Road tripping can be an amazing opportunity to eat some of the delicious local cuisine across the country. From Mexican inspired dishes of the South West, Southern comfort foods, and New England chowders and lobster, traveling lets you can taste the diversity of cultures across the continent. But with the abundance of fast food and gas-station stops, it can also be hard to eat healthy food when you are on the road. So here are some tips on how to eat healthy on a road trip.
When a road trip is a seldom occurrence, we used to splurge a bit and buy some treats for the road…like Sour Patch Kids or Reeses Pieces. Sometimes candy can be a way to perk up our energy or give rewards for certain miles or hours passed. But for longer road trips, you can’t survive off junk food alone, so you have to plan some healthy stuff too.
How to eat healthy on a road trip
While on the road, it can be very hard to eat healthy food, because fast food and processed carbs are so much easier to eat on the go. But here are some of our favorite healthy options:
If you have room for a cooler, then you can pack some easy to eat fresh vegetables that taste good raw with a dusting of salt or dipped in humus:
- Baby carrots
- Bell peppers
- Kohlrabi, beets, or other root veggies are good when sliced thin, but you may need to do this before hand.
Also if you don’t have a cooler, you may be able to find some delicious dried veggies. We recently discovered these Rhythm Superfood Dried Beats, which taste even better than potato chips but are 100% dried beets. Try to find some dried veggies, but check the ingredients. Some snacks like, Vegetable Straws are delicious, but their main ingredients are still potato and corn starches with only a little tomato and spinach powder for coloring.
Fruit is even easier to pack than veggies. Many fruits, like apples, oranges, banana, etc. already come in easy to eat packages. Also, there is a larger range of dried fruits as well, including raisins, prunes, peaches, dried mango….the list goes on. Snacking on fruit can be healthier than chips or carbs, particularly because they are high in nutrients, fiber, and fresh fruit has a lot of water. But fruits also have a ton of sugar, so be cautious of consuming too much dried fruit.
Lean proteins are a staple of a healthy diet, so planning ahead will help your budget and your waistline. Nowadays even fast food joints are offering more non-burger options, but replacing a patty with fried chicken isn’t necessarily healthier. So here are some ideas for packing healthy(ish) proteins:
- Yogurt – Yogurt has become one of our favorite protein snacks, but not all yogurts are the same. Check the nutrition facts about how many grams of protein, sugar and fat are in the product. Our favorite is Oikos Triple Zero greek yogurt, because it is high in protein and low in sugar.
- Hard boiled eggs – Another high protein & low fat option is eggs. You can either cook them head of time or buy them in most gas stations. For extra lean, don’t eat the yokes.
- Cheese – Low fat string cheese, slices of muenster…the list is endless.
- Nuts – Almonds or other lower-fat nuts, like pistachios and cashews (be careful of highly salted nuts because the salt and the fat can add up)
- Hummus – This classic chick-pea based spread is delicious on veggies or other dipping foods.
- Lunch meat – If you have a cooler, and you eat meat, packing some lean turkey or chicken lunchmeat can be a way of planning ahead. We are pescatarians, and we haven’t yet found the equivalent in fish format. Theoretically you could bring tuna cans along, but cracking them open in the car seems like bad-news-bears. If you find a great non-meat alternative, let us know!
- Smoked meats – If you have a cooler, you may be able to pack some smoked meats, like smoked salmon and others
- Jerky – for meat eaters, jerky is delicious and is easy to pack. But it has a whole lot of sodium and other things going for it, so it’s not as healthy as other types of protein.
Let’s be honest. Road trips are basically designed as opportunities to eat the wide range of processed carbohydrates the modern food industry has to offer….from chips, crackers, cheese puffs, pastries, bagels, muffins, to God-knows what else they may invent next…eating carbs on a road trip is as easy as breathing.
There are some healthier options. Oatmeal, for instance is going to be better than a pastry. Oatmeal can be an easy choice to make whether you are camping, in a hotel, or ordering from a Starbucks. Similarly, check the ingredients and calories if available. Recently we stopped at a rest stop to fuel up, and Jessi reached for a muffin….that she soon discovered was 700 calories! Who knew that many muffins (around 300 cal ) have the same amount of calories as donuts?
If you are planning ahead, packing the whole-grain options are likely better than the highly processed snacks. Even when powering up on carbs in gas stations, try checking the ingredients list to see what you are getting into.
Energy Drinks – We are not huge connoisseurs of most energy drinks, but we do really like coffee and 5 Hour Energy. Coffee is a great way to start a day. But for staying focused for a long night drive, 5 Hour Energy is our secret ingredient. It doesn’t give us the jitters the way too much coffee does, but it does keep us alert late into the night.
Veggie & Fruit Drinks – If it’s hard to catch the healthy foods on the go, sometimes you can get some extra nutrition via fruit and veggie drinks
Protein drinks – we’ve recently discovered using protein powder in some of our meals, so you may be able to pack some protein sports drinks to augment your protein on the road.
Regarding other drinks…Jessi is a huge fan of drinking lots of fluids. Yes, you’ll have to pee more often, but staying hydrated is one way of staying on your game. We always keep huge water bottle in our car for both us and our dogs.
Summary of how to eat healthy on the road:
If you are doing long trips, planning ahead is key to having a balanced diet and feeling good in your body.
In our latest major road trip from Maine to Alaska, we powered across the Mid-West and Canada. Over 120hrs of driving time, we didn’t watch what we ate. We ate a bunch of junk and felt pretty bad by the time we arrived. Instead, it’s important to plan how to eat healthy on a road trip. For more tips on staying healthy check out our post, 10 Habits of a Healthy Traveler.
But for the shorter trips, splurge away. Get those Sour Patch Kids because they are delicious (and vegan! Did you know that?) Eating is a part of traveling, and you must enjoy it!
Have fun and happy travels!