Fast food or gas station treats are the traditional go-tos of the America road warrior’s diet. But just because you need something portable and easy doesn’t mean you have to chuck out all your normal healthy eating habits.
“The word snack is not synonymous with junk food,” says Dena Champion, registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. In fact, she often replaces the term with “mini meal” as it suggests more nutritious choices.
So what makes a solid on-the-go mini meal? Foods that mix complex carbohydrates and protein. “The carbohydrates provide an energy source, and the protein helps keep you feeling full and satisfied,” she says.
Save your waistband and silence your grumbling gut for another few hours of drive time with these nutritious, packable snacks.
1. Mozzarella string cheese and apple slices
The best road snacks will include belly-filling protein, as well as a small amount of healthy fat and some complex carbohydrates to keep your hunger down and your energy up, explains Jennifer Koslo, Ph.D., R.D., a sports nutrition expert and owner of Koslo Nutrition Solutions.
This mozzarella-and-apple combo offers you those three must-haves, Koslo says.
2. Beef jerky
“Protein is the most hunger-satisfying nutrient,” Koslo says. And while a lot of convenience store jerky offerings come loaded with preservatives and sodium, natural-food stores or organic groceries tend to stock healthier options with fewer ingredients.
Jerky also won’t boost your blood’s levels of insulin, which signals to your body to store fat, explains Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D.
3. Carrot sticks or grapes
A lot of road munching is boredom-induced—more a way to pass the time than a real need to eat. Both of these options allow you to fill your mouth mile after mile without guilt—or utensils, says Stephanie Maxson, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietician at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Bonus: The crunch of biting and chewing the carrot sticks will probably help keep you awake and alert, Maxson adds.
4. Hummus and bell pepper strips
Along with protein, Koslo says hummus is a good source of B vitamins like folate, which has been shown to ward off prostate cancer.
The pepper strips contain lots of soluble fiber to help with your digestion, as well as phytonutrients your body needs—but probably isn’t getting enough of.
Just don’t pick the pre-bagged, microwave-popped kind that’s coated in chemicals. Naked kernels popped on the stove are a good source of digestion-supporting fiber, antioxidants, and complex carbs, which provide energy, Maxson says.
6. Greek yogurt
A protein powerhouse, Greek yogurt will keep you feeling satisfied until your next fill-up, Koslo says. Add nuts or fruit for energy, fiber, and healthy nutrients.
7. Hard-boiled eggs
Easy to carry and eat behind the wheel, hard-boiled eggs are chock full of hunger-quelling protein.
Combine them with the complex carbs and nutrients, like a whole wheat pita, and you’ll feel full and energized for hours.
8. Peanut butter
Companies now offer to-go packs of nut butter, which makes it easy to spread on vegetables or whole wheat toast while traveling. You can even make a classic PB&J sandwich–just make sure to watch the jelly portion. Fruit spreads don’t offer much more than sugar. You’ll want more peanut butter, a healthy source of protein and fat, than jelly, to stay full Koslo says.
9. Sunflower seeds
Most seeds are a good source of healthy fats, Maxson says. And sunflower seeds also contain heart health-supporting nutrients like magnesium.
Full of fiber and complex carbohydrates, oatmeal will keep you satisfied even on long trips. Make a container of overnight oats or oatmeal protein balls made with peanut butter, spices, and dried fruit. You can even buy already-prepared oatmeal bites made with just oats, cinnamon, raisins and dates.
11. Chickpea Snacks
Sometimes you need something that, well, seems like a snack food. Made with chickpea flour, these Chickpea Puffs are perfect for gluten-free dieters and contain 7 grams of protein a single serving.
Low-carb dieters can nosh on a few pickles paired with sliced turkey. The protein will keep you full, and the pickles add a zesty crunch for very few calories or carbs.
13. Made in Nature Organic Energy Balls
Made with cranberries, dates, figs and nut butter, these snacks have a good blend of fat and carbs to keep you energized.
14. Whole Grain Crackers
Whole grain crackers are a road-trip staple, says Champion. Use something like WASA as the base, then top with cheese, deli meat, or nut butter.
Gone are the days when you needed a can opener to pry open a can of tuna. Now, this protein-packed food is available in pouches, flip top containers, making them perfect for travel. Plus, you won’t even need mayo since you can find tuna flavored in buffalo, basil, or sundried tomato varieties.
16. RX Bar
Most are loaded with sugar. But if you find yourself stuck on a long car ride without a snack, look for convenience-store options with very few ingredients, like an RX bar, advises Champion.
17. Protein Shakes
Ready-made protein drinks are available at most gas stations. Look for options that contain few ingredients and use whey-protein isolate–if you eat dairy.
18. Flavored or Sparkling Water
Skip the soda and choose water. If you need something more exciting, there’s flavored collagen water as well as sparkling and still h20 that use natural flavors instead of sweeteners to enhance taste. Or, you can make your own sparkling water with an at-home carbonator, like Aarke, to cut down on cost and plastic waste.
19. Perfect Bars
Perfect bars are made without preservatives or questionable ingredients, according to Elizabeth Shaw, R.D. Plus, they come in flavors like birthday cake and chocolate walnut brownie.
Packed with healthy fats, fiber, and protein, nuts are the perfect portable snack. Many come lightly seasoned, which are perfect on their own. Or try Champion’s strategy: toss your favorite nuts in with dried fruit and whole grain cereal to make your own trail mix.
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