Simple Ways to Stay Healthy (And Happy!) During Family Holiday Travel
By: Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD, is the Registered Dietitian, mom, food blogger, and recipe developer behind milkandhoneynutrition.com. She’s also a type 1 diabetic and firmly believes food should bring us joy, not stress. Mary Ellen makes healthy eating easy, realistic, and most importantly … fun! Visit her website or follow her on Instagram @milknhoneynutrition and you’ll find yummy low-sugar, diabetes-friendly recipes the whole family will love … as well as helpful tips, and a little mom humor.
If you’re like most Americans, you’ll be hitting the road sometime between now and the end of the holiday season. Did you know that more than 100 million people travel during the holidays? That’s a lot of people—and a lot of germs.
Not to mention that whether you’re driving or flying (or even taking a train), in addition to keeping everyone from getting sick, you also have to think about keeping your kids entertained and (somewhat) happy.
That’s a lot to manage. Use these tips to avoid the potential holiday travel nightmare and ensure everyone stays (mostly) happy and healthy.
#1: Wash Your Hands
Remember those 100 million people also traveling over the holidays? Well each and every one of them comes with their own set of germs, many of which your immune system and your family’s have never been exposed to.
Jaymar Saniatan, RD with Nutrition Phitness says, “Traveling during the holidays is like going into a war zone filled with germs. Hand washing becomes your secret weapon. Wash your hands when you enter and exit a new place. Clean hands equals clean health.”
The best way to combat this is keeping a hand-washing routine. The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, and that’s after giving them a good scrub with soap.
Read the official recommendations from the CDC to educate yourself and your child. For example, the official recommendations suggest that if you don’t have soap and water available, “use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands.”
#2: Take Probiotics
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big supplement person. Nor do I recommend them very often, unless someone has a documented deficiency. But there’s one exception to this: probiotics. I almost always encourage adults and kids to take a probiotic regularly (ie, daily).
The bacteria in our gut are so crucial to maintaining overall health and the strength of our immune systems: “Microbes in the lower intestinal tract help us digest food, fight harmful bacteria, and regulate the immune system,” suggests Harvard Health. These bacteria/microbes in the GI tract can become out of balance when we are on vacation for a number of reasons: new foods, new germs, and new routines. Taking a daily probiotic can help keep these bacteria in balance.
Traveling brings an array of new foods and new bacteria that can throw our gut equilibrium out of whack. When traveling, I double up on my own dosage and the dosage for my kids, and typically advise others to do the same.
While you can offer your child additional yogurt or fermented veggies to get an extra dose of probiotics, this is difficult to do on vacation if you don’t have ready access to these foods.
As such, there are many powder and chewable tablet probiotics on the market that are safe for children to consume. As always, first and foremost, check with your physician and pediatrician to make sure that this dosage change is okay.
#3: Drink A Lot of Water
Water is always crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system, and even more so when traveling suggests Lindsey McCoy, RD, CSSD of @cravenutritionrd. She says:
“Between cold weather outside, dry cabin air in planes, and changes to typical daily routines, it's really easy to get dehydrated over the holiday season. At the very least be sure to have a glass of water with every meal and snack. Try having a water bottle handy to sip on throughout the day too. It can be helpful to schedule regular breaks in the day for everyone to take a pause, use the bathroom, and then rehydrate right away.”
Don’t forget to focus on providing your child with healthy drinks in general. If your child tends to crave sugary drinks, get some ideas for healthy beverage options in our blog post, Best Healthy Drinks to Help Kids Grow.
#4: Protein-Packed Snacks
Any parent will tell you that kids like snacks. We all know this. Put them in a car or plane seat for an extended period of time, and that love for snacks is multiplied infinitely! This is usually the result of boredom and not being free to move around like they are in school or at home.
Pack snacks with protein and fat in them to help encourage fullness. Protein and fat take longer for our bodies to digest than carbohydrate, so they stay in our stomachs longer, meaning we feel full longer. Some of my favorite protein packed snacks include homemade trail mix and my avocado banana cookies.
To make those tasty cookies even healthier, add one 1/2 cup of Healthy Height protein shake mix for 1/2 of the flour in this recipe, to give it a little nutrition boost and keep your kids fuller longer.
Get a few more fun ideas here:
#5: Shelf Stable Snacks
Having snacks that won’t spoil is crucial to preventing food poisoning and keeping kids fed and happy. Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of Better Than Dieting recommends:
“Bring snacks that don't have to be refrigerated so that you can grab something to carry you through until you get to the next meal (especially facing delayed flights, traffic, and so on.) My go-to grab is almond butter on whole grain bread and a snack bag filled with unsalted nuts and dried fruit. If allergies are a concern, then sunflower butter is a perfect swap.”
If you are bringing refrigerated snacks on a road trip, use a cooler. Ice packs and coolers are allowed through TSA check points at airports, it just needs to fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment. No one needs food poisoning over the holidays and keeping foods at proper temperatures is crucial to preventing food poisoning.
If you’re questioning the temperature of a food or how it was prepared in fear of food poisoning, don’t doubt your instinct. Always play it safe when it comes to food safety
Finally, don’t forget that holiday travel is about more than just the trip there. You also need to consider what your family will be doing and eating while at your destination and on the trip home. Ashley Smith, MPH, RD, LD., of Veggies and Virtue, has some great ideas for while you’re at your destination:
“Pack familiar foods for your family. While good road trip snacks are important, make sure you also pack enough for when you get to your destination as well; or if it makes more sense, consider ordering groceries via a phone app while en route so you can pick them up when you arrive to your destination. This helps lessen the load on your host to know what your family eats (or that you want your family to eat, if different than them) while also giving you a chance to promote more of the foods you want offered over the holiday travel.”
Family Holiday Travel Made Healthy
Whether you’re hitting the road, taking to the skies, or staying at home, keep these tips in mind to keep your family healthy and happy.
Author: Mary Ellen Phipps, MPH, RDN, LD, is the Registered Dietitian, mom, food blogger, and recipe developer behind milkandhoneynutrition.com. She’s also a type 1 diabetic and firmly believes food should bring us joy, not stress. Mary Ellen makes healthy eating easy, realistic, and most importantly … fun! Visit her website and you’ll find yummy low-sugar, diabetes-friendly recipes the whole family will love … as well as helpful tips, and a little mom humor.