10 Tasty Road Trip Snacks that Won't Clog your Arteries
I've been on the road a lot this summer: to the farm, to the mountains, to conferences. In trains, planes, and automobiles (but not that many trains).
I want you to guess how healthy my eating habits have been on the road. Spoiler alert: less than healthy. And my gut knows it.
Every time I return home from vacation or the holiday season I go through a bit of a "cleanse" (see: post from January 2016) because my digestive system really isn't happy about the choices I've made. It's hard to eat healthy on the road, am I right?
Nonetheless, I've been working hard on my healthy strategies this summer since I've had so many opportunities, and I'm very happy to share a few of the knowledge nuggets I've gained.
Note: all of these are shelf-stable for at least a week or more. Traveling in heat or frozen temperatures will diminish the quality more quickly of some of the fresh produce so store in a cooler to prolong the life of these foods.
#1: Whole Veggies & Fruit
Fruits and veggies will always and forever be my #1. They are simple, healthy, delicious, and many come naturally packaged in individual servings, requiring very little ahead-of-time prep!
While cucumber slices and baby carrots are handy on the road, they don't keep long outside a cooler. For long road trips (or camping!) I keep my veggies whole until ready to eat.
Before you leave, wash (or scrub) your produce well, dry completely, and store in a breathable container (i.e. not in a closed Ziplock bag). Sometimes I wrap them in paper towels (which also come in handy for cleaning up the juicy mess after eating. Here are my favorites to keep on hand:
- Whole carrots (not baby carrots; leave the peel on for longer shelf life - but scrub them well!)
- Cucumbers (eat whole like an apple or bring a plastic butter knife to slice right before you eat)
- Mini sweet bell peppers (eat around the stem)
- Snap peas (a shorter shelf life, so eat these first!)
- Apples, oranges, clementines, and tangerines
- Cherries, grapes, or strawberries (shorter shelf life, and bring an extra baggie to discard the pits!)
- Peaches, pears, nectarines, and plums (just make sure they don't get squished!)
- Bananas (although better to eat in the first few days, and be careful not to bruise them!)
Not a fan of plain veggies? Try dipping in guacamole, peanut butter (I love carrots & PB!), Ranch, or hummus - all available in individually packaged serving cups!
#2 - 4: Proteins
2. Nuts, Sunflower Seeds & Nut Butter
Such an easy, delicious protein. My only caution is to remember portion control: 2 tablespoons of peanut butter has almost 200 calories! Similarly, one cup of almonds has over 800 calories. That's half of my daily calorie needs!
Nuts and nut butters are great, healthy, filling proteins - but not something you want to mindlessly snack on while you drive. Here are a few ideas to help you with portion sizes:
- 100 calorie snack packs
- Individual peanut butter cups
- Nut butter packets
3. Tuna, Salmon, or Chicken Packets
Generally I'm more of a savory/salty person rather than sweet person, so these convenient pouches really hit the spot when I'm tired of trail mix. I don't mind eating the regular tuna out of a packet with a fork, but now there are many flavors and options to give you variety.
Try serving with the following options if you're not up for eating it plain:
- On Wheat Thins or Triscuits
- Wrapped in a tortilla
- On bread, as a sandwich
- In a lettuce wrap
- Scooped up with cucumber slices or celery sticks
4. Beef Jerky
It's easy, it's quick, it lasts forever in all kinds of temperatures, and it's nice and salty. Try avoiding jerky which has been processed with nitrates as a preservative (a known carcinogen).
This is one of the more expensive proteins in my arsenal, but it's nice to include for a little variety. Just watch your portions as it's pretty easy to consume double your daily sodium intake without thinking twice.
#5 - 7: Healthy Carbs
5. Dried Veggies
You're already well aware of my love affair with fresh produce, but unfortunately it's not always an option for longer trips. As such, dried veggies can be a nice way to include some nutrition and fiber. Beware - not all "veggie chips" are created equal, so make sure to double check the ingredients list to ensure you're buying whole veggies that have been dried.
- Harvest Snaps (pricey, but so yummy! And the ingredients list shows whole snap peas rather than a bunch of processed junk)
- Dried chickpeas (so easy - check out this recipe from The Kitchn to make your own at home)
- Vegetable chips (always read the label - make sure you buy actual dried vegetables and not potato chips with a dusting of other vegetable types!)
A quick note about the health of dried veggies (and fruit): while these foods still contain all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber of fresh fruits and veggies, they lack the water - and thus the bulking power - of food in their natural state. These are not considered "free" foods you can mindlessly snack on. Unlike their whole, natural counterparts, dried veggies have more calories. They are great to include, just do so in moderation.
Popcorn is a delicious whole grain. If you know there are microwaves along your stop, individual microwavable bags might be your best bet. One of my favorite salty treats is a Ziploc bag of homemade popcorn drizzled with a combo of coconut oil and butter, then lightly salted. Hashtag: Yum!
The calorie pricetag is relatively low if you do popcorn right; three cups has between 90-170 calories... depending on how much oil you drizzle on...
If you've never made popcorn on the stove instead of the microwavable bags, I highly recommend it. Here's a basic recipe to get you started from another of my favorite blogs, Budget Bytes.
7. 100% Whole Grain Crackers
Peanut butter crackers are an incredibly popular travel snack, but unfortunately the commercially available ones really aren't that healthy. A much healthier (and in my opinion more delicious) snack is to dip whole grain crackers in a peanut butter cup.
Try 16 Wheat Thins and 2 Tablespoons peanut butter for about 330 calories. Add a fresh veggie and you just made a balanced meal!
#8 - 9: Combo Foods
8. Trail Mix
So simple. So whole. So delicious. There's nothing like a little G.O.R.P. (that's good 'ole raisins & peanuts) to fuel a road trip.
Of course, the nutritional quality of trail mix varies widely depending on what exactly is in the mix. Choose a mix with whole nuts, dried fruit, and few pieces of white flour (i.e. pretzels). Also be careful about how much chocolate is in your trail mix; sometimes it's more of a dessert than a healthy snack.
Regardless, trail mix is a high-calorie snack designed for hiking or expending a lot of energy. So while it's healthy, beware your portions when snacking on it while sitting in the car all day.
9. Granola/Granola Bars
Much like trail mix, the health of granola and granola bars ranges from practically a candy bar to practically bird seed. The ingredients list on the back of the package is the most helpful to tell how healthy a bar is; ingredients are listed in order of most to least (by weight) of what is in the product.
Thus, I choose granola bars based on the first three ingredients, because these make up the bulk of the bar:
- Only one of the three should be some type of sugar
- One or two of the first three ingredients should be a whole food (oats or nuts, for example)
I also try to avoid "protein" bars that contain a lot of process protein powder. Bars that are coated in "yogurt" or chocolate also more closely resemble a candy bar than a health food.
Last, but not least - don't forget to pack something to drink! It's so tempting to grab a slushy or Gatorade when stopping for gas, but your pancreas and liver will really thank me for saving you from all of that sugar (read The Tale of a Soda Pop to find out why).
Here are a few healthier alternatives to give you some variety:
- Sparkling water (best when cold; La Croix is a great brand, but I usually just buy the store brand alternative)
- Almond milk (it comes in shelf-stable single serving bottles, perfect for using with your granola in the morning!)
- Instant coffee (because I can't survive without my morning coffee... better instant than none at all if I'm traveling or camping and unsure where my next dose of caffeine might come from)
- My trusty water bottle (refilled with fresh water every chance I get; sometimes I add a slice of lemon or cucumbers for a different flavor)
Whether you're flying or driving, whether your gone for a few days or a few weeks, whether you're traveling solo or with a crowd, allow me to send you off with this traditional Irish Blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
With love from Peas and Hoppiness.