Packable Tournament Food Ideas
After getting many ‘thumbs up’ when I post pictures of our hotel-rooms-turned-kitchens for sports tournaments (visualize cooler, mini fridge, microwave and a counter made from the ironing board), I figured a list of travel snack ideas might be a helpful thing to share too. Although I’m speaking from the context of hockey and lacrosse tournaments for kids, many of these ideas also work well for business travel or summer road trips to spare relying on expensive and/or low quality food from gas stations, convenience stores or airplanes. When traveling by car and you have room for a cooler, even a small one, the sky’s the limit for the healthy snacks you can bring. Inquire ahead of time about the availability of a fridge in your hotel room. No Fridge Plan B: bring plastic bags and keep your cooler cold with ice from the hotel.
- All vegetables: pre-wash, cut up and transport in zip bags or containers – carrots, snap peas, cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, pepper strips, cucumber slices, radishes…Small containers of dip are nice too. If you don’t have time to make hummus or something homemade, mixing plain Greek yogurt with fresh herbs or even a little salad dressing like Ranch or cucumber works well. Also in the vegetable snack category are made-in-advance edamame, baked potato wedges or salad rolls – all taste just fine served cold.
- All fruit: pre-wash apples, grapes, strawberries…even consider pre-peeling and packing orange segments. Bananas and blueberries are great sport foods! Also in the fruit category: small containers of pineapple chunks or applesauce and dried fruit. Individual 100% real juice in normal-sized, non-humongous portions is a great way for active kids to stay hydrated and get some nutrients.
- Hard boiled eggs – assuming you have a cooler, boil the eggs at home, peel off the shells and transport in a sealed container (handy for quick hotel room breakfasts too) 6g protein, 14 essential nutrients and only 70 calories per egg!
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, trail mix, mixed nuts, pumpkin seeds or hemp hearts, for example. (Always respect any allergy issues on the team)
- Smoothies. Pack a small, portable blender and a few cups. In this case, I’m not talking about a heavy duty VitaMix. Department stores (or online) sell single serving, lightweight blenders for around $20. Once in the hotel room, you can blend together fruit and 100% juice or milk for various flavours of smoothies. Our favourite for easy transport is banana, nut butter and milk (or chocolate milk). We feel better when our hotel room neighbours are teammates so we aren’t waking up random people with our blending.
- Grainy crackers, mini bagels or toast with nut butter or cheese
- Quality cereal and milk (look for cereals with <8 g sugar and >4 g fibre). Instant oatmeal packets plus milk – cut sugar by mixing with plain oats – make a great snack or quick breakfast option too once in the hotel.
- Pita bread with hummus or tzatziki dip
- Homemade sandwiches, wraps or quesadilla triangles. Alternatively, bring a package of tortillas and fixings to assemble in the room.
- Milk or chocolate milk, cheese cubes, cottage cheese and/or yogurt
- Chunks of cooked chicken, turkey or ham
- Pre-made mini pancakes, French toast fingers or rolled up crepes sprinkled with a little cinnamon
- Homemade or decent quality muffins, cookies, granola bars and kid-friendly (not from an adult body-building gym) energy bars
- Microwave popcorn (if a microwave will be available). If the microwave or a full stove and oven are available, pack along potatoes to bake (great sports food), eggs to scramble and much more!
- Water bottles
Because it’s always the 80-20 approach around here, you’ll find a few small treats in our luggage too…most likely a bag of chips, pretzels or even a little chocolate or candy. It’s only offered over and above, rarely in place of, the items listed above. Keep it real, normal and free of adult diet hang ups folks!
The keenest sports parents I’ve met, and who have inspired me, are SO incredibly skilled at tournament food packing. They bring along a bin with lightweight plates, cups, bowls, cutlery, napkins and even plastic wrap or bags for leftovers, dish soap and tea towels. They also bring a small toaster and their slow cooker for heating frozen homemade meals like spaghetti, chili, stir-fries, pulled pork and more! (Recipe for regular and vegan pulled pork) If you run out of time to cook in advance, bringing cans of baked beans, chili, tuna, salmon or quality soup can help out too. Don’t forget the can opener. Tournaments can be costly endeavours for sure!
Google ahead of time to find out what’s near your hotel if you need to pick up anything extra from the grocery store. If you’ll be dining out the whole time, consider a little advanced research to know what the nearby options are. When the game is over and the kids are hungry (possibly “hangry” depending on fatigue and game outcome), getting food into them soon makes a big difference in mood, muscle fuel and recovery especially if heading back into competitive action in just a couple hours. Investigate the cost of having a pasta, burger or taco buffet set up for a team meal in the hotel versus a meal out at a restaurant. In some cases, this can offer a time and cost-saving benefit.
It’s NEVER just about the food. Training, adequate rest, genetics, natural talent, passion, fun, great coaching and much more factor in along with the love and support of parents.
Keeping growing kids well fueled for the high energy demands of tournaments is not for wimps! I applaud the many families out there who put in a tremendous effort many times throughout the season. It’s as much work as packing for a weekend of camping.
Keep up the awesome work!