Travel has been a lifelong passion of mine. I've been 10 countries and 21 states in the U.S. and counting.
When we think of road trips, healthy food probably isn’t something that comes to mind. Even the best intentions of eating right often fall by the wayside when we’re tired, hungry, and can’t find any options besides gas station snacks, fast food restaurants, or vending machines.
Fortunately, it is possible to avoid the junk food traps and enjoy tasty and nutritious food no matter where you are. If you’d like some tips for eating healthy on a road trip, here are ten easy ways to eat well and arrive at your destination feeling great.
1. Plan Your Road Trip Meals and Snacks
Having a plan is key to eating healthy on a road trip. I learned this the hard way when I took trips without much advance thought about food or snacks. I’d bring some water bottles, diet soda and maybe a pack of breakfast bars. I ate a fairly healthy diet at home, so I was sure I’d be able to locate at least a few nutritious options.
Inevitably, no matter how much I swore I’d avoid junk food, I’d find myself at a middle-of-nowhere service plaza with only one fast food restaurant to choose from, ordering the kind of foods I said I wouldn’t. By the end of a long trip, I’d have a migraine, stomachache and feel exhausted.
Once I started bringing my own food and snacks on trips, I felt noticeably better. My energy was good, I was less hungry and I didn’t have to resort to eating the kind of unhealthy meals I’d never eat at home.
Having a plan doesn’t take much time or effort. Here are the two main ways to maintain a healthy diet on a road trip:
- Bring a supply of healthy foods for snacks and meals.
- Learn how to order the healthiest options when dining at restaurants.
2. Make a Grocery Trip
Visit the grocery or health food store to buy food for meals and snacks on your trip. To save time on preparation, look for items in snack-size or individual packages that can be tossed into your snack bag or a cooler.
Healthy Snack and Light Meal Ideas for Road Trips
- Apple Slices with Nut Butter
- Hummus and Mini Carrots or Pretzels
- Guacamole and Low-Fat Tortilla Chips
- Greek Yogurt with Granola and/or Fruit
- Ready-Made Yogurt or Fruit Smoothies
- Protein Shake and Your Favorite Milk
- Laughing Cow Cheese on a Rice Cake
- Sandwiches or Wraps
- Almond or Peanut Butter & Fruit Spread Sandwiches
3. Bring Food for Special Diets
If you or anyone you’re traveling with has any dietary restrictions or follows a certain diet (gluten-free, dairy-free, diabetic, vegetarian, food allergies, etc.), it may be difficult to find certain types of food on the road. As a vegetarian, I’ve found it nearly impossible to find anything besides carb-based meals in some locations.
Whether you’re a picky eater or there are foods you can’t be without, buy them before you leave.
4. Prepare Meals or Snacks the Day Before
Mornings can be hectic when you’re rushing to leave on a trip, so save time by preparing your meals and snacks the day before. Once you’re done, consolidate perishables into one bag in the refrigerator (that will go into a cooler) and everything else into a separate bag.
Put a reminder note near your luggage or car keys so your food isn't left behind.
5. Bring a Cooler
If you’re bringing perishables or want your beverages chilled, a cooler or cooler bag is a must. Keep in mind that coolers only keep things cold for so long in warm or hot weather, so if you’re bringing foods with meat, dairy products or anything else that could spoil, plan to eat those foods in the early on in the day.
6. Eat Often
Make time for snacks and meals before you get too hungry. You’ll keep up your energy level and feel better throughout the day.
Healthy Snacks for Road Trips
- Fruit: Raisins, Dried Fruit, Apples, Oranges, Tangerines, Bananas, Grapes, Unsweetened Apple Sauce Cups
- Veggies: Mini Carrots, Radishes, Celery Sticks, Cucumber Slices
- Nuts: Almonds, Peanuts, Cashews, Macadamias, No-Shell Pistachios
- Dairy: Cheese Strips or Mini Cheeses (like Baybel or Laughing Cow), Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, Individual Boxes of Milk (Organic, Rice, Soy, Almond, etc.), Yogurt Smoothies
- Other: Hard Boiled Eggs, Hummus
- Miscellaneous Snacks: Crackers, Veggie Chips, Low-Sugar Trail Mix, Organic Granola or Nutrition Bars (Protein, Chia Seed, etc.), Pretzels, Kale Chips, Hormone-Free Jerky, Dark Chocolate, Dry Cereal
Road Trip Snack Tip
Many of these foods can be found in snack-size packaging which makes them convenient for travel.
Healthy Road Trip Snack Poll
7. Get Enough Protein
Eating meals and snacks with plenty of protein can keep you feeling full and less likely to crave unhealthy foods when traveling. Try to have at least one protein source at every meal and choose protein-rich snacks like nuts, hummus, hormone-free beef or turkey jerky, a hard-boiled egg or cheese.
8. Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking enough water is vital for staying healthy and feeling good. Water helps with digestion, fights fatigue and can prevent headaches caused by dehydration. Bring a supply of water bottles or fill re-usable water containers and keep them easily accessible throughout your trip.
9. Limit Caffeine
Long stretches of driving or sitting in the car can cause fatigue to set in. Caffeine can help you stay alert, but don’t over-do it. Too much caffeine can leave you feeling jittery or stressed out. Opt for water, juice or other non-caffeinated beverages and save the caffeine for when you really need it.
Road Trip Beverage Tip
If you want to avoid the high calorie count and sugar content of sweetened coffee drinks, choose plain coffee or tea.
- Bottled Water
- Unsweetened Hot or Iced Tea
- Green Tea
- Herbal Tea
- Organic 100% Juice
- Low-Sodium Tomato or Vegetable Juice
- Coconut Water
- Natural Soda (sweetened with Stevia)
10. Order Healthier Options at Restaurants
If you’re dining out on your road trip and are wondering how to know what the healthiest choices are, here are a few tips:
- Look for calorie counts on the menu board. Some restaurants will display these.
- Order individual items and skip the ‘meal option’ that include fries and a soda.
- Opt for veggies, a salad or a baked potato as a side dish instead of fries.
- Skip the mayonnaise on your burger.
- Watch portion sizes of anything you order or share with your travel partners.
- Select foods listed as ‘grilled’ or ‘baked’ instead of ‘fried’. They’ll generally be lower in fat and calories.
- Go for lighter salad dressings (such as vinaigrette or Italian) instead of creamy dressings.
- Instead of a donut or danish, choose a whole grain bagel topped with peanut butter.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 carolynkaye
Marcy Bialeschki from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 23, 2020:
Well done and interesting. It takes a little longer to plan snacks and meals for a trip, but it is worth it.
carolynkaye (author) from USA on February 16, 2020:
You're welcome, Benyamin. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for taking the time to comment :)
Benyamin Belal on February 13, 2020:
Thanks for your awesome sharing and you’ve done a great job the article was up to the mark and appreciating you to be continued with such effort.
carolynkaye (author) from USA on November 21, 2019:
Thank you, Matilda. I'm glad you liked it.
Matilda Woods from Toronto on November 20, 2019:
Great article! It's sooooo hard not to eat fast food every day on a road trip!
carolynkaye (author) from USA on May 04, 2019:
You're welcome, Kurt. Thanks for commenting :)
Kurt Steele on May 04, 2019:
Great ideas. Many thanks
Travel Chef from Manila on September 21, 2018:
Managing to eat healthy while on a road trip can be very easy as long as there's a proper planning. As a traveler, I make sure that I make a list of what I need to bring so I will not end up looking for nearby supermarkets or restaurants along the way.
carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 19, 2018:
Thank you, Robie :)
Robie Benve from Ohio on April 18, 2018:
Great tips! I'm all about eating healthy, and being on the road should be no excuse to load up in sugars and fats. We just need to plan ahead a little. :)
carolynkaye (author) from USA on April 16, 2018:
Thanks for your comments, Shauna. So true about the restaurant prices.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 16, 2018:
These are all great tips for eating healthy on the road and are very doable, if you plan ahead. Not only will following your tips make for a healthier you, they save money. Even fast food restaurants are expensive these days. Put the money you save in the gas tank!