Food is a VERY important part of traveling with kids (and hangry me). I spend an extremely large amount of trip planning on locating food options at our destinations to help mitigate the inevitable cries of death-by-starvation from my kids (who probably ate 10 minutes ago). I like to have a few options up my sleeves so I'm prepared and can steer them towards food (they will actually eat) at a moment's notice.
But for us, the food planning starts with our travel-day food. My kids aren't super picky eaters (not nearly as picky as me). But I'm not crazy about them chowing down on random airport food all day or, worse, airplane food. I used to roll that way, but I always felt gross. I found out pretty quickly that a little pre-planning with healthy snacks can make a world of difference. These snacks are amazing for the plane, but also get consumed by my crew after we land and everyone is starving but we still need to rent a car and all that. Always double check the TSA website here before you go to see what foods they are currently allowing.
Yes, I try to be as healthy as possible. But the following list is varying degrees of healthy. I always try to limit sugar, because that doesn't do anybody any favors while traveling.
Fresh Fruit and Veggies (with hummus/dip)
YES you can take fresh fruit and veggies through security!
These are my absolute favorite go-to snacks for plane rides. I always bring whole apples because they travel well, and the clean, crisp crunch just tastes extra good in a stuffy aircraft cabin. I also always bring baby carrots and then a mix of sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and sliced bell peppers. My kids love all of those, but they love them more with hummus or ranch dip. You can bring either of those but they count as a "liquid" for TSA and need to be in a 3oz or less container AND fit inside a quart size bag (of which you get 1 per person). Sometimes I make my own (healthier), sometimes I buy the pre-made stuff (less healthy), depending on the time I have.
The only thing to be aware of is that some destinations will not allow you to bring fresh fruit and veggies OFF the plane. It's fine to consume everything during your flight, but you will need to declare anything left over you want to bring into places like Hawaii. Hawaii also usually has "amnesty boxes" where you can dump any fruit of vegetables before leaving the airport.
If the first thing that came to your mind was the airport lounge bar, then you haven't been traveling with kids long enough (or maybe too long?).
I'm talking about granola-type bars here, and they come in a HUGE range of flavors and degrees of healthiness. I've tried making my own, but so far they've been pretty disappointing. If you have a recipe you love, let me know. My kids like the Quaker Granola Bars, which are basically eating candy bars. I still usually include some of these (they also like Santa Barbara and Lara Bars) because they are just so darn convenient. I try to get some that have lots of nuts and the lowest amount of sugar I can find, that my kids will still eat. They pack well, stay fresh, and can be eaten anywhere.
Mini blueberry Muffins
I know this is super specific, but this is one of my kids favorite airplane snacks. I make my own with lots of whole wheat to help giving them some staying power. They're easy to eat and a tasty treat both in the air and once we land.
I understand there is a crazy amount of carb loading going on here, but these are the snacks that keep my boys happy and energized for long days of travel, so we go with it. My kids would prefer graham and fishy crackers, but I try to bring healthier whole grain versions (and they're stuck in a metal tube 30,000 feet up so they can't really complain at that point). They'll eat them plain, but they're also good with the hummus we brought for the veggies.
This one is for me. I'm vegan, so it can be a challenge to find food while traveling. And I get HANGRY….fast. So I always bring an actual meal with me and my go-to is this quinoa salad. What I put in kind of depends on what we have around, but I usually go a little Mexican-themed and add tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, onions and some oil to my quiona base. Or I'll do beans, oranges, corn, onions, bell peppers, etc. There's a never ending list of yummy things you can put in there. I just try to make sure there's lots of protein and fat in there that keeps me full and non-hangry for a long time.
Finally, what do I carry all this yummy awesomeness in? I bring my carry-on cooler which I discovered after chatting with some flight attendants about theirs. This thing is amazing and can carry a LOT of food. I usually stuff the pockets with tea packets, and there's even a place to bring utensils and napkins (don't bring knives. TSA won't love you) and it can slip over the handle of your wheely bag! Obviously the flight attendants knew what they were talking about.
We also bring these collapsable water bottles and then fill them up after security, and have the flight attendants add water to them during our flight. Some will fill them all the way up, but I just ask for the amount that would have been in the little cup. It's just easier with kids to have a sealable water bottle, instead of a very spill-prone tiny cup on their little trays.
I hope that helps with your next adventure! My motto is "Full Belly = Happy Travels"!