4 Tips for a Healthier Road Trip

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Summer brings road trips for many of us. When I was young, they meant climbing in the back of the station wagon with my brothers (before we understood the safety of seat belts) with a few games and a large picnic basket for the stop at a roadside rest area. Making healthy eating choices on long car trips can be a challenge. With a little planning and these four tips, you can make your next summer road trip a healthy one.

  1. Bring your own foods for snacks and meals if possible. Packing a small cooler before you leave helps be prepared when you get a little way down the road and need a snack. Load it with washed fruits like berries or grapes that you will not have to worry about turning brown. Clean cold, crisp vegetables such as baby carrots, celery, and peppers and include a container of hummus for dipping. Include string cheese or shelled hard-boiled eggs for cold protein options. Pack a container of nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts mixed with dried fruits of raisins, apricots, or dates for easy and healthy nibbling options. Healthy whole grain sandwiches with peanut butter or lean meats or any other portable foods and a thermos of cold water or unsweetened tea and you will be set to enjoy a healthy meal as you travel.

  2. Healthy options can come from a gas station. More and more gas stations also include a market with a wide variety of food choices, including healthy ones. If you don't want to pack your own food or you run out of snacks for the trip home, no worries, pick up some healthy snacks when you stop for fuel. Sure, there will be chips, candy bars, and soda to entice you. Use your will power to walk past those in favor of a piece of fresh fruit, an individual pack of nuts or a bottle of 100% juice instead.

  3. You can find something healthy from a vending machine. When taking long road trips you inevitably have to stop to stretch your legs or let the dog have a break at a road side rest. If you are trying to make good time to your destination, you may decide to pick up something from the vending machines to save yourself another stop. To make the healthiest choices, select bottled water instead of soda and look for baked chips, honey roasted nuts, fruit snacks, or cheese and cracker options.

  4. Make wise choices when selecting fast food. Sometimes you want the ease of a fast food drive-thru to grab a quick meal while not losing driving time. Pick your exit and fast food choices wisely, so you are still maximizing your nutrition. With over 14,000 locations across the country, there is certainly a McDonald's on your way. A hamburger or grilled snack wrap are only about 255 calories and provide healthier grab and go options. You might want to include a side salad with low fat dressing or a snack size Fruit and Walnut Salad to round out your meal. Instead of fries ask for apple wedges and instead of soda select a bottle of water and you have a nutrient wise fast food meal on the run. Of course there are other choices when you are making a fast food stop on the run so become familiar with healthier options before your trip so you will know what restaurants to watch out for when it is time to select an exit.
What are your healthy road trip food suggestions?

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KOALA_BEAR 7/25/2019
I agree that Wendy chili & salad is good but my favorite fast food place is Taco Bell. Bean burrito & a chicken taco w/ ice tea works for me. Del Taco is also good. I might splurge on a diet soda for the caffeine, & I can't have dairy so milk is out. Report
MARKSMOM3 6/7/2019
Great ideas from the blog, and also all the comments! Thanks everybody! Report
I remember my parents always brought along food (canned and in a cooler). I also recall my Mom must have bought some groceries in Jasper one time (or she had packed them) I just recall for whatever reason those were the best bologna sandwiches I ever ate. Report
We're heading out on a 3 week road trip in a couple of days. We have stainless steel bottles for water in the car and fruit and veggies, jerky, protein bars for snacks on the way. For lunch we'll often find a grocery store to get crackers, meat & cheese to make our own lunches (with fruit and veggies of course). This 3 week trip is going to take a lot of planning but we'll make it work. Even if I'm taking the kids out for just a day trip I'll always pack our own snacks and lunch - it's cheaper, more relaxed and a great time for everyone to stretch their legs in somewhere picturesque (normally). Report
I love road trips and take many. Planning is the key. I always pack more snacks than needed as the hubby likes to take the less traveled route on the lookout for the perfect photo op. The cost of food on some of these routes kill the budget (like highway 1 'tween Carmel and San Luis Obispo). And I will only stop at fast food for their restroom (hubby will buy a coffee). Report
I have many memories of playing in the back of a station wagon! Now, with our family, I love to make a big container of cheerios, pretzels, raisins, peanuts and M&M's. It travels well, is a fun treat, and doesn't include the fat of fast food. It and other snacks- allow my husband to keep driving and driving- as he is a destination man vs. stopping along the way! Report
We head out Saturday for a week long vacation and hubby made jerky last night and I'll pick up fruit tonight and we'll make sandwhiches for lunch on the way out. I also like to keep trail mix, with nuts and raisins, on hand as well as pretzels and everyone gets his/her own bottle of water. Report
ARCHIMEDESII, bringing cereal is a great idea! I never thought of that. I am leaving for a road trip in two days so I am glad I saw this.
Depending on where I'm going, I like to stop at grocery stores to pick up fresh fruit. Even instate rest stop stores carry some kind of fruit. Another thing I like to do is bring along a box of my favorite (healthy) cereal. I can find milk anywhere.

I'll also bring along supplies of granola/protein bars. Those have been a savior for me whenever I travel. I also like beef or turkey jerky packs. it's a simple way to get some protein.

After being on the program for about 14 months, I am almost finished with my vacation. Before I left CA, I felt I would have no problems eating the right foods on vacaion. WRONG! It has been very difficult finding the good foods, and recording what I have eaten at various places. I have purchase fresh fruits, bottled water and kept in the motel rooms. I'll have to get back on track when I am home. I enjoyed reading this blog very much. Report
Thanks for these! I am always looking for more ideas in this area because my better half thinks a road trip is a vaca and just thinks we can eat anything, which I know is not realistic. We go quite a bit, and IS the biggest argument of any trip! Report
Thanks for the tips. I wish I'd had these in May, when we took a weekend trip out of state. But I will keep them in mind for the future. Report
thanks for this Report
Whenever we travel, we pack our own light snacks and meals and only if we HAVE to, purchase from fast food and convience stores as that's what they are there for. I enjoy shopping in grocery stores and will even include it on our way to our destination as Walmart and some grocery stores are 24/7! Water, I've found is alwasy right on time as a pick me up to fill me up! I eat the $1 salads from McDonald's with my hands! Good ideas and thanx for sharing! Report
Another option is to stop at a grocery store - there are many items from the deli that are healthy, and often less expensive than fast food. Report
I have exactly the same memory of eating at the rest area and sitting in the back of a station wagon. Now we pack healthy snacks but on our long trips we always stop at fast foods places on the way. packing our own lunches sounds like a great plan! Report
On a day trip, I like to put together a Carb Balance WW tortilla, smeared with 1 wedge of Laughing Cow Cheese, a handfull of fresh spinach, a slice of low sodium deli turkey breast. This is compact, non-messy and healthy. Works well for me while hubby is in Wendy's. Report
Just got back from a road trip and I pretty much did what you've said here (just didn't buy anything at a filling station). The McDonald's snack wrap and fruit salad (it's a little too much sugar for me, so I count that as a really big treat) has become my road fare of choice when traveling. I've found that if I eat it very slowly, it is quite filling. If I get hunger pangs between meals I always have nuts and/or fresh fruit with me. And, the water bottle is always filled and right next to me! Report
I'm planning to travel very soon. This has been very helpful, thank-you! Report
I like Mother's Rice Cakes. They come in sweet or salty flavors, are whole grain, and keep your mouth busy when you just need to chew. They are 40 calories each. I also like Newman's Own soy crisps, also flavored sweet or salty. They have the same munchie-satisfying texture but give you a lot of protein, so they fill you up without blowing the calorie budget. Report
Sub sandwiches are always a hit, but many times, places like Subway & other fast food joints wreak havoc on our pocket books...

Instead, my hubby & I hit up Sam's Club or Costco & buy the big sub rolls--add our own sliced (lowfat) cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sliced pickles, etc... then we cut them to single serving sizes for a great "grab-and-go" (and healthy) lunch....(We bring some mustard & condiments to add if we feel like it.) At least, this way, we can calorie count ahead of time, and keep ourselves from eating way too much at a fast food place...

We've also recently started drinking sparkling water-- I'm still getting used to the flavor, but the fizz and lightly flavored (and calorie/sodium/artificial-sweetener
-free) water gives the illusion of a can of pop (soda) with a far less impact on your body calorie-wise...Some lemon or lime wedges can also help to flavor the sparkling water and ease the taste.

We also love nuts (almonds!)--Remember to bring some small containers for portion control vs. dipping into the can or bag... :-)

Years ago, we bought a "newspaper" grill-- where we can quickly grill up a couple of hot dogs on the road--it gives us a "hot meal" in minutes... and since we can pick the types of hot dogs or sausages ahead of time, we can get things that are less fatty and more health-conscious for us. :-) Report
Great ideas. Thanks so much for sharing. I may not be taking any trips this summer, but I will keep these in mind when the road trips to hockey tournaments start again in the fall. Much better options for all of us! Report
I love, love, freeze dried fruit! I like the individual packs best, but they aren't easy to find. I am waiting for some freeze dried veggies to arrive now to try.... The fruit packs well and doesn't need cooling! Usually nothing is added either. I also like Subway as a choice on the go and always choose apples from the fast food places. Report
The cooler is always packed last, with water, fruit, sandwiches, chips and homemade goodies. We know almost every good roadside park north, south, east or west. It's a time saver, budget saver and diet saver. If you have kids, it's a life saver, getting them out of the car and into the fresh air. Family member use to make fun of us but we just kept on doing what was right for us. Besides, I look forward to things I don't eat at home that often as a treat for the road (I'm talking to yo, bagel and cream cheese) Report
This blog came at just the right moment- THANKS. I am in the process of planning some 1 day road trips for the family to see different sights here in NC. For snacks I like to pack baby carrot strips, pretzels, fresh fruits like apples and bananas, portion size raisins or nuts, and those Nature Valley's Sweet & Salt granola bars. We just started the process of packing a healthy picnic lunch with bottles of water or Capri Suns, sandwiches, and healthy selections of chips (for the guys- I'd rather munch on fruit or veggies). There are articles on SP that help plan for fast food eating. I will be searching for them again to prepare for the upcoming roadtrip to see my mother in-law in Virginia. It takes 5 hours so the snacks will come in handy but my hubby and son will want to stop at a fast food place for lunch. I need to have a game plan for me to pick the best healthy choices from the various places like Hardees, Wendys, and McD since they are along our route. Report
Wendy's. I like the fish sandwich with no bun - the fish and lettuce are tasty. Choose a side other than fries. The baked potato, side salad, or mandarin oranges are good options. And unsweetened iced tea to drink. Report
I drive a Prius, even the same color as the one pictured, does that count for anything? ;) Report
I always bring granola bars on trips. They fit in your pocketbook or bag really easy. Report
I recently went on a long road trip to Oregon. It takes from 5-6 hours drive. I went with my teen son.
I planned our treats and sandwiches ahead of time and drinks and put them in a cooler that doesn't take up a lot of room in the car.
We only had to stop when we got there to get gas. We do not pick up junk or anything when we stop. I have all the goodies we need. Keep to the plan and don't go off the path.
Our breakfast was taken care of every morning. So that saved us money and also gave us plenty of food choices.
It is easier with kids to have places that has a pool or hot tub and breakfast. Then you can get a break from the actual trip and relax.
Trips are great to go sight seeing but also you need your rest that is why you took off the time.
I like road trips because you are in charge of where you want to go and when.
Most places have a fridge. I went to the local grocery store and picked up milk and juice ect. Report
I'm too frugal to waste money buying from high priced gas stations or fast food places right alone the interstate. We always drive "toward town" and find a grocery store where the "locals" buy, so the prices are much better. It usually isn't far, since we plan to get off the interstate at bigger towns along the way. Report
When flying you can't bring water with you...but you can bring an empty water bottle. I usually bring an empty water bottle with me, then fill it up after I go through security. Most airports have water fountains and most restaurants don't mind filling your bottle for free. Healthy and saves tons of money on overpriced drinks. Report
Grapes! Report
My fiance and I are leaving tonight for a road trip to south Texas. We will definately be packing plenty of bottled water and green tea. Also, bananas, grapes, baby carrots and some apples for the hotel room. I hadn't thought of graham crackers though. I love the ones with cinnamon on top! Report
SP is suggesting that one buy food from a fast food place and continue driving? I'm surprised. It's a distraction. I know we all do it and what I've learned from years of driving long distances is that you are farther ahead by taking 15 min to get out of the car, do a series of stretches and deep breathing, go for a short brisk walk and eat/drink. You are less tired on the road, your body is less stressed and you are not distracted by food while driving. Report
We are travelling from MB to NS next week...at least 4 days on the road. One just from our home to Wpg...2 across Ont (beautiful province, but it never ends!), them a cpl days across Que, NB and into NS. I eat from boredom on the road. Thanks for all the great tips! I will be packing many of the healthful snacks I see here! Report
This might sound funny, but getting a good night's sleep for a few days before a road trip helps! Otherwise, I am tempted to try to munch to stay awake! And that becomes mindless munching, which means I munch until the bag I am munching from is empty. Not too bad when it is a bag of celery or carrots. But very bad when it is red licorice or malt balls or chips or that awful bagged popcorn. Report
We love going on road trips and I always do a shopping trip just before we go to load up on healthy snacks that we will eat (I have a picky 3 year old). I even bought a soft side cooler just for the car and bike trailer. I even pack a picnic lunch for the zoo, just so that we save on calories....These tips also help you save money...Something to think about.

Large gas stations....like the truck rest stops are the best places to find healthy snacks. Just something that I have noticed. Report
I will consider these tips during our road trip to Montreal. Thanks! Report
One of my favorite filling fast food choices is a cup of chile and a side salad at Wendy's. I try to bring my own healthy carb choice. I make my own grahm crackers and they go anywhere. It is also the cheapest meal you find on the road. Packing light muscle milk along with the fruit helps keep my calcium and protien where they need to be also. Report
Thanks for the great tips! The healthier road trip foods are definitely out there (even at the gas stations!!) so this is a nice reminder to seek them out. Report
Don't forget the water. When I'm drinking enough water I am less tempted to start mindlessly eating whatever is near by. Report
Now that we are retired, my hubby and I are taking lots of road trips. We pack a cooler with grapes, bananas, Fiber One bars, diet tea, oranges and water. I keep a plastic bag for trash and paper towels and hand sanitizer to keep the car and us clean. Happy trails to all who are planning trips and drive safely!

Shannon em>247 /em>

Inhale~Exhale~Breathe in Life Report
Thank you for the tips I could use some new ideas, will be going on a road trip next weekend. Report
Thanks for the tips I am going on a road trip this weekend and will be using these! Report
Wawa always has some great healthy options when you're on the road. Grapes, lots of other fresh fruits, string cheese, plus you can always customize a sandwich as healthy as you want it. A lot of the bigger, nicer convenience stores/gas stations have these options. Report
Thanks for the helpful blog. We always make healthy sandwiches and lots of fresh veggies on our roadtrips. Makes the trips shorter if we don't have to stop and eat at a restaurant. Saves money too. Report
My fiance and I have always packed a cooler full of food, made our own granola bars and taken a thermos as well as many stainless steel water bottles. It is handy for our two day trips we make from New Brunswick to Ontaio. We almost never have to buy more food or water on the road. We even have a little portable hot plate to cook in our hotel room! Report
While going through some top shelves in the kitchen I found some old style widemouth thermos bottles and I think I'm going to be having some healthy, warm soups and frozen cutup fruits on my trips this summer. Report
Very good tips, thanks Report