Walking to a gas station when you’re starving, and still 60 miles from your destination, can feel a little like a war zone—with sugar, sodium and calorie bombs everywhere you look and temptation pulling you toward the chips and candy aisle.
This doesn’t have to be your reality on the road. There are a variety of tactics you can use to eat healthy on the go, helping you feel great every mile of the journey. Use these tips to keep a constant flow of healthy food readily available.
Buy a Lunchbox
Sometimes travel-friendly foods (non-perishables) get old. Instead of subsiding solely on crackers, nuts, chips and jerky, take a step back in time and head to the store for a lunchbox—there are so many great “adult” lunchboxes available that you can use for the beach and other outings as well.
Pack your food inside with an ice pack and take whatever you’re craving, like sandwiches, chopped fruit or noodles. If you’re on the road for more than one day, take a baggy and fill it with ice at a gas-station soda machine every morning for a fresh cold pack.
Look for the Right Grocery Store
Not every grocery store is created equal, and if you want to get healthy food without breaking the bank, you have to know where to look. An awesome grocery store analysis from CouponBox looked at five major chains nationwide to compare the cost of specific types of food and overall affordability.
This information can help you pinpoint the best grocery stores to look for as you travel from one city to the next. Some highlights of the analysis are:
- Apple juice and ground turkey are cheapest at Kroger.
- Greek yogurt was priced most affordably at Trader Joe’s.
- Apple sauce and canned tuna are least expensive at Walmart.
- Overall, Aldi averages the highest savings, with Walmart coming in second and Kroger in third. (Note that Kroger owns major grocery stores like Ralph’s Food 4 Less and Fry’s. Get the full list here.)
Look for an app that helps you locate nearby grocery stores and then sift through to find one that offers budget-friendly health food.
Find a Salad Bar
Many large grocery stores provide customers with a salad bar where you can load up on veggies, protein and cold noodles, rice, etc. The best part is that you control the portion sizes: choose just the right amount and avoid wasting, or pile your salad high and save the rest for another meal.
When traveling in New York City a few months ago I did this and ended up having enough salad to eat as a side for three days, saving myself money and stress.
Looking for healthy food at a gas station or rest stop is a nightmare—you’re usually relegated to a stick of cheese or a banana, which is almost always over- or under-ripe, never just right. Unfortunately, when you’re hungry, sometimes a gas station is the only option.
In this case, open up your options, and make the healthiest choice possible, by checking ingredients. For example, most gas stations and rest stops have bags of nuts, but they’re often loaded with sugar, salt and “natural flavor.” Check the ingredients on every brand and type of nut to choose the lesser of two (or three or four) evils.
Some crackers may have surprisingly good ingredients, as well, along with some brands of baked chips. Finally, don’t forget to check the fridge section, where you can often find cheese squares, yogurt and pre-made cold salads.
Boost the Nutritional Value
If you can’t pack a lot of food, focus on bringing healthy condiments, sauces and granola/seeds that will make your gas station or grocery store finds more delicious and nutritious
For example, you can eat peanut butter with crackers, bananas, celery, bread and more. It also provides you with healthy fat and protein to keep you full for longer. Other healthy nutrition-boosters to pack are:
- Guacamole/salsa: Eat with tortilla chips
- Hummus: Eat with crackers, chips or vegetables
- Granola: Eat with an apple
- Chia seeds/ground flax seeds: Eat with yogurt
Eat Smaller, Frequent Meals
It’s easy to be tempted by candy and junk food at the rest stop when you have no food in your stomach. Avoid temptation by eating a lot of smaller meals or snacks throughout the day. Not only does this help you stay full, but packing a full meal can be challenging, as opposed to snacks, which are easier to fit in small bags or stuff into pockets.
Eating healthy on the road is possible, even if you don’t have room to pack the foods you normally eat. Make smart choices at the gas station, give your rest-stop finds a nutritional boost, and look for the grocery stores where you’ll get the most bang for your nutritional buck.