Bring The Map, Forget The Snacks for Family Road Trip

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Family travel and health

When packing for a family road trip, consider leaving the snacks at home, says a registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Using food to keep your kids occupied encourages them to eat when not hungry, a habit that can contribute to weight problems later in life," said Joan Carter, an instructor of pediatrics at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor. "Don't think of food as entertainment."

Many times parents pack snacks and offer them to youngsters when they complain of boredom, she said. These practices can give the wrong message that snacking is something to do to keep occupied.

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Carter said on trips less than two hours, water is the only thing you need in the car. On longer trips, she recommends stopping every few hours for 10 to 15 minute "snack and play" breaks.

"Find a park or rest stop where there's a place to eat a snack and run around for a few minutes," she said. "Bring a Frisbee or football as a quick activity. Get the kids moving a little bit and let them burn off some energy."

Books, games, maps and other activities can provide children something to help the time pass more quickly during the drive, she said.

On trips where a roadside stop isn't feasible, Carter suggests packing bite-size sandwiches, trail mix, sliced fruit, bottled water and `string cheese' for snacks. She cautions against any kind of food that could choke a child in an accident or quick use of the brakes.

"It might seem harmless to give a child hard candy or peanuts, but it can present a serious problem if the driver has to slam on the brakes," Carter said. "An easy rule is if you wouldn't let a child run with it in his mouth, don't let him or her eat it in the car."

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