Recipes for Fun (and Sanity) on the Road

My whole life has been sprinkled with long car rides to and from the coast. From Ohio, that’s a long way, no matter what beach you’re going to. As a kid, all I needed was a sack of books, magazines, coloring supplies, card games and I was set for hours of family fun­–as I remember it. Or hours of whining, “are we there yet?” and “she’s touching me!” as my mother remembers it.

Well, folks, the tables have turned on all of us and now we’re the ones calming the claustrophobic car chaos. Our number one trick? Smart snacks that pack easy and keep everyone happy.

String them Along

Twelve-hour trips and long days of adventure often call for 4-am starts and we all know 4 am looks good on no one. My answer is long lengths of butcher’s twine and bags full of hole-y cereal. Each kid gets a set they can string a little and munch a little. It’s a breakfast! It’s an activity! It’s your key to sanity for the first half hour!

Pro tip: Some of these WILL get ground into your car mats. Surrender the cleanliness of your ride early on, if you haven’t already. “Fun” often translates into a four-alarm shop-vac situation, but it will be worth it.

Oh, Fudge, We’ve Got Hours to Go

Typically I am on the road with as many kiddos as my car has seatbelts. Asking any one of them to sit still, without a screen in their face, is the ultimate challenge. So, at the first sign of restlessness I pull out the armpit fudge. That’s right, “armpit” fudge.

Before we leave home, I fill a small cooler with bags of butter, cream cheese, vanilla, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder – one bag with a little of each ingredient for every kid. (Pro tip: do not cheap out on these bags! If they bust, it’s not pretty.)

Kids getting restless? I squeeze the air of out of the bags and pass them back. They mush and mush until the contents are uniformly combined into fudge. Then I pass back spoons and let them at it. Sounds disgusting, but tastes great! And another ½ hour killed! See? Chocolate does fix everything.

Lunch on the Road

Save yourself from tacking on an extra 30 minutes of travel time by waiting in a fast food line. Stop to stretch, for sure, but divvy up a packed lunch instead, and then hit the road again. Keep it simple – sandwiches, chips, fruit, and bottled water get the job done beautifully. Bust out some yummy trail mix if the kids have been on extra good behavior.

If you’re traveling in a caravan, as my extended family often is, turn lunch into a touch point and a bit of a potluck party too. Assign sandwich-, side-, and drink-duties to each car and stop together to divide the elements. This tactic not only saves money and calories from fried food, but it gives something for us all to look forward to. Pro tip: Your kids sick of the same passengers? Take this opportunity to switch up your car loads and see some fresh faces.

Treats to Keep on Truckin’

It’s the last two hours of any trip that seem interminable. Naps are over, snacks are low, patience is thin… Are. We. THERE YET??

This is when you turn everything in the car into a game. Keep a secret stash of snacks at your feet and reveal it when you need it the most: Let every member of your family (excluding the driver, of course) take turns seeing how many pieces of popcorn he or she can catch in his or her mouth in 30 seconds. Or, require them to move an Oreo from their foreheads to their mouths without using their hands. Or, dare them to fill their mouths with grapes and sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Pro tip: approach the entire three or four months of summer as one long road trip. Zipping from swim practice to soccer practice, playdates to day camp, and back and forth to the grocery too, we pretty much live out of my car.

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