While it’s not quite as bad as hitting the road without filling the tank, embarking on a road trip without giving some thought to what you’ll eat when hunger strikes can seriously slow your weight loss or progress. That’s because gas stations, rest stops, and convenience stores primarily sell diet-derailing junk. And boy, does it look delicious. But armed with our trusty guide, you’ll have no trouble putting up the blinders and zeroing in on something that will work with your healthy eating plan. (We even have a few suggestions for things you can bring from home if that’s more your style.) Read on to find out what they are, and vow to trade in those fattening chips and candies for our better-for-you, car-friendly bites.
With five grams of protein and fiber per serving, swapping your go-to road trip trail mix for a pack of roasted chickpeas is a smart move for your body—and your taste buds. The Good Bean, one of the most popular leaders in this new(ish) snack category, has a ton of flavor options to choose from ranging from sweet to savory. You can’t go wrong with Smoky Chili & Lime or Sweet Cinnamon.
Protein bars can be found just about everywhere these days, but that doesn’t mean you should just pick up whatever looks good and head to the register. While options can sometimes be limited when you’re on the road, ideally you should look for a bar with less than nine grams of sugar, and a solid hit of fiber and protein to boost the satiety factor. Three readily available brands that make a number of flavors that fit the nutritional profile: KIND, Kashi and Clif (look for their Mojo and Trail Mix bars).
You know those single-serve cereal cups that convenience stores sell? As long as you don’t fill ‘em with milk, the low-sugar, whole grain varieties make a great driving snack. (Can’t find anything that screams nutritious? Childhood classics like Kix, Honey Bunches of Oats, and Frosted Flakes aren’t totally awful for you and can be found just about everywhere.) You can even mix the dry cereal with some raw almonds for a pit stop trail mix that’s actually pretty darn delicious.
Before you hit the road, throw some kale chips in the back seat. Most convenience stores sell fruit, but few sell vegetables. A well-seasoned kale chip (like Rhythm Superfoods’ Kool Ranch and Zesty Nacho varieties) will kill your craving for Doritos and Fritos while serving up the vitamins and fiber your body needs to stay well on the road.
If you’re craving something savory but don’t want to blow your diet on a bag of chips, many convenience stores sell single serve, packaged pickles in the refrigerator section. One large one has just 15 calories, so it’s hard to go wrong. Plus, research suggests that acidic foods like pickles significantly help increase the rate at which the body burns off carbs. The faster you burn off carbs, the sooner you’ll start using stored fat as fuel—and that’s a good thing if you’re trying to lean out.
Snack-sized hummus and pretzel packs have been popping up in the refrigerated section of convenience stores across the country as of late–which is good news if you’re trying to maintain your diet while you’re road tripping. While the pretzels aren’t exactly booming with nutrition, there are far worse things you could buy from a gas station. (Hot dog, anyone?) That said, if you happen to see a bag of baby carrots in the fridge, grab ‘em and pair them with the dip. Not only is the combo far healthier, the carrots’ crunchy texture will keep you from zoning out while you’re behind the wheel.
Even if 99 percent of the stuff being sold at the rest stop is junk, you’re bound to find at least one store that sells fresh fruit. Bananas are easy to eat behind the wheel and they don’t need to be washed. And so long as you can find somewhere to rinse ‘em off, apples and pears are also refreshing road fare. Snag some nuts or a string cheese to up the protein content of your mini meal. The combination of healthy fat and complex carbs will boost your energy and keep hunger at bay for miles.
Before you hit the road, toss a scoop or two of your favorite protein powder into a shaker bottle. So long as you can get your hands on a bottle of water, you’ll be able to make a sippable meal whenever hunger strikes. If water-based shakes don’t tend to tide you over for too long, bring along some shelf-stable (read: non-perishable) almond milk and use that as a more filling liquid mix-in.
While fresh produce is always best (their water content helps keep you full), the dried stuff isn’t half bad—so long as you stick with varieties that aren’t made with added sugar. Split a bag of apple chips with someone else in the car for a crunchy, fiber-filled snack with fewer than 200 calories.
A lot of road munching is boredom-induced rather than a result of actual hunger. With that in mind, it’s smart to bring along some low-calorie options so you can munch away without ruining your washboard abs. You can’t go wrong with snacking olives from Milas Oloves. The 50-calorie to-go packs come in a variety of flavors (like Basil & Garlic and Chili & Oregano) and can be purchased at health food stores and Starbucks locations nationwide.
Sure, it’s sold in basically every gas station across the nation, but not all jerkys are created equal. While they all may boast similar protein and calorie counts, bags that are free of weird chemicals and sky-high sugar counts can be tough to spot among the rest. To ensure you’re buying a winner, scan the labels until you find something with fewer than 400 milligrams of sodium and 4 grams of sugar per serving. If you see anything on the ingredient list that’s been “hydrolyzed” put it back on the shelf. That’s a code for MSG, an additive that causes the body to pump out the fat-storage hormone, insulin.
Packed with protein, easy to eat on the run, and sold in just about every convenience store, raw or lightly salted nuts are one of the best road trip snacks around. And if you’re planning on bringing some bites from home, consider grabbing some squeezable, snack-sized nut butter packs. Not only are they a filling source of healthy fats, they’re easy to eat behind the wheel and can stop sweet tooth cravings right in their tracks.
Most gas stations and pit stops now sell protein-filled Greek yogurts in their refrigerated sections. Stay away from anything that’s fruit-flavored (those are often the most sugar-filled) and pick up a plain full-fat or low-fat yogurt instead. Hate the taste of plain yogurt? If the shop you’re in has a coffee bar, see if they have honey or cinnamon next to the brew. They both make for tasty mix-ins. (Just go easy on the honey or you may as well have grabbed the fruit option!)
And speaking of the refrigerator section, while you’re there, see if they happen to have packaged and peeled hard-boiled eggs. You can typically snag a pack for $2 or $3, and they’re easy to eat while you’re driving. Not to mention, they’re filled with nutrients like protein, vitamin B12, and choline.
Skip the chips and reach for a bag of popcorn instead. Many people don’t realize it, but the popular movie snack is a source of wholesome whole grains, and it’s far less caloric than chips—mostly because it’s filled with so much air. Look for a bag that’s low in the salt department and doesn’t contain any buttery flavoring—most of the time that stuff is just code for chemicals your body doesn’t need.