Traveling with kids: Calming foods and keeping them occupied.

I flew with our 18 month old and nearly 4 year old recently and I was really nervous about our 3+ hour flight. When you're on a plane or in a confined car, the last thing you want is a hyper, restless child.  Here are a couple things that worked for us and some things I'll try next time:

Snacks are a must when traveling but since my children, like many, are very sensitive to high sugar, high glycemic foods and artificial ingredients, we have to be careful about what we give them, especially in high pressure situations ;).  I put together this little list of calming foods that are portable, readily available and still appealing to kids (and me as I needed a little help too).

The following foods either contain melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, relaxation inducing nutrients or tryptophan which is converted to seratonin (another relaxation hormone) and melatonin.

Cashews: 1/4 cup contains nearly 1/4 of the RDA of tryptophan

Oats: whole grains help increase absorption of tryptophan which is used to make serotonin, aka nature's Prozac

Cherries: Cherries are one of the few natural sources of melatonin.  Try tart cherries (frozen if they're not in season) as they're lowest in sugar.  I personally would avoid dried cherries as Sam seems to get really hyper with dried fruit, but if your child isn't affected, then dried should be a fine choice.

Oranges/Citrust: Vitamin C is needed to convert tryptophan to serotonin.  In a study, eating oranges helped people relax faster and better than placebo.  Orange essential oil is known for it's anti-anxiety properties.  Clementines are another good choice because they're easy for kids to peel which is calming and distracting on it's own.

Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate contains flavonoids known for relaxing properties and also tryptophan.  I like dark chocolate chips which are a little more fun for kids.

Seaweed Snacks: kelp is high in magnesium, a relaxing mineral and tryptophan.  Most grocery stores have tasty seaweed snack that appeal to kids.  Grab a few of these.  They go fast!

Chamomile Tea: This herb is especially calming and anything warm raises body temp and makes you sleepy.  Bring your own tea bags and create a special tea time with the kids either before you board or on the plane.  I like the Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night Just for Kids

Bananas, Chickpeas, Cheese, Almonds, Blueberries, and Chia seeds are other great tryptophan containing and/or nutrient rich foods that induce calm and are kid-friendly, low sugar snacks.

So to make these snacks more appealing to my kids, I put them in these BEABA containers to make the choices they have seem plentiful and somehow more fun.  Kids like choices!  They each had their own and it proved to be pretty plane and kid friendly.

I made these cashew chocolate chip balls to utilize the cashews, oats and dark chocolate mentioned above.  The recipe is adapted from Averie Cooks and would work with almond butter in place of the cashews too.  I doubled it and used 1/3 cup of chocolate chips instead of 1/2 cup and it was plenty chocolate.

I also threw in some pistachios to balance out the sweet vs salty and the carb/fat/protein and their gummi vitamins as they always see those as a treat.


Obviously our #1 go-to was the iPad and computer.  Sam was busy with a few new apps and a movie most of the trip.  Oliver enjoyed watching a few new videos I'd taken on my phone of him and his brother (kids are adorably shameless narcissists), but with an 18 month old, attention spans are short and backup is necessary.

Separate the parents:  I saw this on A Cup of Jo's list for traveling with baby and I think it's a great idea, especially to change it up for the 18 month old.  We'll try this on the way home.  It also gives the boys a break from each other.

Books: We had some new seek-and-find (for the 4 year old) and lift the flap (for the 18 month old) books that we got for Christmas and had put away that turned out to be lifesavers.

Stacking cups and containers with lids: Oliver loves to put lids on cups and containers so I grabbed a few and a stack of small paper cups for him to stack.  He was busy with this for a while.

Ice:  Ask for a couple cups of ice.  Oliver enjoyed putting ice from one cup to the next and then drinking the melted water.

Gum: Sam can have gum as a treat on occasion and it was perfect to help with the ear issues common during take off and landing.

Overall, the trip was very successful.  They each had their moments, but nothing really anxiety provoking (thanks to the calming snacks ;).  Oliver even slept and went from a ticking time bomb to the sweetest angel in the world (funny how that happens when they're sleeping).  There were definitely ice cream promises (a necessary evil) but well deserved!

Good luck!  And let me know if you have any other calming snacks or tricks for traveling with kids.

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