If you feel like your healthy eating patterns seem to go out the (car) window on roadtrips, then you're not alone. Even if you're someone who prefers fruit over fast food on a normal day, there's just something so tempting about unhealthy gas station snacks—pre-packaged donuts anyone? However, quick and convenient car snacks don't necessarily have to be unhealthy. In fact, there's a whole array of healthier options out there that can help tide you over until you reach your destination.
To help you better choose snacks during your next long car drive, we tapped some experts to get their insight on some of the best and worst options available. Read ahead to learn more about which snacks you should pack for your next trip.
Both portable and tasty, granola bars are a great snack to keep 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, RDN, registered dietitian, and founder of Cozy Peach Kitchen. To avoid making a mess in the car, Reeser suggests softer granola bars by brands such as Clif or Luna.
Nuts not only are a great source of protein, but they can also keep your digestive system moving and your gut happy when you're on the road. Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, plant-forward culinary nutritionist, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, shares that walnuts are a particularly good option.
"Along with walnuts' digestive-friendly 2 grams of fiber per one handful, or 1-ounce serving, research on the gut microbiome suggests walnuts may be one gut-friendly food to consider thanks to their prebiotic potential," she shares. For instance, in a study from USDA and University of Illinois, it was found that eating 1 1/2 ounces of walnuts each day may help increase "good" gut bacteria. "So, whether you grab a handful while on the road, or pack a homemade bento-style box with plenty of plant-forward picks, walnuts are a portable, nutritious snack for your next long drive," Newgent says.
Ditch the convenience store candy and instead grab a few different fruits for those days you're on the go. Fruits, such as apples, bananas, and grapes, are portable, tasty, and healthy, making them great snack options to pack while traveling. Dried fruit with no added sugar is also a solid option.
Organic beef jerky
Protein-rich 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 loaded with proteins that aid in lowering hunger and keeping you full for longer," shares Nataly Komova, RD and fitness expert at JustCBD. "It can also aid in regulating insulin and prevent excess fat accumulation," she adds.
Greek yogurt paired with toppings, such as chopped vegetables, nuts, or fruit, is a healthy snack that also doesn't skimp out on taste. "Greek yogurt is rich in fiber and proteins, which promote smooth digestion, help boost energy levels, and keep your hunger at bay," says Komova.
Grabbing a bag of chips at a gas station or rest stop is tempting, but this pre-packaged snack may have fewer pros than cons. "Chips can be high in saturated fat which is not good for heart health," explains Sarah Glasser, RD, CDCES. "While chips are tempting, they will also leave you thirsty and can cause you to drink more which will lead to more frequent stops," she adds.
There's no doubt about it—cookies are delicious, but many cookie options are often packed with added sugar and calories. "My recommendation is to save desserts for when you reach your destination," says Glasser. "Getting ice cream on the beach will be more satisfying overall than snacking on cookies during the drive," she adds.
It's incredibly important to stay hydrated during long car rides—but make sure you aren't reaching for just anything to quench your thirst. "Sodas and other sugary drinks provide well over the recommended daily intake for added sugar in just one can or bottle," explains Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com, and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. "They also do not provide any important nutrients that our immune systems need to stay healthy during our travels," she adds. Instead of sugary sodas, sweetened iced teas, and milkshakes, choose healthier options such as naturally flavored sparkling water or plain old H2O.
Pre-made gas station food
During your road trip rest stops be sure to steer clear of any pre-made entrees in the display case, such as pizza, 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 Tyler, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, LD, LAT. Tyler says you should instead choose a nourishing snack like the ones listed above to hold you over until you reach your destination. The best part is that these healthier items can all be found in the aisles of most rest stops.
Stopping at a McDonald's or a Burger King while on the road is convenient, but you may want to lay off the fast food while traveling. "Fast foods, like fries, processed sandwiches, and burgers, are loaded with sodium, trans fats, or other ingredients which have a sluggish effect on the body," explains Komova. She suggests avoiding these foods while on trips to help prevent energy lag.
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