Whether you’re heading to a spa for a girls-only weekend or chugging down the highway in a car full of Disney-crazed kids, a road trip is the ultimate rite of summer. But along with the classic rock blasting on the radio, road trips often involve the kinds of food you’d never think of eating at homeneon-orange cheese curls, mega-ounce slushies, unidentifiable dried meat in a plastic pack. “There’s something about being in a car that makes you want to eat lots of snacks,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. You’re also miles away from your kitchen, and you can drive for hours without seeing anything more nutritionally promising than a gas station.
But with a little smart packing and a good plan, you can eat almost as healthy on the road as you do at home. Here’s how to do just thatplus save your vacation splurges for when you get where you’re going (and not arrive feeling like you’ve already put on five pounds without enjoying it!).
If your only option is: A gas station or convenience store
A good rule of thumb: Filling up your stomach where you can also fill up your car and get an oil change should be your last resort. But if the nearest legitimate restaurant is miles away, it is possible to put together a halfway decent meal at a quickie mart.
Best Bet: Food stamped with an expiration date (one that hasn’t passed!) is usually healthier than anything that can sit around for a decade or two, because shelf-stable foods are often loaded with preservatives and artery-clogging trans fats. Hustle past the pastries and chips and go straight to the refrigerator case for calcium-packed foods like string cheese and yogurt (pick up some nuts and dried fruit to mix into the yogurt for added protein and flavor), plus water, orange juice, skim milk, or unsweetened iced tea.
Next Best: If the fridge section disappoints, head back to the shelves and grab some individual-size bags of snacks, but look for ones that your greatgrandmother would recognize as actual food, such as dried fruit, nuts, and whole-wheat crackers, advises Steven G. Aldana, PhD, author of The Stop & Go Fast Food Nutrition Guide. If you’re craving pretzels, nuggets are better than skinny ones because they take longer to eat, says Bonci, who adds that animal crackers and Teddy Grahams are good bets to satisfy a sweet tooth since they’re lower in calories than other cookies.