Nothing can crush your determination to eat more healthfully like a road trip. Good intentions can wither when faced with guilty drive-thru pleasures such as cheeseburgers and fried chicken. But if you take some precautions, you can stay on track, maintains Talia Segal Fidler, nutritional curator at The Lodge at Woodloch, a destination spa resort in Hawley, Pennsylvania. “I find that the most important thing is to be prepared,” she says.
To be sure, careful scheduling plus a few expert tricks will help you make good choices for yourself and your family.
MAP YOUR ROUTE
When planning the trip, consider your anticipated location around mealtimes, and make a list of potential restaurants in those areas. For example, if travel blogger Becca Grabowski leaves Yellowstone National Park at 7 a.m., she’ll buy a prepared wrap to enjoy while driving through desolate stretches. If your route passes large cities, she adds, you’ll know you have access to many cafés, delis, juice bars and salad-centric restaurants.
Of course, things do not always go as planned. For an unexpected stop, download an app like AroundMe, which will direct you to nearby restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, Fidler suggests. Or type “juices” or “salads” into Apple Maps.
Bringing food with you can help prevent cravings for unhealthy items. Snacks can be your best friend, says Katie Tomaschko Tout, a registered nutritionist in Buffalo, New York—if you choose wisely.
“Trail mix, granola bars and even baked chips can be healthy options,” she says. Good fruit choices include grapes, apples and oranges, while celery and carrots pair well with to-go hummus containers. Other options include raisins, nuts, and nut butter and crackers.
Look for preportioned packages to control how many calories you consume, she adds.
If there is space in your vehicle, bring a cooler with sandwiches and snacks, suggests Pamela Howard, owner of the travel blog Our Adventure. Not only will the cooler extend the life of perishable items, but it’s ideal for restaurant leftovers, she adds.
Don’t forget bottled water; you might feel hungry when, in reality, you’re thirsty.
Taco Bell’s Cantina Power Bowl with Chicken with reduced-fat sour cream weighs in at 460 calories photo courtesy of Taco Bell
BE SELECTIVE AT CONVENIENCE STORES.
Most gasoline companies now have on-site convenience stores near the pump, which gives new meaning to “fueling up.” And since food and beverage sales boost the company’s profit margin, many have expanded their offerings to include healthier items, including boiled eggs, peanut butter packets, whole-grain bread and crackers, and other high-protein foods that make you feel fuller faster.
Select Wawa stores, for example, let customers build their own bowls, from the base to the toppings and sauces. The grab-and-go case, meanwhile, contains fresh fruit, prepared salads, wraps and sandwiches.
Fried chicken is a much-loved gas station delight, but the calorie count can top 2,000. For an alternative, Royal Farms offers hand-pulled and grilled chicken.
Chipotle’s Lifestyle Bowl options include a vegan Plant-Powered Bowl with 19 grams of protein Photo courtesy of Chipotle
CHOOSE RESTAURANTS WISELY
Like convenience stores, fast-food chains have diversified their menus to satisfy more diets.
For instance, Chick-fil-A offers grilled chicken nuggets and a grilled chicken sandwich. In February, the Atlanta-based brand started testing a cauliflower sandwich in Denver; Charleston, South Carolina, and North Carolina's Greensboro Area.
Howard suggests stopping at Mexican concepts, such as Chipotle or Qdoba. “A bowl loaded with chicken, rice, beans and veggies is a fairly healthy choice for fast food,” she explains. Indeed, Chipotle’s Lifestyle Bowls are tailored to specific diets, such as keto or the Whole 30. Taco Bell, meanwhile, has a lengthy list of veggie options and bowls ranging from 420 to 460 calories each.
Seasoned road trippers also recommend fast-casual restaurants like Panera Bread, which makes salads, bowls, sandwiches and soups. Panera’s Rapid Pickup option lets you place your order online ahead of time so that you can get your order and return to the road quickly.
Finally, remember that salad and veggie options are not necessarily the best choice. Greens with cheese, mayonnaise-based dressings and fried proteins can have more fat than a burger. When in doubt, check the restaurant’s menu board or website for calorie counts before you order.