Flying with kids can be challenging, but flying with hungry kids is downright daunting! Many airlines have quite limited on-board food these days, and much of it is expensive and perhaps not what a picky kid wants to eat. This means that if you want to avoid the overpriced airline snack boxes and soggy sandwiches, you really need to pack your own meals and snacks when traveling with kids.
What snacks please the kids and also travel well? After hundreds of in-flight hours with my kids at various ages and stages, I’ve had a lot of practice figuring out which snacks work and which don’t. If you need inspiration for packing snacks for your next flight, look no further!
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Tips for Snacking & Eating on Airplanes with Kids
Before diving into all the specific snack suggestions, let’s talk about the challenges you might face with kids and snacks on a plane. There are more logistics than you might realize if you don’t travel often.
1. Consider TSA Liquid Rules
When traveling with snacks in your carry on bag, you’ll have to successfully get them through the airport security checkpoints. A lot of parents don’t think about the fact that some foods like applesauce and yogurt technically are treated as “liquids and gels” for purposes of the TSA rules. That means they need to be in containers that are less than 3.4 ounces. Select carefully!
If you are bringing drinks through security, the liquid rules of course apply there as well. Our family brings empty water bottles and fills them up at a water fountain on the other side. But if you need milk and juice for a younger child, that requires a little more preparation and most likely some extra security checks (Related: Tips for air travel with toddlers and milk.)
2. Pack Snacks to Minimize Spills & Messes
Messes are inevitable on airplanes with kids. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to minimize them for the sake of the flight attendants and airline employees who have to clean up the cabins.
With younger kids, a snack catcher style cup is an essential for serving bite sized snacks like Cheerios and goldfish so the entire snack doesn’t end up on the airplane floor.
You can also pack snacks in single serve Ziploc snack bags – either for distributing directly to your kids or to use to refill the snack cup. If you prefer a more environmentally-friendly version, Bumkins reusable snack bags are cute and inexpensive for travel.
I also have found traveling with snack-size bento boxes to work well, especially for serving several snacks together as a meal to my kids. The Yumbox MiniSnack box is durable with easy travel cleanup.
One more thing to pack to minimize messes – something to clean them up! We travel with napkins, a couple of paper towels, or even a small hand towel to wipe up the bigger spills. And I never board an airplane without an ample supply of wipes. WetOnes are perfect for wiping down sticky fingers and these travel sized Clorox wipes are essential for disinfecting tray tables (both before and after!).
3. Consider Durability and Spoilage
Before packing snacks for air travel, consider whether they are the kinds of foods that will do well in transit. Many of your child’s favorite things to eat at home just may not travel well.
In order to make my list below, snacks had to meet two important criteria: 1) not be too messy and 2) last for a long time without refrigeration. As much as my daughter loves strawberries and bananas, we rarely bring them on planes because the potential for messes or stains is just too high. Soft fruit gets squished and bruised.
There are some foods that need to be refrigerated but that can travel safely for several hours until the time that your child eats them – think cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, etc. If you pack these, just make sure you plan to serve them on the earlier side of a longer trip.
4. Stick with the Familiar
Air travel is not the time to try to expand a child’s picky palate. Pack snacks you know your family likes to eat already, so you aren’t in a situation where your child rejects the choices and is hungry or cranky. Familiar foods are also a safer bet, as you know they won’t do something like upset a sensitive toddler tummy.
5. Pack Plenty of Peanut-Free Choices
Peanuts and peanut butter are popular food choices on planes for many travelers because they provide filling protein options that don’t need to be refrigerated. But one important word of warning to keep in mind – on occasion, the airline you are traveling on may announce that your flight is peanut-free if someone with allergies is on board.
It happens rarely, but it is so important to pack variety of non-peanut snacks for situations like this. (I once found myself at 6 months pregnant on such a flight with nothing but a peanut butter sandwich and learned the hard way!). You really don’t want hungry kids and you REALLY don’t want to put someone with peanut allergies in a dangerous medical situation. Pack a variety of non-nut choices for flexibility.
6. Pack Extra Food for Flight Delays
Finally, always pack many more snacks than you think you might reasonably need. My kids often eat more on planes than they do at home, probably because they are bored and looking to pass the time.
And air travel is so unreliable that you never know when a simple 2 hour flight might turn into a full day of travel delays. You just can’t always count on airport food choices and airline-provided snacks to get you through a flight cancellation or delay. If you have plenty of extra snacks in your carry on bag, you’ll save your sanity on the food front at least!
40 (Mostly) Healthy Kid-Friendly Airplane Snacks
So now let’s get onto some snack suggestions. Here are my top picks for kid-friendly airplane snacks that aren’t of the treat variety.
- Annie’s Bunnies Crackers
- String cheese
- Babybel cheese
- Wheat Thins
- Mini bagels
- Ritz Bits sandwiches (cheese or peanut butter)
- Granola bars
- Cereal bars
- Fruit leather
- Dried fruit pieces
- Puffins cereal
- Trail mix
- Pouches of applesauce or similar (the smaller the better for TSA lines)
- Baby carrots
- Animal crackers
- Mini muffins
- Apple slices
- Pita chips
- Celery sticks with peanut butter or hummus (look for single-serve packets of hummus and peanut butter)
- Turkey jerky
- Chex mix
- Mini rice cakes
- Hard boiled eggs
- Graham crackers
- Lara or Cliff bars
- Rice crackers
- Cheese quesadilla bites (refrigerate before your flight and most kids will eat them cold)
- Gogurt (or other brand of) yogurt tubes (freeze beforehand if you aren’t going to eat right away)
- Puffs (great for babies, but my older child loved stealing these snacks from her baby brother too)
Plus 10 Kid-Friendly Airplane Sweets & Treats
Packing a few treats and sweets is essential too. There are times on a stressful travel day where a little sugar rush can help get everyone through or bribery is needed – no judgment!
- M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, or Skittles
- Gummy snacks/gummy bears
- Bite size cookies (like Mini Chips Ahoy or Mini Oreos)
- Jelly beans
- Sweet tarts
- Fruit loops
- Fruit rollups
- Rice crispy treats
What are your favorite airplane snacks? Share your thoughts in the comments.