When you find yourself hours into a road trip and the kids start squabbling over backseat territories, you might ask yourself the question. No, not “Why did we bring them along?” but, “How long has it been since we ate or drank anything?” A snack or drink is that magic elixir that can lift everyone’s mood. Still, you want to be strategic about what you serve. Something too sugary will spike a mood then drop it quickly, while something too easily digestible will not satisfy for very long. The answer is a nice protein-carbohydrate combination. In other words, a healthy snack. If this is not what the kids are used to at home, take heart. In the car, they are a captive audience. What else are they going to do? Here’s what you’re going to do, according to some local dietitians we asked:

  • Prepare first 
    This step doesn’t have to be labor-intensive; it may only include cutting up and bagging some crunchy vegetables, such as celery, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers or broccoli. If you plan ahead to bring a small cooler, you can fill it with water bottles and sliced lemons or oranges for natural sweetening. A cooler also lets you take protein perishables like turkey sandwiches (or other lean meats), hard-boiled eggs and string cheese. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital dietitian Laurie Dunham says freezing portable yogurt tubes in advance makes a refreshing treat later in the car—just keep it in your cooler.

  • Hydrate
    A 20-ounce water bottle is much better for travelers than a steady stream of soda, which even in diet form has been found to increase risk of ailments like heart disease, pancreatic cancer, diabetes and kidney stones, says Lisa Andrews, a registered dietitian and the owner of Sound Bites Nutrition. However, the driver may want to sip out of a straw to avoid hoisting the large water bottle in front of their face as they drive. Another choice, and much more appealing to kids, is chocolate milk for protein and calcium. Bring along a thermos or individual cartons in your cooler.

  • Keep nuts in your car 
    Lightly salted or unsalted, they make good snacks anytime. For the nut-allergic, try soy nuts.  

  • Think fruit and veggies
    Many are portable, like grapes, blueberries, clementines, bananas, grape tomatoes, baby carrots and apples. Paired with whole grain crackers like Wheat Thins or Triscuits, you’ve got a nice 150-calorie snack.

  • Re-think trail mix
    Try Cheerios, nuts, raisins or Craisins, dried fruit and some shredded mini-wheat cereal for sweetness, but maybe no M&Ms. (Kids pick them out first anyway.) 

  • Protein for the driver
    Especially when traveling at night, the driver needs a protein source for sustainable energy to keep going. Along with staying hydrated, good choices are nuts, turkey or beef jerky, for instance. It’s good to pair the high-protein with a high fiber like whole wheat bread or fruit.

  • Avoid gas station temptation
    Nothing, besides fast food places, poses as big a threat to your healthy snack plan as the racks of candy and chips you’ll encounter at gas station food marts. But if you look, and maybe challenge your older kids to do the same, you’ll find the token healthy snack offerings, like racks of fruit, certain granola bars and simple popcorn bags featuring few ingredients.