Road-trip season is here—that carefree time when so many of us get behind the wheel and head toward a vacation destination. But before you fuel up your gas tank and set your GPS, give some thought to the food you’ll be eating along the way. The good news is, you’re no longer forced to leave your healthy eating habits at home and risk weight gain just because you’re on the road. Check out this cheat sheet of the most nutritious and delicious snacks to pack, the latest good-for-you dining options and other ways to stay healthy and fit (and within your budget).
Few things bring on snack cravings more than long hours of endless highway. So arm yourself with munchies that aren’t just healthy and filling but also mess-free in a moving vehicle. Fill a bag with some of these all-star road snacks: bananas, apple slices, raisins or other dried fruit, peanut-butter packets, pretzels, shelled nuts, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt or pull-off-tab cans of tuna. “These pack well, are easy to eat without having to pull over and they rack up a good balance of satiating protein and complex carbohydrates to keep you feeling energized and alert,” explains nutritionist Janet Brill, Ph.D., author of Blood Pressure Down. Most come in small single-serving sizes, or you can save a little money by portioning out individual servings in plastic bags at home. Small bottles of water in a cooler or soft cooler bag are your best beverage option, but no-added-sugar juice boxes work too. When you map out your route and travel time, estimate a snack break every two to three hours. First, it breaks up road boredom. But even more important, eating something light (about 200 calories or less) at regular intervals between meals prevents fatigue and hunger pangs from setting in—both of which can lead to an unwanted cheeseburger and fries binge later on.
Look for supermarkets or grocery stores as you travel, suggests Brill, and try getting your main meals or a restock of snacks there. Most now feature fresh salad bars as well as bags of precut fruits, veggies and salad greens. Many also boast prepared-food counters with made-to-order sandwiches—so you can ask for dressings on the side, whole-grain bread instead of white and even a half portion. If all you can find is a convenience store or gas station food mart, you can still make a healthy meal from the staples there. Think: peanut butter and a loaf of whole-wheat bread for sandwiches or containers of nuts plus some fresh fruit or bag of salad greens (and low-cal dressing) for a DIY salad.
If you’re not a regular at the drive-thru, you might be surprised at the fresh and healthier options available at fast food outlets these days. Brill recommends McDonald’s chicken salads; just go easy on the dressing, which can add mucho fat and calories. McDonald’s also has a grilled chicken sandwich and a grilled southwest chicken wrap, both of which give you satiating, fatigue-fighting protein and fewer calories than burgers and other sandwiches. Burger King’s grilled chicken sandwich, grilled chicken wraps, and BK Veggie Burger (without mayo) are also solid picks. “I’m a big fan of Wendy’s chili, which is healthy and filling,” says Brill. Wendy’s also offers super-healthy baked potatoes without toppings, which give you less fat and sodium. Find yourself at a fast-food joint you’re unfamiliar with? Scan the menu for buzzwords like grilled, roasted and baked. Foods with these descriptive terms will generally have less fat and fewer calories than, say, items labeled fried or double-sized.