Keeping your little one’s bellies full & energy levels on track can be one of the biggest parenting challenges away from home
Amongst the many challenges that new parents face when they are deciding if they are ready to travel far from home with their kids is how to keep their brood feed when they are on the go.
We know a well-timed meal can be the crucial difference between happy and obedient little explorers and all-out warfare, public meltdowns and cries of “we are never leaving the house again”.
From fussy eaters to keeping routines with babies – along with the practicality of HOW exactly do you feed kids when you’re on the move – we’re going to talk you through the various different stages of family eating when you travel.
- Travel during the baby years – how to feed your baby on the go
- Weaning through to the toddler years when you’re travelling
- Dining on long flights with kids
- Dealing with fussy eaters
- Further dining out tips for families
This post is part of our family travel advice series. You can also catch all our baby travel advice and toddler travel advice here.
Whilst discovering new foods was certainly one of the most exciting parts of travelling pre-kids, without a doubt post-kids it has become one of our greatest pain points.
We are sharing with you our experience over a decade of travelling with three children and how we have transitioned through all the different ages and stages.
We know that travelling with kids is a precarious balancing act of EAT.ACTIVITY.SLEEP – so how do you get the balance right? You can prepare for every eventuality but there are some crucial steps you can plan before leaving home to make sure your vacation goes smoothly.
Like all things travel with kids, we have by no means perfected this but hope our travel tips will help you grow in confidence travelling with your kids too.
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Travel during the baby years – how to feed your baby on the go
Welcome new parents! Just when you think you’ve got this baby routine thing nailed, an ominous travel date looms in your calendar. What will happen to this amazing routine you’ve created at home? The anxiety? The jetlag? How on earth will you cope?
We’re going to look here at:
- Breastfeeding and expressing
- Bottle & formula feeding
Breastfeeding on the go
If there’s one time you will give yourself a little pat on the back for its persevering with breastfeeding through to the time you need to fly with your baby for the first time.
You’ve probably heard the advice to feed your baby on taking off and landing to help with ear pressure, but what else do you need to know about breastfeeding away from home?
Some important factors you’ll want to think about:
- Is your baby comfortable being feed in loud, public places or using a breastfeeding cover? If not, you may want to get them used to this before you travel, you can see our recommended travel nursing covers.
- If you are flying through different time zones, you need to think ahead for your milk production and feeding pattern. If you want your baby to sleep through so you can adjust their body clock, it might be necessary to pump out a feed whilst flying ready for them to have later. Or conversely, you may need an expressed feed ready for them so you can save up your next feed for when you land. Either way, pack brestpads!
- Flights can be dehydrating too. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (don’t rely on those tiny cups they pass out on the plane. If possible, bring a large empty water bottle and fill it up after passing security).
- If you do need to pump while you’re travelling for later feeds – what to do with your pumping and washing equipment? We have a comprehensive guide to portable breast pumps here, as well as a guide to the best coolers for breastmilk transportation.
Bottle feeding on the move
Bottle feeding on the go can sometimes cause an additional layer of stress for new parents. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to your cleaning and hygiene supplies that are likely pride of place on your kitchen counter but don’t pack away so well for travel.
When traveling with a bottle fed baby, you need to consider:
- Research in advance whether your tots favourite brand of formula will be available at your destination; it’s best to stick to the same brand when travelling to avoid upset tummies. If not available, consider luggage space and how much you can bring with you.
- Having small portion-sized formula dispenser containers ready to go will help stay organised on days out and transit days.
- Consider where you will get your boiled and chilled water from, or can you rely on bottled water at your destination? (bearing in mind TSA liquid limits if you’re flying – varies by country)
- Will your baby take a bottle at room temperature, or will you need a portable bottle warmer to heat feeds up?
- How will you clean and sterilise your bottles on the move? It’s always a good idea to bring your own small washing soap and scrubbing brush with you.
Weaning through to the toddler years when you’re travelling
A fabulous – but also very trying – time is moving from bottles and pureed foods into proper meal times for your tots. And when we say proper meal times and travelling, we’ll state upfront there’s a lot of flexibility needed!
Being flexible with meals
- By this, we mean you may not have three full sit down meals and two snacks when you’re travelling; it can simply be too stifling to fit a new routine with travel plans. Don’t be tempted to skip a meal but do consider moving your timings or allowing larger snacks – think of total calories and nutrient needs over a space of days, not per day.
- Jetlag alone, plus the air pressure from flying, can do funny things to your little one’s tummy; even if their sleep cycle has caught up to the new time zone, their internal body clock still may be out of whack, meaning they may be exceptionally hungrier than you expect or simply show no interest in meals when they’re offered – go with the flow!
- Stock up on a supply of baby food pouches. Although not a substitute for a full meal chewing solids, they can be a great way to get you through tricky moments on the move. We’ve used these well into the toddler years and beyond as quick-grab meals when sit down dining can be a challenge.
Portable high chairs – are they needed?
For us, the jury is still out on whether we truly got value from travelling with a portable high chair. Having used both hard (and bulky) carry case travel chairs where their food tubs and bottles can fit inside the seat through to discrete cotton wraps that fit over a chair, I’d argue the number of times we truly needed to bring our own high chair for feeding is negligible.
A huge number of restaurants around the world welcoming of families (basically anywhere other than the roughest of pubs of the finest of dining) will have a high chair you can use. Whether it’s safe and clean, however….
If you’ll be using a holiday rental property, it’s worth checking with your hosts in advance if this is equipment they can provide to save you lugging it around with you.
Alternatively, can you get away with feeding your child in their stroller or sitting on an adults lap? Just think about it in terms of all the items you need to pack for a toddler, is this one more item really going to be worth it?
Snacks, Snacks and more snacks.
I know, I know, snacks in our day to day routine need to be pretty well structured or they’ll ruin their mealtimes. But trust me, anyone who’s dealt with a hangry toddler at home, wanna take your chances at 38,000 feet in the air, or on a crowded train without an adequate supply of snacks?
The important thing with snacks, whilst having many of them – is to keep them healthy as possible. Much for your own sanity as much as they’re long term health, too many sugary sweets can cause a sugar spike which we know on a big family outing can lead to an energy rush, closely followed by a pretty ugly crash and burn.
If you’re looking for some ideas for your next trip, check out:
- 30+ healthy Road Trip Snacks for Toddlers and Kids
- 25 Home Made Hiking Snacks for the perfect energy boost
Dining on long flights with kids
If you’ve never flown with a child before or only made small domestic hops without catering, you may be curious how meals work on long haul flights (premium airlines).
- If no meal choice is specified, a trolley service will operate at set times during the flight, normally one an hour or so after take-off and 2 to 3 hours before you land. A basic meal is given to each passenger.
- If you have any sort of special dietry requirements, this must be specified with the airline several days before you fly so a tray will come separately prepared for you before the main meal service
- Kids meals are considered a special meal service. KIDS MEALS DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY COME ON A KIDS TICKET! One of our serious early toddler flying lessons learnt. If you want the cute little boxes and special meals for kids to come out first, you must have ordered one.
- Most airlines do not separately cater for infants on laps. If your lap infant is on solids and you’d like them to try a kids meal, a trick of the trade is to ORDER A KIDS MEAL ON YOUR ADULT TICKET. Yes, that’s allowed! This way, your lap toddler still gets a full meal, then when regular tray service arrives you take a meal from there. (Works best travelling in a group as you need someone to help with all the empty trays! – A difficult manoeuvre to try if travelling solo).
- In all honestly, no matter what meal the airline is serving, bring snacks. Lots of snacks. Did we mentioned travelling with kids you need an arsenal of snacks!!!!
Dealing with fussy eaters
Without a doubt, having a picky eater in the family has been our Achilles heel when it comes to travelling with our three kids. We have children that range from almost anything you want (and many things you don’t) will go in their mouth, through to just about ANYTHING unfamiliar will be refused. I won’t lie, it’s a total pain.
The important thing to remember is not to make it an enormous issue. Frustrating yes. Disappointing at times, for sure. But plan ahead and have some strategies up your sleeve to cope with your pick eater.
Further dining out tips for families
For many families, vacations represent the perfect time to dine out and eat meals as one which may not get to happen often in your day to day routine. Here are a few further tips to help:
- Bring some activities for the table. And we don’t mean electronics!! Whilst we’d all love to enjoy some intelligent conversation at the table, it can be a trying time too while you’re waiting for little bellies to be fed. Some simply colouring or card games in a busy bag normally does the trick to tide everyone over until meals come.
- Check if “doggy bags” or take away containers are allowed when you order. We often find, especially travelling in the US, meal portions are enormous. A takeaway container can help sort you out for the following night’s meal too.
- Got any allergies in the family? Make sure you have your specific allergy needs written in the language of the country you are visiting. It’s helpful if you can carry this on a card with you everywhere you go to show to wait staff or chefs.
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