SparkPeople Blogs  •  snacks  •  travel

Fuel Up without Filling Out at the Gas Station

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Are you traveling for the holidays? Chances are high that you are—AAA reports that 93.3 million Americans will be traveling between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which is a 1.6 percent increase from last year. And when you're traveling, you'll surely need road snacks to keep your hunger at bay. When you’re pressed for time on the road, you might stop by a gas station to grab a quick bite to eat. But beware—gas stations are home to many foods that are packed with sodium, trans fats and preservatives. However, if you look closely, you can find some decent options to meet your needs in a pinch. If you were to choose between a package of trail mix and a stick of beef jerky at a gas station, which is the better choice to refuel you on your trip?
The Winner: Read Your Labels to Find Out!

In general, trail mix and beef jerky are going to be two of your best bets for gas station fare (unless fresh fruit is available!). Both of these choices are packed with protein and contain a reasonable amount of calories (when using portion control, of course). But since calories, preservatives, and sugar vary so much by brand for both of these snacks, the key is to read your labels to make the best choice.

Trail mix often packs in a filling mix of protein, healthy fats and fiber, but watch out—the calories can add up quickly, and there is usually more than one serving in a small package. When selecting trail mix, make sure to find one that has no sugar added (which can be a surprisingly difficult task), and don’t spring for the kind with candies or yogurt-coated raisins in it. Stick to a mix that only contains fruit and nuts. A serving of trail mix is generally anywhere from 150-200 calories.

Beef jerky can be an excellent source of protein, but it can also be packed with sodium and preservatives. If possible, find an all-natural kind that’s low in sodium. Even better, see if you can find a nitrite and nitrate-free option. A serving of beef jerky is usually around 80 calories.

The bottom line? If your gas station offers a no-sugar-added fruit and nut trail mix, go with the trail mix over the preservative-packed beef jerky. If your gas station only has trail mix that’s loaded with added sugar, but you manage to find a jerky that’s reasonably low in sodium and preservatives, choose the jerky. Sometimes, you just have to do your best with what you have available.

But better yet, don’t rely on gas stations for your road snacks! Pack a cooler to take with you in the car that’s full of fruits, veggies, hummus, whole-grain crackers, and any of your other favorite healthy snacks. If you plan ahead, you don’t have to be at the mercy of whatever the gas station is offering—and you can feel confident in sticking with your healthy lifestyle while on the road.

Click here for more portable snack ideas!

What's your go-to healthy snack to take with you on the road? Do you ever buy snacks at gas stations?

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LEANJEAN6 9/5/2020
I sometimes buy Lotto tickets at gas bar--- that is all-- Report
REDROBIN47 5/5/2020
This is not a problem for me. I pay at the pump and never go in the station. Especially now with COVID-19 Report
I always pay at the pump, and rarely go in a gas station, I did last week for the first time in a long while, but just bought water since my water bottle was home on the counter! Report
When traveling I take pre-portioned protein powder, hard cooked eggs, date bran muffins. If I had to I would look for tomato juice or V8 & cheese; maybe a can of chili beans. Some of the bigger truck stops have fresh fruit cups & side salads. Otherwise eating canned foods w/ additives isn't great but won't kill you once or twice either. Report
I try not to get any thing besides gas Report
I have NEVER bought anything inside a gas station, even in the wilds of Norhtern MIchigan. I always have body fuel in my car. Report
Thanks for sharing. Report
Not in a habit of buying items at a convenience store. Ran into a convenience store in Chicago area, and found a delicious sugar free chocolate syrup for my coffee. Can't find the same where I live. Report
In the UK you can "pay at the pump" so no temptations from the junk food inside. I keep an emergency bag of nuts and some dried fruit with a bottle of water in the car. Planning a head is key. Report
From my experience, gas station food is mostly over price junk food. Save your money! Bring your fruits and veggies from home to snack on. Report
I'm not a big fan of gas station food. I got sick once by eating a sandwich I had purchased so I swore off it. Report
Until I got married, it would never have occurred to me to purchase anything but gas at gas stations/convenience stores while travelling. My husband and stepson, however, can't go ANYWHERE -- not even for a 20-minute car ride -- without stopping for a soda at the first convenience store they pass. (And then they inevitably have to pull over halfway during the journey to pee!) It became a bad habit for me also, but I cut it out when I started my diet back in April. Now my husband is on a strict, doctor-supervised diet, and he won't purchase any more convenience store snacks/beveridges either. Report
Gas station eating has always been a trial when we were on motorcycle trips and couldn't stop for a real lunch. It was usually peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke, then move on. Report
We usually grab a bag of almonds. Report
Peanuts are always a good choice for me! Then add a piece of fruit if available. Better yet, pack snacks in small cooler to take with you on any road trip. Report
I had to do this the other day. I chose a stick of string cheese, a banana, and a bottle of water. They had 'healthy' snack options, like Clif Bars and trail mix, but they all had so many ingredients I thought it was best to go simple. Report
Now that my kids are grown, my husband and I are enjoying traveling more by car. We are getting to see more of the country and don't have to follow a time schedule. My Mom gave us a cooler that plugs in to the cigarette lighter in the car. It is sooooo cool. We plug it in and pack it with fruits and vegies and extra water. This way, we don't have to stop if we're thirsty and get suckered in to buying junk. Report
When we travel, I usually pack some proper snacks but my husband chooses to buy something instead. On one flight, I had to buy a snack box to get me through the 4 hour period until I could eat again. The ingredients were health friendly. After complaining about me buying them, my husband grabbed some of it for himself. Report
I've only ever *once* bought food at a gas station, and I managed to get a deal providing an -ish healthy sandwich of salmon and cucumber on wholemeal bread, a small pack of fresh fruit, and a bottle of water. And yes, I checked the contents and nutrition labels for all 3 items.

For preference, I'd take snacks with me - a cool box or cool bag holding ziplock bags and small containers with carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, pineapple cubes, dried tart cherries, cherry tomatoes, cheese sticks or cubes, thinly sliced cold meat, maybe some shelled hard-boiled eggs, oatcakes (a savoury biscuit made with oats), and maybe some whole apples.

I keep the cool box or cool bag cooled with small bottles of frozen water or pure fruit juice - partially filled bottles put into the freezer several hours before needed. Apple juice is lovely, this way. It's amazing how long the bag or box stays cool and the liquid at least partially frozen! Report
I can't even begin to count the number of times I have roamed the isles looking for something to eat and always end up leaving with nothing. You would think they old have some fresh fruit. So I have snacks in a small cooler. Something crunchy like celery, apples. Radishes......maybe some cheese and crackers. Report
Finally a great comparison. If you are truly stuck at a gas station and need a snack, I'm sure they have milk. The way this was presented was great. Look for low sodium no nitrates jerky because of the great protein it offers. The trail mix is great in vitamins and protein, but high in calories and maybe sodium, too and sugar, too. I look for a Kashi bar or sometimes a Kelloggs bar. Skim milk, too.


rumbamel Report
If you ARE stuck with gas station and airport food, go for the fewest number of ingredients as possible. Pass up the trail mix for plain nuts, and instead of buying beef jerky, buy a pack of deli turkey and sliced cheese to roll up. Airports are now pretty well stocked with fruit, salads and wraps, but one of my rules with readers and patients is to keep it simple -- & to make a snack a protein AND a fruit of vegetables. Report
A perfect article for me this morning, as I am packing for a road trip to visit family. Dried sour cherries and almonds, air popped popcorn, granola bars, and plenty of water will be in the cooler! Happy Holidays! Report
I make my own jerky with a less sodium. Report
I am probably weird, but I just can't buy food at gas stations because the thought of gasoline with food turns my stomach. I would go out of the way to find a different place to get food; and I go on quite a lot of road trips. Still cannot handle food at gas stations. Report
In Canada, we have bulk food stores where you can buy a handful of this or that in the way of healthy snacks. You can pick sodium free, sugar free, fat free etc. if you buy a handful of different a choices, nuts, fruit or whatever, you can mix them and make little portion size bags up. Happy and safe travels everyone and Merry Christmas! Report
Stop at gas station for your car. Your body & tummy is worth than gas station snack. Cooler is an answer. You can pack your fruit, veg, favorite protein.

I'm going to Asia soon. I'm sure I can eat food on airplane but I also pack dry roasted edamame 1/4 cup
130 cal
carb 10 g
fiber 8 g
protein 14 g
fat 4 g

Good info. Happy Holidays! Report
Sunflower kernels are good if I don't have snacks in the car but ususally when I travel I pack my own snacks which saves money and calories! Thanks for the information! Merry Christmas! :)) Report
VERY VERY rarely have I even been tempted to buy food at a gas station. The only thing I ever get is a coffee but that's ALMOST always for later on. The gas stations where I live mark everything up as well Report
I'm to frugal to spend money at a gas station on snacks. We take a cooler in the car and take along food. That is how I managed to raise five children instead of the usual two. We stop at a grocery store and go in and get more when we need it. We call it "Alabama take-out." (A joke, since we live in Florida.) Report
Sound advice for sure! There was a time when I couldn't go into a convenience store without grabbing something. Now I can actually go in and get something to drink and leave. I get looking at those labels and figure out there isn't much I can have. The labels do help to see the truth and the truth sets you free! Report
Peanuts are a filling snack. Report
I usually go for one of those little bags of almonds. it helps with portion control and it usually holds me over pretty well. Report
Very often we are on the road in Texad Oklahoma Kansas etc and our favorite gas station is Love's ( ). They have the nicest homemade beef jerky! They usually have reasonable portions of fresh fruit available as well as nice trail mixes. Many of the Love's locations will have a corporate chained restaurant sharing space, like a Subway etc. Really makes a nice place to get healthier snacks on the road!! Report
Reading the fine print has become a part of my life!:) My husband can't understand why it takes me so much longer to buy groceries ... it's only that the store's lighting isn't exactly what my "after 60" eyes need to focus (even with my glasses on) and the print just seems to be getting smaller!:) but I love my new habit!!! Report
So true! I grabbed almonds and beef jerky at the airport "just in case". The almonds were unsalted but I grabbed roasted by mistake : ( and they were roasted in peanut oil (allergies) and the jerky was loaded with sugar! Had to pass on both of them!!! Lots of hidden ingredients - READ, READ, READ!! Report