Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food and snacks for traveling kids

Airplane food is a joke, or so most people seem to think. Unless you're in Business Class or better, the meal you are served is probably not going to impress you very much.

Kids' meals
Food for kids on board is much like the food for adults: never very exciting, and you're happy if it tastes OK and your kids actually eat some of it.

Ordering the kids' meal ahead of time for your children is something I highly recommend if that option is available on your flight. Kids' meals are usually served before the rest of the meals and that makes it easier to supervise and help small children. Usually the dishes are more geared for kids as well of course, with extra treats on the side like yogurts, fruit gummies, crackers and more.

Eating on board can be a challenge for everyone, including dinosaurs.

Free food vs pay-as-you eat
These days, air travelers are paying for snacks and food a lot more often. The airlines I usually travel with, KLM and Lufthansa, still don't charge for their food, at least not on the longer flights I've been on, but Iceland Air, Alaska Airlines and an increasing number of other companies do.

Most airlines that charge for food will have special snack packages or meals available for kids. However, you might just want to bring something along for them to eat rather than pay for it on board. Prices are usually much higher on board than at the airport, and higher at the airport than at your regular supermarket, so planning ahead can save you some money.

Don't expect your kids to necessarily eat very much of the food they are offered on board. They're excited, worried maybe, and could be feeling a little funny or even queasy from being up in the air.

Keep packaged snacks in your (or their) hand luggage to have on hand when, and if, they get hungry. Stash uneaten, packaged snacks from their meal trays in your carry-on to keep for later. And if buns are offered as part of the regular meal (they usually are on the longer flights in my experience), grab some for your kids. I've found that my children will gnaw on a piece of bread even if they are not interested in eating anything else on board.

Both my kids can be picky eaters. When we flew last time my daughter had a real problem finding something she liked in the kids' meal she was given, and I had to rely a lot on the snacks I had brought from home. It is definitely a good idea to have some no-fail snacks you know your kids like in your carry-on.

Some tips:
  • Avoid chocolate covered snacks, because chocolate covered hands are not a good thing on board an airplane. 
  • Avoid anything runny or liquid, because it will probably just get taken away from you at the security checkpoints at the airport. 
  • Fruits can be great, but some countries won't allow you to bring fresh fruit in (this is the rule when your arriving in the United States from other countries for example), so it might be a good idea to make sure that the fruit gets eaten before you land.
Ideas for good on-board snacks:
  • Granola bars
  • Jerky
  • Raisins
  • Fruit roll ups
  • Mini crackers
  • Dry cereal like Cheerios
  • Pocky sticks
  • Pretzels
Just make sure it's something reasonably non-messy that you know your child likes. Let them carry it in their own hand luggage if they're big enough, maybe packed inside a lunch box or similar.

Luckily, this did not happen on board an airplane.
And for cleanups, bring a nice big tub of wet wipes, because you might really, really need them, not just to clean the germs of before the children eat, but to clean them off after. If your child is small, it is a good idea to bring a bib along too, especially if you know your child is a messy eater.

Pet peeve
One of my pet peeves about the airplane meals for children is those juice cups with the foil tops that you pull off. I wish all airlines would just get rid of those. They are near impossible to open, let alone drink from, without spilling: for adults as well as kids. Juice boxes with straws are way easier to handle on board an airplane.

Babies on board
The most food I ever carried with me on board an airplane was when my son was too old to eat formula or breast-milk, but not old enough to eat "regular" food. I had several jars of baby food, a plastic tub of baby cereal powder, plus dry formula just in case. Basically he ended up eating none of it except some of the formula and drinking some juice and water along the way. There was just too much going on for him to be able to focus on eating.

The flight attendants are often willing to help you out with baby food. They are sometimes able to warm it for you, or they can provide cold or hot water for you to mix the cereal or formula. Sometimes they can be quite busy on board the bigger airplanes and on the longer flights though, so some patience can be required.

At the airport
If you have the time at the airport while waiting for a connecting flight, this can be a great opportunity to get your kids to eat something. Find a fast food place they like, a pasta restaurant, or just pick up a packaged sandwich or some fresh fruit and sit down wherever you find a spot.

In my opinion, food just tastes better on the ground, and apparently there's scientific proof to back me up as well: Scientists reveal why airplane food tastes so bland.

Finally: don't fret too much (I still do sometimes)
Trying to get my kids to eat enough, and eat "proper food" is one of those things that manages to push my buttons a lot.

When we fly, I do try to be more relaxed about the food they eat or not eat. I remind myself that even if it's a long flight, it really is not that big of a deal if the children eat just a little bit, or if they eat nothing at all but sugary or salty snack foods on board. As long as they're not sick and not complaining about being hungry, it's not so bad, and they will be alright when we reach our destination.

And really, it's not worth getting worked up over food choices when you're traveling, because there are too many other things to keep you stressed as it is!

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