What Road Trip Junk Food Taught Me About My Child’s Behaviour

Love Lollies

My firstborn, Miller, went the first full year of his life without any sugar. But unless you’re going to live under a rock, our sugar-laden world is something we all have to come to terms with and deal with. I think Miller’s first bit of sugar was handed to him at a fair by a well-meaning person, and he quickly got a taste for it. When we’re home, we can manage his sugar and junk food intake most of the time which allows us to regulate his behaviour, but it’s a lot harder to avoid junk food when you’re out and about, with friends and family, or on a long road trip.

Convenience Vs Nutrients

The family and I recently moved across Australia. We left our island home in Tasmania to drive over 1800 miles to northern Queensland. Crazy, right?! With my husband, two boys and a dog packed into our Audi Q7, the journey was all about survival! So making healthy food choices was a top priority for us. As a psychologist, with a husband who’s a naturopath and nutritionist, I understand how important food and nutrition is for our kids growing bodies. For us, sugar is the one food we want to avoid at all costs. But, how do you do this when you’re crammed in a car, driving cross-country and just trying to stay sane?

You don’t. You stop at the Macca’s drive-thru and the lolly shops to appease the kids. The days are long and repetitive, so the novelty keeps them happy and excited. And wow, were they happy for the road trip junk food and lollies- albeit briefly?! Absolutely! And anyway, what could it hurt, right?


Within a matter of days, the introduction of junk food and lollies had an awful impact on my 3-year-olds behaviour. Bye-bye little angel Miller, hello sugar addict. He would hold out for these junk food stops at the start of the road trip. Then beg and plead to stop again. He presented loads of hyperactivity and emotionally dysregulated behaviour (sorry to our family who had to deal with this during our first few stops!). I mean being on the road is hard for kids at the best of times, plus the challenging behaviour was taking a toll on all of us. We needed to curb this fast! It got to the stage where Miller was running around so fast he hit his head and almost required stitches. This couldn’t carry on. Even our youngest, Joey, who is usually such a chilled out dude, was grumbly and unusually temperamental. Honestly, the transformation of them both was shocking.

Love lolly
It’s hard to say no to a lolly with your name on it!

So, something had to give. This road trip was going to take over a week and we couldn’t spend another day with Wiley Coyote and JackJack from The Incredibles! So we made the conscious decision to swap out the occasional lolly or junk food treats for fresh fruit. We also replaced the nightly takeaways with cooking fresh food in our accommodation along the way. It sounds like a pretty simple decision, but as parents, you know how tempting it is to continue with the less holistic option if it means an easier time for you. Especially when you’re met with the endless cries of a child scorned.

Top tips for phasing out sugary snacks on a road trip

1. Go for the treats that offer less ingredients

Only Organic kids food
Great little snack packs for kids!

Try and look for the nature bars and fruit snacks at the petrol stations. You know the ones; they may not look half as exciting as the chocolate bars and lolly bags but they go some way to curb those pesky sugar cravings. I recommend picking up a bunch of the Only Organic packs from the supermarket. They come in fun little pouches that the kids love but are also full of good, nutrient-dense food.

2. Only stop at the places you know sell wholesome food

This means, as convenient as it may be, DONT use the drive-thrus! Before you hit the next town, have a quick Google search of the local cafes and rest stops. Almost every eatery will have a version of their menu on their website or Facebook page which will allow you to see what’s on offer ahead of time. Being strict with yourself on this not only gives your kids the best chance of eating well, it gives you an excuse to actually leave your car and stretch your legs. Plus, healthier eateries are often independent meaning you get to support local business in the process. It really is a win-win!

3. When on a long road trip, eat (and drink) for the climate you’re in

Zarraffa's Smoothie and Smashed Avo
Zarraffa’s smoothies and smashed Avo were a real win for us!

This might be quite specific, but we noticed that it was important for us to healthfully nourish our bodies so we could better acclimatise to the changing temperature. Driving from down south, where it is much cooler and wetter, to the north of Australia which is much, MUCH hotter, was quite a shock to our systems. My husband and I chose to swap out our coffee orders for fresh juices as a way to get our minds and bodies into Queensland-time. This isn’t something you have to do, but it felt like a mindful and holistic choice that worked for us. Our favourite smoothies were from Zarraffa’s Coffee.

4. Tap on the road

Of course, setting boundaries with my kids around sugar was met with cries of “you’re the worst mummy ever!!”, “I don’t love you” and, the one that takes the cake, “I hate you”. That was tough. I had to do my tapping to dig deep, find my inner strength, put my big girl pants on and ride it out. If you’ve read my other blog posts or follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m a huge believer in the power of EFT (tapping). While in the car, I would tune in to my own emotional reaction to their constant badgering and noise. As I tapped on the pressure points around my face and upper body, I repeated this phrase in my head: “I’m a good mother, I trust myself. Loving my children is showing them I can set boundaries. For our whole families greatest good and joy. I can be peaceful. I can do this.” Try it yourself the next time your kids try to boundary push. You’ll soon notice your resilience grow stronger as your stress levels decrease,

5. Make your own junk food!

Joey enjoying some fresh mango
Little Joey being a sweet angel with his fresh mango

If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll sniff out the difference between a homemade burger and a Macca’s burger in a heartbeat. But giving them a compromise can be a heartfelt way of showing you understand their needs and are willing to work within your boundaries. Plus cooking with real ingredients shows the kids what meals are made of and where food comes from, which helps them to appreciate food so much more. Plus, cooking healthy meals together offers some precious relational time too, which enables the connection children so crave from us. So when Miller requested pancakes one morning – instead of Macca’s we did a Woolies run and whipped them up ourselves with real maple syrup and fresh fruit to boot. Now Ahh – insert little tropical Queensland angel kids here! Regular toddler antics excluded. Full tummies, peaceful family and happy hearts!

So take it from me, healthy and wholesome is the way to go. Make space for home cooking when you can. This cannot be underrated even when busy, preoccupied and stressed- as is often the case when moving across the country. Choosing to prioritise wholesome food over convenience makes for a way more peaceful trip and overall happier kids.

I’d love to know what your top tips are for avoiding sugary foods and how your child’s behaviour has changed since taking them off sugar? Leave a comment below!

The information in this article is from my own personal experience and should be taken as such. I am not a licensed nutritionist. None of the products recommended are affiliated with Laura Louise Love, I recommended them because I use them and love them.

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