Our family has been taking more road trips these past few years.
In the last six months, we’ve driven to New Mexico twice and Colorado once. We’ll be driving to Wyoming later this summer.
When you’re on a road trip, food is a primary concern for everyone in the car, especially kids. Kids love stopping at Love’s to buy some road trip Combos.
As a grown man, you may want to eat a little healthier than cheese-stuffed pretzel tubes.
If you’re following some diet or eating plan — perhaps you track your macros like I do — and you want to stick with it while on a road trip, you’re in luck.
While convenience stores were once devoid of good-for-you food and stocked only with nachos and roller-heated hot dogs, the selection of healthier fare has significantly improved over the years.
In fact, we’re living in a golden age for eating healthy on the road.
Below I share my go-to grub for driving the open highways without building a trucker-sized gut.
My General Guidelines for Eating on the Road
Before we get into the specifics of what I like to consume on the road, let me share my guiding principles for eating while traveling:
Hit my protein goal. One of my primary goals when eating on the road is to at least hit my daily protein goal.
Protein builds muscle, natch. But it’s also satiating. I’m less likely to gorge on unhealthy junk when I’m feeling full. (Here’s how much protein you should be getting in your diet.)
Slightly reduce caloric intake by reducing carbs and fat. When I’m on a road trip, I’m sitting on my butt all day. Consequently, I don’t need to consume as many calories as I usually do. So I reduce my caloric intake when driving by lowering the carbs and fats I consume.
For example, I usually consume about 3200 calories a day. When I’m on a road trip, I’ll reduce that to about 2800 calories. I do that by consuming fewer carbs and fat (while still hitting my protein goal).
Don’t forget to treat yo’ self. While I do focus on eating healthy on the road, I don’t let that get in the way of treating myself to some occasional road trip junk food. If we’re still driving at dinnertime, I’ll get myself a hot dog or one of those grab-and-go BBQ sandwiches that many truck stops carry these days. Because they taste good and I’m on vacation.
Focus on eating “right” 80% of the day and enjoy some road trip eats the other 20% of the time.
Overall, you’re never going to eat as healthy on the road as you would in your normal day-to-day life; while convenience stores and travel stops have added healthier offerings, the stuff that’s available still isn’t as fresh and non-pre-packaged as what you’d eat at home. When the option is available, you can of course pack fresher stuff in a cooler, but when that isn’t an option and/or you just want grab-and-go convenience, below you’ll find some decent items to pick up.
Finally, keep in mind that what I highlight here is based on the fact that I follow a “If It Fits Your Macros” plan, wherein you can conceivably eat whatever you want as long as it, well, fits your macros. Even though that’s the case, I still — whether at home or away — try to eat foods that have some nutrients and some fiber, both because such foods are satiating and because they make me feel less like crap. How you define “healthy,” or at least “healthier,” and thus the eating choices you personally make while traveling, is going to depend on your own diet/food philosophy.
Healthier Road Trip Snacks
Bring Your Own Whey Protein
We’ll talk below about protein sources you can buy on the road, but I highly recommend bringing your own whey protein in the car. (Here’s how and why to use whey protein in your diet.) It’s a brand you already know you like. But more importantly, it’s cheap. Look to spend $4 to $5 for a protein shake at a truck stop. Two scoops of whey protein are less than a dollar.
Just bring your bag of whey protein and a shaker. If your whey protein bag is too big, put some in a Tupperware container. While you’re stopped to fill up on gas, make yourself a shake.
Ready-Made Protein Shakes
If I run out of whey protein, I’ll buy a ready-made protein shake. Most roadside gas stations/truck stops carry them these days. They usually keep them in the fridge next to the chocolate milk.
Muscle Milk is a solid choice. A bottle will give you 40 grams of protein. It doesn’t taste terrible. My anecdotal observation is that Muscle Milk is the most commonly stocked ready-made protein shake at convenience stores.
While Muscle Milk is fine, my favorite ready-made protein shake is Fairlife Core Power Elite. It tastes great and gives you a whopping 42 grams of protein per serving. This isn’t stocked as much as Muscle Milk, but it’s still fairly prevalent.
I’m not much of a protein bar guy, but Kate loves them. While she makes sure to pack plenty before we hit the road, she sometimes runs out and needs to restock. Thankfully, most convenience stores carry a wide variety of protein bars these days.
One Bars are Kate’s favorite. Most truck stops carry them. They taste good, and are satiating, low in sugar, and packed with 20 grams of protein.
Man cannot live on whey protein alone. Sometimes you need something with a bit more substance. And savoriness.
When I’m looking for protein that’s not whey protein, beef jerky is my first choice.
All highway gas stations have a large selection of beef jerky. Even the dumpy mom-and-pop ones carry jerky.
My go-to is Jack Link’s Original. Ten grams of protein per serving. It tastes good and is thick and chewy. I don’t like that jerky that feels like you’re putting cardboard in your mouth.
There’s nothing magical or particularly healthy about low-fat/no-fat foods. But in order to hit my macros, I sometimes need a pure carbohydrate option, and pretzels, which are fat-free and low in calories, fulfill that requirement nicely.
I like to eat my pretzels along with my jerky. It makes for a tasty salty snack and allows me to notch my protein and carbohydrate numbers.
My go-to pretzel is the Snack Factory Pretzel Crisps. They’re flat like a chip, so you can use them to make little jerky sliders.
Most gas stations along major highways have fruit and snackable veggies (like baby carrots) for sale. The nicer Love’s will have little containers of fresh mixed fruit. Our kids like those.
I usually get an apple or a banana. Even the rundown rest stops carry them.
Trail Mix and Nuts
I’m not a huge trail mix fan, but if I’m looking for a snack that will satiate me, I’ll grab a bag. I like the traditional trail mix with M&Ms — it’s the perfect sweet and salty combo, and gives you a little protein and fiber to boot. A nutritionist will tell you to skip the added sugar that comes from the candy, and to opt for plain mixed nuts instead, but I don’t mind the “indulgence” when it fits my macros. When I’m not in the mood for trail mix, I do enjoy snacking on straight pistachios.
Healthier Road Trip Meals
So far, we’ve discussed foods that make great, healthier road trip snacks. But what can you eat on the road for lunches and dinners that’s not a hot dog or a slice of Godfather’s Pizza?
Here are the healthier options I choose while on the road:
Wraps and Sandwiches
Most highway rest stops carry ready-made sandwiches and wraps. Love’s has a great selection, but even the smaller rest stops often have a section in their fridge where they keep a small selection of sandwiches and wraps.
I look for the wrap or sandwich with the most protein. I’ll then pair it with some fruit and some pretzel chips.
A lot of travel stops have a Subway inside, and a wrap or sandwich loaded with meat and veggies makes for a decent lunch or dinner.
If I still feel like I need more protein with my meal, I’ll pick up a newer travel-stop offering: chicken breast bites. Each package offers a serving of roasted chicken that gives you 15 grams of protein. I’ve only seen these at Love’s so far.
There you go. How I eat while cruising the nation’s highways and byways. It works for me. Maybe it will give you some ideas for the next time you hit the open road.