Imaging going on hikes where no one is whining and asking to turn back. One of the easiest ways to get your kids to hike longer is by packing the right hiking food for kids.
Hiking is one of our family’s favorite outdoor activities. It warms you up in the winter, gets the blood flowing, and helps us stay active. It’s also a great way to initiate a love for the outdoors in your little one.
Not all kiddos are thrilled with trekking through the muck and trees. Having their favorite hiking snacks hand vastly increases enjoyment and energy levels during the walk.
Everyone has their favorites when it comes to hiking snacks. It took us a while to find our groove, but once you find your go-to foods, packing is simple.
Here, we’ll talk about what makes good hiking food for kids, and go over some of our top picks. It’s important to eat good food before and after a hike as well.
What to Look for in a Snack
Packing for a hike isn’t like packing for a car ride or the school day. It takes a little planning and heading to the grocery stores before you go hiking to get the right hiking snacks for the job. Whatever meals and treats you land on, the most important factors to consider are:
We’re trained to fear calories. We hear language like, “counting calories”, and “calorie-restrictive diets”. While it’s true that too many calories can be negative to our physical health, calories aren’t a bad thing.
Calories are energy. They create fuel for our bodies to burn as we hike. While sitting around watching television, our bodies don’t need a lot of calories. Performing high-intensity exercise, or exercising for extended periods of time requires a lot of energy (calories) to keep you going.
Adults should plan to eat between 200 and 300 calories every hour. Children should eat 120 to 240 depending on height and weight. If you’re not sure, ask your family doctor, pediatrician, or nutritionist. This may change for adults and children with medical conditions.
Fats aren’t a great food choice when hiking, because they’re harder for our bodies to digest. In fact, too much fatty food on a hike can really upset a tiny tummy, and this is something we’ve learned the hard way.
Rather than loading up on fats, most hikers choose to get calories through healthy carbohydrates. Carbs are easier for the body to break down and make into fuel. You shouldn’t skip fats altogether though. Healthy fats found in nuts and seeds are good to encourage healthy cell function and offer a secondary source of energy.
Finally, a major point for any trail food is the low-mess factor. Messy foods like pasta salad, powdered donuts, or watermelon slices leave kids feeling uncomfy. Food crumbs fall into clothing, smeared sauces stick to faces, and it gets quite overstimulating.
Mess-free doesn’t mean fun-free. There is plenty of easy-to-eat, mess-free foods for hiking. Anything in an individual wrapper, while not super environmentally friendly, tends to be low-mess. This includes yogurt tubes, applesauce pouches, and cheese sticks. Be sure to pack out all garbage.
Kid-friendly Trail Snacks
The best hiking foods for kids are foods that are easy to hold, easy on the tummy, and a little bit fun. You really need to focus on foods they’re going to eat. If you bring the newest fad granola bars that are made out of cauliflower, no one is going to eat them and then the hunger levels can get dangerous.
Some of our favorite trail snacks include:
1. Trail Mix
Trail mix is such a versatile snack. It’s a little sweet, which most kids love, and you can customize it for your little one.
Trail mix has to be one of the most popular hiking snacks and that’s for a good reason. Some of the ingredients we’ve tried in trail mix include:
- Dried fruit
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Mini cheese crackers
- Pretzel bits
You can also toss in a little sweetness by adding chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and candy-coated chocolate pieces to the mix.
A great way to encourage your little one to eat the hiking snacks you pack is by having them help you pick and pack them.
Ask your kids what they’d like in the trail mix and make your own mix together. I know it sounds daunting, but I promise, it’s super easy, and worth the effort. Kids love having control of their own snacks.
2. Cheese and Crackers
Cheese and crackers are a classic and make a great hiking snack! If you’re from a cheese-loving family like ours, you can really have fun with this one. Select cheeses you know your kid loves. It doesn’t even need to fit on the cracker to make this snack work.
Hard and dry cheeses are best for hiking because they keep longer. A nice cheddar or gouda are good choices.
Try the BabyBel cheese selection for a touch of fun. They come individually wrapped and covered in a wax shell. I love peeling the wax shell off, it’s so satisfying.
Mix up your crackers too. Animal crackers, Goldfish Crackers, and mini Ritz Bits (mini cracker sandwiches) are among our favorites.
3. Granola Bars
Granola bars are like a compact, on-the-go version of trail mix. They come in all shapes and flavors. Our favorite is the KIND Bars. They have a wide assortment of products including:
- Healthy Grain Bars
- Energy Bars
- Kids Bars
- Nut Bars
- Cereal Bars
- Breakfast Bars
- Protein Bars
The Kids Bars come in chewy chocolate chip and chewy peanut butter chocolate chip. They’re made with 100% whole grains and use no preservatives or artificial ingredients. They also pack 25% less sugar than other granola bar products.
Other people make their own granola bars, but to be honest we usually pack Kind bars or Clif bars. Homemade granola bars sound like a good idea, but I’m ok with a store bought granola bar.
Fruits and Veggies
This is a category I know every parent tries to include. The trouble is, how to get young hikers to eat fruits and veggies when there are other trail treats available? Choose produce your kiddos love, and alternate between healthy and sweet snacks.
There are two ways to serve fruits and veg while hiking.
4. Fresh Fruit
Fresh fruit often requires peeling or pre-hiking prep. Bananas and apples are great for quick on-the-go snacks. If you’re unsure about waste disposal on the hike, you can pre-peel oranges, and pop them into a reusable sandwich bag. Just be careful they don’t get squished in transit.
Veggie sticks are often harder to entice kids to eat. A fun option is ants on a log. The ants (raisins) are pressed onto a stream of peanut butter wedged inside a log (celery stick). Carrots and ranch dressing, or your family’s favorite dip, is another savory choice.
5. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is one of life’s little luxuries. Because the flavor is so concentrated, it’s often sweeter than the fresh stuff.
There are so many dried fruits to explore. We’re a big fan of the classics, including:
- Mango Chunks
- Banana Chips
- Dried Apple Circles
- Dried Apricots
Freeze-dried berries are also delicious. A major benefit to dried fruit is there’s way less mess. No peels, no juice, and no mid-hike cleanup.
Another popular hiking snacks for kids is fruit leather or fruit roll ups. They’re dried fruit puree and you can make your own for a healthy snack, or grab your favorite brand from the local grocery store.
One of the easiest ways to get fruits and veggies into Tiny Critter is pouches.
They’re super portable, mess-free and they don’t need to be kept in a cooler. There are tons of flavors from fruit and veggie mixes to yogurt blends.
If you’re hiking through mealtime, the best-packed food for the journey is sandwiches. Sandwiches make it easy to carry and eat all your favorite things squished between two slices of bread. Or, wrapped in a tortilla.
You should make your sandwiches according to your family’s preferences. Keep in mind products like lettuce, tomato, and sauces might make the bread soggy during the hike. Here are two of our top picks.
Roll-ups or pinwheels have all your favorite sandwich fixings rolled snugly in a tortilla. It’s the perfect vessel for cream spreads like spinach dip or mashed avocado, and classic toppings like ham and cheese.
If you go for meat and cheese, think about storage and keeping the ingredients fresh during the hike. Either use an ice pack or eat this snack pretty quickly into your hike.
Roll-ups are a big hit on our hiking trips. Our son likes them because they let him eat independently. Everything stays snug inside the wrap.
You can make a peanut butter and jelly roll-up or a PB&J sandwich. However you package it, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a major favorite hiking food for kids.
Like the roll-ups, PB&J is great because it sticks the bread together snuggly. No mess (apart from that cute jelly mustache that always appears), and it’s a sweet treat sure to inspire more hiking. You can also spice it up with bananas or nutella!
One trick I learned with hiking sandwiches is cookie cutters. Cut the sandwich into fun shapes. You can save waste by packing the border of the sandwich with the shapes cut out for yourself.
If your kids aren’t into sandwiches, then you can just bring nut butter packs! There are tons of flavors to choose from.
Meat and Cheese
Meat and cheese are a good way to amp up the protein during a hike. Healthy fats also act as energy. You can buy meat and cheese prepackaged together, but we like to mix and match products depending on our mood for the day. Some popular choices in our family include:
Jerky is a good hiking snack because it’s full of protein, sodium, and calories. Beef jerky is an acquired taste for some kids, so it’s best to try your child a bit at home before packing it for the hike.
Start with mild flavors like original, before moving on to unique or spicy flavors. Jerky sticks are one of our son’s favorite snacks.
Jerky is high in sodium. You may need to hydrate a little extra during a jerky stop.
10. String Cheese
Is there any snack more fun than stringable cheese? We don’t think so. String cheese is a silly snack, and perfect for the trail. It’s compact and comes in individual packages.
Be sure to bring hand sanitizer, or wipes before stopping to eat. Especially foods you plan on letting kids play with a little bit, like string cheese.
Nuts can have a lot of good fats in them and they often can help replace sodium lost through sweating. If your kids don’t like electrolyte drinks, consider having them eat salted almonds and have them drink plain water.
11. Almonds and Pistachios
We love almonds (especially the smokehouse flavor) and pistachios. Pistachios become a snacktivity, which is a snack AND and activity all in one. Shelling pistachios is a great way for little ones to practice their dexterity and eat a snack all in one!
Treats on the trail are an incentive to keep hiking when kids get bored or want to give up. Of course, it’s important to never push our bodies too hard. But if you’ve simply got a kid who’s missing tablet time and wants to head home, a trail treat might encourage a second wind.
We like using small bites of snacks as we go, or one big item he can carry on his own to keep our son moving.
12. Fruit Snacks
What kid doesn’t love fruit snacks? These are elementary school recess staples. If you’ve got a “school snack” pantry drawer the kids aren’t allowed to dig into during the week, fruit snacks are going to be a great hiking incentive.
Try fruit snacks made with real fruit juice, and without any preservatives or artificial colors. Annie’s organic fruit snacks are Tiny Critter’s favorite.
Cookies are a classic kid favorite for any snack time. On the trail, cookies are nice because they offer a sweet treat to boost energy and spirits. Think about the other snacks your kiddo has had during a hike before turning to cookies. Too much of a good thing leads to an upset tummy.
We eat oatmeal cream pies as a reward for finishing your hike, and now it’s a tradition.
Candy is definitely a small pieces-as-you-walk kind of treat. It works wonderfully as a reward for good listening and steady hiking. Monitor the amount of candy you dole out as you hike. Like cookies, candy can upset small stomachs if you’re not careful.
But there is no shame in using the occasional skittle to encourage your young hiker to see what’s over the next hill.
Water or Drinks
Water is essential to bring on any hike or outdoor adventure. It’s not part of our snack suggestions, because we know every hiker packs water.
The amount of water you need varies based on the distance of the hike and the temperature that day. On a mild day, hiking at a leisurely pace, half a liter per hour is sufficient. For kids, one to two cups is a good estimate. If it’s hotter outside, aim for water stops every 15-30 minutes.
Make sure each hiker has their own water supply in the unlikely event you get separated, they’ll be ok for hydration.
Flavored water is a treat. It gives the impression of juice while retaining maximum hydration. We’ve come to learn that kids love picking their own individual water flavors. If you use a store-bought water, check the packaging for ingredients before serving. Many flavored water brands contain artificial sweeteners.
We make our own flavored water by using a fruit infuser. Cucumbers, berries, citrus fruit, and herbs make great water flavors. Look for water bottles with a built-in infuser. They make the whole process that much easier.
Encourage Water Breaks
Break for water often, and cheer your little hiker on as they hydrate. If your children are older, make the water break fun by setting an alarm to go off when it’s time to drink. It makes kids feel in control and teaches them the importance of water during a hike.
We hope this guide to hiking foods for kids has been helpful. All kids have different tastes and preferences. The most important thing is that your young hiker stops for breaks, snacks, and drinks plenty of water. The rest is just icing on the cake.
As always, be safe out on the trails, and have plenty of fun!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.