Going on a road trip? Get tips on healthy food choices

Written by Susan Watkins, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, Samaritan Albany General Hospital

It’s finally summer, and nothing says summer like a road trip. Not keen on breaking the healthy meal plan you’ve adopted? That’s fine. A road trip doesn’t mean you should cut back on healthy foods, although it does require some planning ahead. Whether you bring your own food or rely on food along the way, there are ways you can stay healthy and feel satisfied during your road trip.

Bring your own food

If you have time to prepare for your trip, the healthiest (and most cost-effective) option is to pack your own meals and snacks. This requires some meal planning and problem solving to keep cold foods cool. Remember, to prevent foodborne illness, foods should be stored at temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods such as cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise, milk, eggs, meat, and fish are especially important to keep cool – put these next to the ice. Vegetables and fruits can be around the perimeter because being in the cooler will help them last longer, but they are not necessary to keep them cool.

Buy an inexpensive refrigerator thermometer to keep in the refrigerator and monitor the temperature. Food in a cooler with enough ice can generally stay cold for two days before it needs to be replaced. Keep the ice in a closed bag so that moisture does not seep into your food as the ice melts, which can spoil the food. You can also try an additional coolant designed for use in the car. However, this may be less effective when the car is off, so you will likely need to take everything to your hotel room refrigerator each night.

Meal ideas to pack

Eating regular, organized meals throughout the day will help you plan a day of healthy eating.


Start your day off right with some healthy and filling options. Choose foods that are high in nutrients, high in protein and don’t require a lot of cleaning.

  • Hard-boiled eggs. Leave it in its shell until the day you are ready to eat it.
  • Homemade egg slices.
  • Homemade whole wheat raspberry pancakes.
  • Bagel and cream cheese.
  • Overnight oats. These don’t require any cooking and can be topped with bits of apples, nuts, berries, or cinnamon.
  • Fresh fruits such as oranges, bananas, apples and grapes. Buy packets of apple juice for the kids if that’s easier.

Lunch Dinner

Keep it simple – sandwiches and wraps are okay to eat. If you’re on the road for several days, pre-cut your veggie fillings and keep them in separate containers, and pack small jars of peanut butter and jelly to make your lunch fresh each morning.

  • Cheese, biscuits and vegetables.
  • Classic sandwich. Choose your favorite from peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese.
  • wraps. You can think of it as an updated sandwich or a hearty salad that’s easy to eat on the drive because it’s wrapped in a tortilla. Cold grilled chicken or savory steak, hummus, cheese, lettuce, veggies, and a little ranch dressing or vinegar make the meal complete. try Tuna roll with lemon cilantro Or a great almond butter and banana roll (believe me on this).
  • Pita and hummus. Pancakes and rolls are great on a multi-day road trip because they are stronger and less likely to mash than bread.


Let’s admit it, road trips are all about snacks. Eating while you’re driving can help keep you awake, but it also means you want healthy snacks on hand, so it’s easy to make healthy decisions.

  • Pack snack bags with fresh veggies: carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots or baby sugar peas. You can also buy ranch dip or hummus.
  • Trail mix and nuts. Caution here – overeating this stuff is very easy. Prepare ½ cup of nuts and mix them into snack bags so you know when to slow down.
  • popcorn. Air your own and add your desired seasoning. Try smoked paprika, nutritional yeast, or cinnamon.
  • Granola bars or energy balls. Some store-bought granola bars look a lot like candy bars, so consider this nutrition label. You can also make your own.
  • Cheese and meat sticks.
  • Chickpea “nuts”.


Keep plenty of water on hand. To season it, bring sparkling water. Try to limit sugar-sweetened beverages like chilled iced tea for the gas station to avoid those empty calories. Caffeinated drinks such as cola and coffee can make you have to stop using the bathroom more often. Water is a good option for children, too. They tend to drink juice quickly, which can increase the number of bathroom stops you’ll need to do.

Eating along the way

Planning to stop at some restaurants or buy food on the way? Don’t waste your healthy meal plan.


The biggest thing you can do to make sure you choose healthy food options at restaurants is to plan ahead. Fortunately for us, it is the twenty-first century. Menus and nutrition facts are posted online for most establishments, including fast food restaurants. Look at the menu online and plan your meal before you get hungry to reduce rash decisions in the restaurant.

If you have time, opt to eat in the restaurant rather than drive by. This will allow you to not only be more aware of your hunger levels as you eat, but you will also enjoy your food more. Taking a break to extend your legs and sit at a different angle can also help beat long-distance driving fatigue, so you don’t feel like your time at the restaurant is wasted.

buy groceries

If you plan to buy some food at a store, try to find a grocery store rather than a grocery store. Grocery stores have a wide selection of fresh produce and will give you more opportunities to buy healthy foods. You’ll find that if you shop around the grocery store, you’ll generally find fresher, less processed foods that fit easily into a healthy meal plan.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find fresh foods in convenience stores – but it is not entirely impossible. Look for options like fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and whole-wheat crackers.

keep it clean

Eating in the car can be messy, and it’s not just for kids. Keep a stash of wet wipes in the glove box for sticky fingers. A small hand towel over your lap can pick up crumbs or wipe up spills and dispose of them at the next gas station. It’s a good idea to keep plastic bags on hand to collect orange peels or grape stalks, eggshells, used tissues, and other rubbish.

Remember, you are on vacation!

All that said, it’s worth noting that it’s okay to reward yourself with a meal that might not be your idea of ​​”healthy.” Remember that life is a balance. Surround yourself with healthy food choices, and don’t feel guilty for indulging yourself once in a while.

Discover more healthy recipes from the nutritionists at Samaritan

If you have questions about nutrition, ask your primary care physician for a referral for nutritional counseling.


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