If you feel that your healthy eating pattern seems to go out the (car) window during road trips, then you are not alone. Even if you’re someone who prefers fruit over fast food on a normal day, there’s something so tempting about unhealthy snacks at gas stations: prepackaged donuts anyone? However, quick and easy car snacks don’t necessarily have to be unhealthy. There’s even a whole host of healthier options that can help you get over it until you reach your destination.
To help you choose snacks on your next long road trip, we’ve enlisted some experts to get their insights into some of the best and worst options available. Read on to learn more about what snacks to pack for your next trip.
Both portable and tasty granola bars are a great snack to have on hand while traveling. “Granola bars or energy bars are great travel options because they are usually nutritionally balanced and easy to eat on the go,” says Cassidy Reeser, MS, RDNregistered dietitian and founder of Cozy Peach Kitchen. To not make a mess in the car, Reeser suggests softer granola bars from brands like Clif or Luna.
Not only are nuts a great source of protein, but they can also keep your digestive system moving and your gut happy when you’re on the go. Jackie NewgentRDN, CDNplant-forward culinary nutritionist, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbookshares that walnuts are a particularly good option.
“Along with the digestive-friendly 2 grams of fiber from walnuts per a handful, or 1-ounce serving, research on the gut microbiome suggests that walnuts may be a gut-friendly food to consider thanks to their prebiotic potential,” she shares. For example, in a USDA and University of Illinois study, found that eating 1 1/2 ounces of walnuts a day can help increase “good” gut bacteria. “So whether you grab a handful on the go, or pack a homemade bento-style box with plenty of plant-forward picks, walnuts are a portable, nutritious snack for your next long drive,” says Newgent.
Ditch the candy from the grocery store and instead grab a few different fruits for the days you’re on the go. Fruits, such as apples, bananas and grapes, are portable, delicious and healthy, making them great snack options to take with you on a trip. Dried fruit with no added sugar is also a solid option.
High-protein snacks, such as organic beef jerky, are an ideal option to have on hand for days when you know you’ll be in the car for hours. “Beef jerky is packed with protein that helps reduce hunger and keep you full longer,” shares Nataly Komova, RD and fitness expert at JustCBD. “It can also help regulate insulin and prevent excessive fat accumulation,” she adds.
Greek yogurt combined with toppings, such as chopped veggies, nuts, or fruit, is a healthy snack that doesn’t skimp on flavor either. “Greek yogurt is high in fiber and protein, which promote smooth digestion, help boost energy levels, and keep your hunger at bay,” Komova says.
Picking up a bag of chips at a gas station or rest stop is tempting, but this prepackaged snack may have fewer pros than cons. “Chips can be high in saturated fat, which is not good for heart health,” explains Sarah GlasserRD, CDCES. “While chips are tempting, they will also make you thirsty and make you drink more, which will lead to more frequent quitting,” she adds.
There’s no question, cookies are delicious, but many cookie options are often loaded with added sugars and calories. “My recommendation is to save desserts for when you reach your destination,” Glasser says. “Getting an ice cream on the beach will generally be more satisfying than snacking on cookies while driving,” she adds.
It’s incredibly important to stay hydrated on long car journeys, but make sure you don’t grab just anything to quench your thirst. “Sodas and other sugary drinks provide well over the recommended daily allowance for added sugars in just one can or bottle,” explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDNfounder of NutritionStarringYOU.comand author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. “They also don’t provide important nutrients that our immune systems need to stay healthy during our travels,” she adds. Instead of sugary soft drinks, sweetened iced teas, and milkshakes, opt for healthier options like naturally flavored sparkling water or plain stale H2O.
During your road trip, make sure not to keep any appetizers in the display case, such as pizzas, hot dogs, burritos, and nachos. “These items are highly processed, full of saturated fat and sodium, and not the nutrition you need to fuel your body,” says Mandy TylerM.Ed., RD, CSA, LD, LAT. Tyler says you should instead choose a nutritious snack like the one mentioned above to hold you back until you reach your destination. The best part is that these healthier products can all be found in the aisles of most rest areas.
Stopping at a McDonald’s or a Burger King while on the road is convenient, but you may want to omit the fast food while traveling. “Fast foods, such as fries, processed sandwiches, and burgers, are loaded with sodium, trans fats, or other ingredients that have a slow effect on the body,” explains Komova. She suggests avoiding these foods while traveling to avoid energy lag.