A friend of mine recently returned from a cross-country road trip. He loved seeing different parts of the country, but meals certainly took some troubleshooting. Usually a healthy eater, he was frustrated by the lack of fruit and vegetable options. A little prep beforehand would've made things a lot easier—here's what I suggested he do next time, so you can steal the same tips for yourself.
Before Your Trip
1. Go online to scope out restaurants, rest stops, and grocery stores along your route to get an idea of what your options are. You could even add farms and farmers' markets to the list for some local, often inexpensive flavor.
2. If you're going to be in the car for long stretches, pack an insulated lunch bag or cooler with cold packs to keep food temperatures in the safe zone. If your trip lasts multiple days, you can purchase ice at gas stations as you go and store it in ziplock bags.
3. Do a grocery run to stock up on healthy go-to options. Cover your food group bases: Protein, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Knowing you have options will lessen the stress of trying to find a balanced meal or snack en route, and you'll easily be able to cobble something together from your purchases or doctor up something you grab on the go.
During Your Trip
Everyone needs a solid grocery list to turn to in times of need. Here are a few suggestions of foods to fill up on.
- String cheese or other individually wrapped cheese
- Greek yogurt (plain is best)
- Cottage cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut and seed butters
- A minimally processed bar made from nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, like KIND bar
- Low-sodium cold cuts
- Jerky (try beef, turkey, chicken, or fish)
- Pouches of tuna that can be eaten as is or used to dress up salads or bread
- Hummus: Look for single-serving cups or packs
- Protein powder (bring in a ziplock or purchase single-serve packets and add to plain oatmeal or shake with water)
- Fresh fruit: If you're squeamish about fruit touching other stuff in your bag, choose something with a peel or keep washed fruit in its own resealable bag or container.
- Dried or freeze-dried fruit: Portion into single-serving bags to avoid overeating.
- Fruit-and-seed bars like KIND Pressed bars: These gluten-free bars are made of just fruit, vegetables, and chia seeds. Though there's no true substitute for fresh fruit, these bars are a convenient way to help fill the void, as each provides two servings of fruit.
- Sliced fresh veggies: Bring your own or find at grocery and convenience stores. Many come with creamy dip, but skip that in favor of hummus, salsa, or a single-serve packet of guacamole.
- Freeze-dried veggies: These provide a satisfying crunch along with filling fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just scope out labels to help you choose products with simple ingredients. Ideally, you just want the veggies and maybe a little oil or sea salt.
- Vegetable juice: Fresh is best, but bottled (like low-sodium V8 juice) works in a pinch.
- Vegetable juice powder: Just shake up in a water bottle.
- Salad: This is a no-brainer way to work in more veggies at your meals. Include protein and limit the high-calorie add-ons, like cheese, avocado, nuts, and dried fruit.
- Soup: Broth-based soups with veggies are a great way to up your intake. Just steer clear of cream-based soups—a butternut squash bisque, for example, might sound healthy, but it's often made with heavy cream (and even sugar!), which can negate the benefits.
- Avocado: Slice it in half with a knife and eat the flesh out of the skin with a spoon. To keep calories in check, split with a travel companion and enjoy a 125-calorie snack that's packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, and potassium.
- Single-serving packs of olives: They provide satisfying monounsaturated fat for only 50 calories.
- Single-serve packets of chia seeds or ground flaxseed: They're an easy way to add fiber and texture to yogurt and oatmeal.
- Oats: Packets of unflavored instant oatmeal can be mixed with hot water or stirred into yogurt.
- Popcorn: Aside from being lower in calories than a lot of other snack items, popcorn is a whole grain and provides filling fiber.
- Whole-grain bread: Make a simple sandwich with cold cuts or nut butter.
- Whole-grain crackers: Look for something with at least 4 grams of fiber. If portion control is tough for you, separate into single-serve bags.
- Baked potato: Don't overlook the humble baked potato, rich in fiber, vitamin A, and potassium. Plop some broccoli and cheese and you've got a quick "in moderation" meal.
Hydration is important, as mild dehydration can be mistaken for hunger and make you feel sluggish. Drink plenty of water and seltzer, but go slow with coffee—too much caffeine can lead to dehydration and make you feel like you have to pee every 10 minutes. (Want to keep track of your water intake? Try this high-tech bottle that tells you exactly how hydrated you are.)