best prebiotic foods are: garlic, onions, leeks, barley, artichoke, green banana, oats and properly prepared (soaked) beans and legumes.
We want to keep kids bowels moving daily too, to maintain a healthy microbial balance in their gut and support toxin removal, but this can be tricky when we’re in a new place and always on the go. Eating plenty of fibre-rich foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains and avoiding sugar and processed foods will help things moving along nicely. Practicing mindful eating by sitting at the table, undistracted, while they eat and chewing their food properly, will also aid digestion. Allowing time for them to do a poo each day is really important (you just can’t rush these things) and take some natural laxatives with you if your kids are prone to constipation, like: prunes or dried figs, psyllium husk and chia seeds. Daily exercise and adequate hydration will help to keep kids regular too.
I also recommend taking a probiotic – especially if you’re travelling to a foreign country – and preferably one that contains Saccharomyces cerevisiae (boulardii) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG), both of which help to support healthy gut and immune function.
Avoid The ‘Kids Menu’
If there’s one thing I hate about eating out with kids when we’re away, it’s the Kids Menu. All Kids Menu’s are the same: chicken nuggets & chips, fish & chips, burger & chips or pizza, washed down with a soft drink and ice cream. When did it become normal and acceptable to only offer kids crap to eat? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fish & chips and ice cream, but these should not be the ONLY foods we offer kids at meal times because they contain absolutely no nutrients and are detrimental to their health. Kid’s should be offered the same real food as the rest of us. Restaurants can usually make entree-sized versions of their main meals, so it never hurts to ask. Choose something grilled, roasted or steamed over anything fried, get some veggies in there too, and maybe a serving of chips (to share).
My essential oils are my natural medicine kit that I’ll divine to for everything from: immune support to cuts and grazes, bites and stings, mozzie repellent, and sleep and digestive aids. Only use 100% pure essential oils that have been wild-harvested or are certified organic – I use doTERRA – and always dilute them safely with a carrier oil for children. You can find my range of pre-dilluted essential oil rollers for kids here, which includes SUPER IMMUNE for immune system support, SWEET DREAMS for a deeper more restful sleep and KEEP CALM tto tame unsettled behaviour (a good one to keep handy on long travel days).
Sleep can be so disrupted when we travel, thanks to difference time zones or just the excitement of being away and staying up late. Important restorative and healing biological process take place when we sleep, and ensuring kids get enough goes a long way to keeping them healthy when they travel. How much sleep we get and how well we sleep is affected by light – exposure to light (and dark) is what drives the circadian rhythm, which in turn regulates our sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to natural sunlight first thing in the morning is one way to help deal with jet lag that can improve kids energy during the day and help them sleep better at night.
Keeping kids active is an important way to maintain overall health and boost their immune systems. Taking regular activity breaks also keeps you sane on those long travel days when kids are stuck in the car or on a plane, perhaps hunched over an iPad too. Exercise strengthens the heart, improves circulation and raises the oxygen levels in the body. It can also help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise will help kids sleep better, as well as lower stress hormones and better equip them to handle physical and emotional challenges too. There are so many ways kids can be physically active while you travel, and nearly all of it involves play: at the playground, kicking a ball, in the pool, riding a bike or scooter, playing tag, even a few stretches at a roadside stop and kicking a ball can help. Holidays are a great time to be active as a family too with things like: bush walks, surfing, cycling or just playing frizbee on the beach.
When we travel, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water – air travel can be especially dehydrating. Water helps to carry oxygen and antibodies (part of our immune system) around your body, keeps our bowels moving and aids the removal of toxins. Even mild dehydration can leave kids feeling tired, irritable and with a headache, so make sure everyone has a stainless steel water bottle with them that you can refill with filtered water. The amount of water our kids need depends on how active they are, the weather, and their diet and overall health. It’s always important to remind our kids to drink water, and as a general guide, per day: a 5-8yo needs 5 cups (1.25L), a 9-12yo needs 7 cups (1.75L) and a 12yo+ needs 8-10 cups (2-2.5L).
These are a few powders you can take with you to boost the nutritional profile of almost any meal. They’re a simple and effective way to support kids overall health and wellbeing when travelling, and a great way to sneak some extra nutrients in to our fussy eaters too.
Greens Powders: Look, ordinarily I’m not one to recommend these and believe we should be getting our nutrients from real whole foods, but there is definitely a place for a greens powder when travelling and fresh food isn’t as in abundance in our kids diets as we’d like. Greens powders are generally made from dried leafy greens and other vegetables, seaweed, grasses, high-antioxidant fruits and herbs. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are often added as well. They can be added to smoothies or smoothie bowls or just taken with water if your kids are compliant. I like this and this.
Superfood Savoury Sprinkle: Here’s something that you can add to just about everything, from: pastas, salads, soups and eggs to simple steamed vegetables, my Superfood Savoury Sprinkle. It’s packed with protein, healthy fats, B vitamins and minerals. Make up a batch of this before you go and you’ve got an easy and delicious way to boost the flavour and nutrients of your kid’s meals when you travel.
Bone Broth: Bone broth is wonderfully nourishing, grounding, gut healing and rich in amino acids, essential vitamins and minerals, all in easy to digest forms. Take some bone broth concentrate or powder with you and enjoy it as a hot drink or add it to your savoury meals to boost the flavour and nutrients. I like this, this and this.
Ditch Hand Sanitisers
Ditch those big brand commercial hand sanitisers. They might seem like a quick, on-the-go way to banish germs, but that stuff really does more harm than good. It lowers kids resistance to diseases by killing good bacteria and antibacterial agents that disrupts kids hormone function and contribute to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”. Then there’s the alcohol, unknown chemicals and fragrances they contain too, not something we want on our little kids. We’ve been fooled in to thinking that we’re reducing the risk of our kids getting sick by using hand sanitisers on them but studies have shown that ultra-clean environments – particularly early in life – can lead to weakened immune systems later on. Hand washing is the easiest and most effective way to stop the spread of germs. So make sure kids wash their hands regularly when you travel, especially after they’ve been playing outside or at the playground and always before they eat. Having said all that, I do carry a natural hand sanitiser for those times when we can’t wash our hands, and you’ll find a good range of them here.
Keeping kids entertained when you’re travelling can be challenging, especially when they’re stuck in a seat all day. I’m a big believer in minimising kids screen time and I set myself a bit of a personal challenge when we began our road trip, to find ways to keep Otis entertained without the use of a device. There’s a time and place for screens when travelling, and I have no problem with them when used in moderation, I just didn’t want it to be a default form of entertainment every time we got in the car. After 1.5 years in the road, I’m pleased to say there a no devices. Here are some of the things we’ve used to keep our 2-3yo boy busy in the backseat, that have also helped develop his fine motor skills and imagination while we travel.
This kids entertainment tray is one of the best things we’ve bought!
- These water paint books
- Vinyl sticker books
- Colouring books
- Reusable stickers, like these
- Play dough, I use this recipe to make our own
- Magnet sets, like this
- Puzzles in a box, like these
- Sliding block puzzles, like this
- These ABC Reading Eggs books
- Seek & find, create your own story books, like this
- Music and stories from Apps., like this, this and this
- This alphabet activity pad will be perfect when he’s a little bit older