Food for Thoughts: Chime In and Win Dinner Out!


EDITOR’S NOTE: Mamas, we’ll choose a winner at random TODAY (Friday, May 1) and announce the winners on Saturday. Look for an e-mail or phone call this evening if you won food for your thoughts!

One of the reasons we started this website is because we wanted to create the kind of online gathering spot where moms can really talk and swap ideas and tips. Even though there are thousands of parenting books out there, we think some of the best advice comes from our fellow moms. So today we’re going to pose a question (one that I desperately need some input on), and we’re asking you to provide the answers.

To give you a little extra incentive for participating, we’re going to give you a chance to win food for your thoughts – meaning we’ll select three people at RANDOM who post comments here and those bonefish.jpgthree moms will win a gift certificate for a nice dinner on the town, courtesy of And we’re not talking about the McDonald’s drive-thru here, ladies. We’ve got gift cards for Ruth Chris, Bonefish and Carrabba’s Italian restaurant – the kind of gift certificates that will help you convince your sweetie that it’s definitely time for a night out.

carrabbas.gifIf you’re shy about posting your opinion, keep in mind that you don’t have to use your whole name. You could even list just your first name or your initials or something like “Jack’s mom.” You do have to provide your e-mail address, but that address is never posted online and it just helps us verify that you’re a real person and not a spammer. It also gives us a way to contact you and let you know if you won a gift card. If you’d rather enter the drawing via e-mail, you can do that by writing to us at

Here’s the question of the day: My husband and I are taking our three kids (age 7, 4 and 2) on a LONG car trip to attend a family wedding in Iowa in May. We have a DVD player in the van, but there’s no way that device alone is going to keep them occupied for that long of a trip, so….

What are your ideas, activity tips or recommendations for how to keep kids occupied (and not whining) on a very long car trip?

Click the word “comment” in the lower right hand corner of this post (under the dotted line) and let us know what you think. Can’t wait to use your ideas on my big trip!


  1. I am not a mother but an aunt to 2 youngsters that I practically rasied. We play the alphabet game. You look at a road sign and say there is an “a”. The word has to start with it. This may be only geared toward the 7 year old. The 2 younger ones may like to color or draw on the new crayola paper that has the colors on it. It will not get all over the car or anywhere where you do not write

  2. You could put together a bag of things the kids have not seen before and slowly take things out throughout the trip. I would suggest a new video (a long full feature), a new book appropriate for each age, sticker books, small toys that each child would like, a kids CD (my girls 7 and 2, love for us all to sing together while driving). If you don’t want to put a lot of money into it, you could borrow a movie and CD from a friend that you don’t already have, or shop at dollar stores and used video stores.

  3. Here is a selection of what I packed when we drove Evan to Toronto last November.
    Leapster ( we would be happy to lend you ours)
    Leapfrog Tag (again, Evan would not miss this item if you want to borrow)
    Color wonder because it can be done in a car and no mess. Evan also loves those invisible pen type puzzle books.

    There is also car bingo….which I really wanted to bring but could not find.
    Ok, and SNACKS of course….. but you know that.
    Now you got my mind rolling, if I think of more I will post again


  4. My 4 year old son likes to listen to his CD player through headphones, so we bring several CDs for him. We also put some new little toys for him to discover and play with along the drive. And of course, snacks. He also just likes to look out the window and see new things!

  5. A new video always helps for a little while, the leapster leap pads work really well too. My son loves to color and the mess free crayola markers and finger paints are great fun with no mess!!!

  6. With a 4 and 6 yr old, those long drives sometimes prove pretty tough for our family. On our last 12 hour trip, before we left, I made a trip to Deals and Dollar General to pick up cheap inexpensive toys & treats for the kids. It proved to be the best trip ever. The kids were so excited to get the next treat they would “behave” until the next surprise. I also packed a new movie the kids had been wanting to see.

  7. We just got back from 6 months of traveling–planes (a first for the kids), buses and automobiles! We didn’t have anything distractions like a DVD player, and actually never have, so the kids weren’t used to it anyway. We built up to our long trip by taking shorter trips and training them that what they have in their backpacks is what they can play with. We took regular breaks (especially since we were potty-training the 2 1/2-year-old), and let them run and play, didn’t feed them much sugar, but focused on healthy snacks (which avoided the sugar hyperactivity-then-grumpy-crash syndrome). As it turned out, Mom and Dad were crabbier at the end of the travel day than the kids! They were laughing and playing Red Light/Green Light in their car seats: Four-year-old Caroline would say “Green light!” and Eli would babble until Caroline yelled “Red light!” Then he would yell, “Geen li’!” and on it went. What parent would have thought of that game??

  8. Crayola colorwonder products are great because they can’t mark on the car with the markers. I always start stocking up on them a couple months before a trip. Target is always putting a pack on clearance. It is also helpful to have a lapdesk for each kid, making it much easier for them to color in the car. I like the ones with places to hold markers and paper. For an older child, like your seven year old, word find books and search and find books are good, too. My 7 year old loves to go Barnes and Noble and buy the big workbooks that are divided by grade level.

  9. yup – I agree with these suggestions. Leapster for sure, maybe with a new or borrowed game they haven’t played before.
    Movies they haven’t seen.
    Snacks to keep their mouths full 🙂
    An alternative to the alphabet game is to make a scavenger hunt list. I even do this with my teenagers, believe it or not, and they enjoy it. We include things like trains, pink semi trucks, women in hats, barns, etc… and they keep a tally of how many of each thing they see. It can be a competition with older kids, but little ones could just enjoy contributing.

  10. One game that everyone can play is “I Spy”
    One thing that we did is bought trays for the kids laps. That way they have a hard surface for coloring and snacks.

  11. We frequently make the trip to Children’s and back with our 1 1/2 year old son in a single day, which means 6 hours in the car within a 12 hour period. Lovely. Here are some things we do:
    1. Dollar Spot at Target. I stop by there every time I’m in the store and pick up some random things I think will keep his attention for a little while and keep them hidden until the trip.
    2. We bought a Little Einsteins “laptop” toy that only comes out on car trips or special occasions. It’s a little “old” for him, but he loves the buttons and the music it plays. It’s usually the last resort toy.
    3. Little snacks that are finger foods – things he has to eat one piece at a time, so they take longer to, um, enjoy.
    4. Books he doesn’t read very often, so they seem new and interesting.
    5. His special lovey and usually a small stuffed animal to play with.
    6. We usually listen to a book on CD, and he listens along with us. You can probably get some for the kids at the library for free, rent them at Hastings, or even download from iTunes.

    We don’t currently have a DVD player for the car, but one is coming soon. I’d pull out a few favorites along with something new they’ve been wanting to see.

    Oh, and I’d save a few surprises for the return trip – don’t pull out all your magic on the way up!

    Good luck, and may you have safe travels and return with your sanity!

  12. We drove with our son – now 4 – to Florida last year, and his Nintendo DS (with just a few games) kept him busy for much of the 10-hour drive. If you had one for each of your older kids, I’m pretty sure they could play games either solo or against each other.
    I also packed a bag of art supplies, books, movies and action figures that I could pull out on an as-needed basis. If he hadn’t had the DS, I think I could have entertained him by playing the part of one or more action figures along the way. ; )
    Good luck!

  13. Redbox is a great place to get DVD’s for $1. You can get them at all Wal-Marts, a lot of McDonald’s & Wal-Green’s. You can pick one up in one state & return it anywhere in the U.S.! My kids love watching it & then the next time we stop they can pick out another one. Nintendo DS is also wonderful for the car & they can plug in headphones!

  14. OH, I forgot….when we take really long trips I give them each a roll of quarters. Each time they are not acting good or yelling then they have to hand me 1 quarter without complaining. At the end of the road trip they get to keep the quarters & we go to a game place to let them use them all up.

  15. We play “Bingo” with things that we might see on the way. I give out small dollar store prizes for the winners.

  16. Snacks, snacks and juice boxes!! Also books and toys that you know are their favorites. Good luck traveling!

  17. Hey Rachel,
    What kind of trays did you buy for your kids’ lap? Any special brand that works well and doesn’t slide off?

  18. We drive to Ohio 14 hours one way. My best advice is to build in much needed “out of the car” time into your schedule. McDonald’s playlands and icky gas stations aside, you can actually find some really beautiful wooded Rest Areas to burn off energy. Just make sure the kids aren’t standing around… toss the football, run a relay race, do a scavenger hunt (leaves, acorns, rocks, etc) One of my best memories is my son with his bug vacuum/habitat, we gave him 15 minutes each stop to hunt down bugs! (Just be sure to release them before getting back inside!) This is still one of my favorite memories of that trip! If you are off the interstate, be on the lookout for parks or even school playgrounds (that aren’t in session of course!) The few minutes you give them outside will really pay off with improved attitudes & endurance while giving you some nice family time together.

  19. As a mother of two grown children, I cannot count how many ‘road trips’ we’ve made over the years. When the children were small we traveled to Florida (15 hour drive). We drove at night while the children slept. We took turns sleeping/driving. We did this for many ski trips to Colorado. I found it to be less stressful on the children as they slept most of the drive. We took a break every two hours or so. Keeping them on their sleep schedule just worked out better for us too.

    For the older kids, give them a disposable camera and have them take photos of things they ‘spy’ and write it down in a journal. That way, when they get back home or arrive at their destination, the photos can be developed and they have something to talk about with the family.

    I highly recommend the driving while they sleep. 🙂

  20. We usually fly, but still need to occupy the kids. If you a a leapster or Nintendo DS, they keep the kids amused. Of course, having lots of snacks always helps to give them something to do. We usually take small art projects like the crayola ones where you only need one marker and the paper has lots of colors! And then you can just do it old school, like my parents did when I was younger driving from Boston to Florida….play Neil Diamond as loud as you can and get everyone to sing along! 🙂

  21. I think that most mamas are on the same wavelength here. A few logistical notes: separate your nappers from the non-nappers. Travel early when everyone is sleepy. You can use a clipboard and small pillow if you can’t find a lap-desk. Give the kids cameras to take pictures of the trip. You can download or copy books onto your ipod for older kiddos. Ipods for mom and dad are helpful too. Lots of snacks, but limit the drinks or you’ll be stopping every half-hour. Patience, lots of patience. Good luck!

  22. Everybody has said most of what we do: keep a bag in front full of small new inexpensive toys (slinkies,brightly colored rubber balls, colored rubber bands, sharpened colored pencils, even playdoh (though your car may end up being colored) and snacks (including both salty (chips & crackers) and sweet (mostly fruit)). You can pull something out when you judge they’re getting desperate. Wordfinds might work for the 7 year-old, too.

    But the thing I loved that would work with both the 4 year-old and 7 year-old was to get them their own personal CD player w/headphones and some books on CD, as well as their favorite kid music CDs. The players are quite inexpensive and actually my kids used them at bedtime in hotel rooms to get to sleep if there was noise in the halls or the next room. The beauty of these is that the adults can play their own music while the kids are listening to theirs! I find the trip out is usually OK; it’s the trip back that’s long and hard, so be sure to save some toys for that final trip!Good luck!

  23. We always take the leapster. Before a long trip we make a trip to the library to check out book and books on cd or tape. We play some of them in the car and others let our son listen to them with his earphones.

  24. We usually go during naptime and my 5 yr old loves watching movies in the car. She has a bag with her toys, loveys and books. I pack a lot of snacks too.

  25. Although my son is very young, I have many years under my belt as far as entertaining children. As a speech therapist, I am always looking for ways to engage a child. I have listed just a few below:

    1. Use a new movie and new toys, or old toys that have been put away for a while. This seems to be the most popular advice!

    2. I am not sure if you can get your hands on them, but the old cartoons that were even old when I was young…you know…the ones without words?! The kiddos really have to focus on what is going on and will be engaged forever!

    3. Sensory toys: put together a box of sensory toys from clappers to puddy. I have lots of ideas here and Walgreens or dollar stores are great resources.

    4. A photo treasure hunt. Have a list of random things for the children to take pictures of or find (give each one a small throw away camera). They can take pics at stop lights, at rest stops, or just pick them out along the way.

    5. Have a visual schedule for the children. This would include a map possibly with icons of what you will be doing at different time points along the way. I can be more detailed here….just email me! YOu can even be as specific as putting a potty on the schedule every few hours to signal a rest stop.

    6. There is a game called Head Case….if you cant find it…let me know…I will search for mine. It is great for road trips and increasing those language skills!

    7. There is also a great game called Ned’s Head. The concept is more of what you need for a road trip. You can put several items in a bag (I woudl do at least 20)…take pics of them or use the word on a card. Have each child draw a card. Whatever that card has they have to get out of the bag without looking! Even the two year old can do this!

    8. Make a CD of all of the songs they know. Play a game where they have to guess the name of the song and the artist.

    9. And last but not least, on the visual schedule, put a time where it is considered quiet time. This could coorelate with your little ones nap time. Lay out the rules and set a timer. They will see the light at the end of the tunnel and be able to remain quiet for longer than you think!

  26. One of the best pieces of advice that another Mom gave me – the kids legs tend to fall asleep since they just dangle. To keep them more comfortable put a bucket, laundry basket or other hard surface right at the level of their feet. My kids do so much better in the car when they have something to rest their feet on.
    Also – we purchased clipboards for our two older kids (7 & 4). The clipboards open up and have paper a few markers and a new pen. We give our 2 yr. old an old metal cookie sheet with magnet letters and shapes stuck on it. The magnet board entertains all the kids. Also books on tape from the library are great. My seven year old also keeps an easy to read map with him that he follows.

  27. Sounds exciting! We do trips to Alabama fairly frequently lately, and California for the 4th time this August. We have the DVD player, plus I get dollar store toys and gifts (and other little things- as long as they’re inexpensive) to bring out as the trip goes along. We have a set of car BINGO where you slide the colored window over the item if you see it somewhere along the road. There are prizes for that too. We also do the alphabet game (prizes for that), gameboy, and whatever travel games we can find like at walmart. Like travel yahtzee, connect 4, etc. He also enjoys listening to his MP3 player w/headphones, and he and Dad download lots of cool songs for him to listen to along the way. We have a garmin, but we usually print out mapquest as well, and our 7 y/o likes to navigate- he’s getting pretty good at it. We also do the usual sing-alongs, and Dad often rents books on CD that we take along with us. Good luck!!!

  28. We took our 4 children (11,7,4,2) to DisneyWorld last spring (we drove)…The DVD movies were nice, but they really enjoyed the puzzle books! We brought plastic trays (dinner-type trays) for each of them to hold their pencils, crayons and books. We also brought childrens sing along CD’s for them to listen too and sing along with.

  29. I picked up joke books at the local know, the kind with the knock-knock jokes, and the corny kid jokes! My nephews spent hours telling each other jokes, and laughing out loud. It carried over for days, and any unsuspecting adult was slammed with corny, silly jokes. It was a hoot!

  30. Ok, my kids are 3,5, and 7 so I’m with you on the DVD not being enough! I would make stops every few hours to walk around, get snacks, stretch our legs. Maybe drive as much as possible after they have on pj’s and are ready to sleep. Bring a soothing CD or calming DVD for that. We always play games like pick something out the window that is blue, a circle, starts with a T, etc. Maybe bring books, coloring books, Leapsters, DS, video games. Good luck!

  31. All three of my kids, (Conner-7,Layne-9, and Alexandra-15) love to take pictures, so i get disposable cameras for the boys and Alexandra takes her digital camera- they take pictures of some of the most random things ever; but it keeps them occupied. They also take sketch pads and colored pencils, they place tic-tac-toe and draw. Plenty of snacks are definetely a must; they love to play slug-bug and beep beep a jeep… (our version of slug bug) We play the quiet game for money too. Good luck with your trip; drive safe! 🙂

  32. Not sure if this is an option but the last really long trip we had to take we left the house at bed time so our little one would sleep all the way there over night. We were going where family was so we had help once we got there so once she was up they could help while we rested. On the way back we left at nap time so that got us a few hours then it was time to stop and eat then watch a movie then a few stops later and we made it home.

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