Healthy Eating Tricks & Tips For Your Next Road Trip

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For many, a favorite summer tradition is packing friends and family in the car and hitting the road with a special destination in mind. Before you head out, it can be tempting to swing by the nearest convenience store and stock up on sweets, sodas and salty snacks – each of which are certainly not the healthiest of options and could bog down any trip.

“All the excess carbohydrates and fat are just going to make you feel awful,” says Halle Saperstein, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health System. “You may begin to feel tired, get a headache or a stomachache while sitting in the car.”

Travel-friendly snacks are important for any successful road trip, but how can you make sure they are not stalling both your health and summer trips?

Planning Ahead

Perhaps the most obvious way to avoid the temptation of splurging on sugar and saturated fats is to pack your own cooler, or tote, of healthier snack options prior to hitting the road.

  • Fruits and Veggies: Fresh produce is an enjoyable, healthy snack option that is also very travel-friendly. Pack up containers of baby carrots, snap peas, clementines, strawberries, cherries or apples — whatever you and your family like best. “From the fruits and vegetables, you’re going to get fiber, a good source of carbohydrates, and it’s going to keep you feeling full,” says Saperstein. “They’ll also decrease any feelings of sluggishness while giving you energy.” Need something to make those fruits and veggies more interesting? Individual dipping cups of low-fat yogurt, guacamole, hummus or fat-free ranch should do the trick.
  • Snacks with Protein: Protein-packed options such as string cheese, granola bars, nuts, almonds and jerky are also healthy, portable options. “Anything rich in protein, with carbohydrates and a healthy fat, is really going to help ward off any hunger and keep your blood sugar stable, and will enhance concentration,” says Saperstein. It is just important to monitor the sugar, salt and additive levels of each of these. Also, be mindful of the portion size!
  • Options to Satisfy a Sweet Tooth: Hours spent sitting in a car can bring out the sugar fiend in any of us. Luckily, healthier alternatives to unhealthy sweets are available in the form of graham crackers, animal crackers, whole-grain cookies, dark chocolate, organic fruit snacks and dark chocolate-covered fruits or nuts. Saperstein suggests making your own trail mix and including morsels of dark chocolate for a snack that should satisfying any craving. Once again, keep portions in check because the sugar and calories can add up fast.
  • Smart Thirst-Quenchers: As important as it is to eat healthy, it is just as important to stay hydrated while on the road. Water is the most essential and should not be completely replaced, but other options such as coconut water, juice-boxes without artificial colors or flavors, almond milk and naturally flavored carbonated water will also keep you hydrated.

Making Healthy Choices at Pit Stops

Reading this while already on the road? Or just didn’t have time to plan ahead? Fortunately, healthy snack options are available in convenience stores and gas stations along the way. You shouldn’t have to search far for healthy snacks such as low-fat popcorn, pistachios, sunflower seeds, carrot and celery snack-packs, turkey jerky or even fresh fruit such as bananas. Just be mindful of the serving sizes!

“Some rest stops may be more limited with options, especially if they don’t have the fresh fruit or vegetable options, but you can still finds things such as low-sodium, whole-grain pretzels, low-fat cheese sticks or no-salt-added trail mixes in single-serving packs, protein bars, as well as water-packed canned fruit cups. There are always options,” says Saperstein.

Meals On the Go

road trip drive thru

Even with healthy snacking, the open road can lead to empty stomachs as meal times approach, which begs the question of where to find the healthiest meal options.

First of all, it’s important that, even when on road trips, a normal eating schedule is maintained and that meals are not delayed or skipped entirely. “Try to keep your meal times as consistent as you normally would at home so that you can stay in balance with what your norm is,” says Saperstein.

When deciding where to eat, she suggests having your co-pilot plan ahead for a more informed decision. “Using a smartphone, you can always have someone look up healthy restaurants that may be coming up ahead to preview menus and get ideas,” says Saperstein.

However, road trips can often lead us through areas where, at certain times, fast food may be our only option. Luckily, dining on fast food does not mean all hope and health must be abandoned. The trick is to monitor portion sizes and caloric intake, prioritize lean proteins and fibers, and avoid fried food, trans fats and excessive saturated fats.

“Most fast food places do offer a few healthier choices,” says Saperstein. “You could always get a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and no sauce, and that would actually be a great choice.”

Saperstein also suggests substituting healthier sides such as salads and fruits, instead of chips or fries, and choose low-fat or fat-free dressings whenever possible. “You should always ask for the dressing on the side,” says Saperstein.

At the end of the day, dietary and portion control will never supersede self-control.

“Whatever’s in your car is all under your control,” warns Saperstein. “Why not start your vacation off on a healthy note?”


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Halle Saperstein, RD, is a clinical dietitian at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and enjoys teaching the importance and benefits of a healthy diet.

Categories: EatWell