Photos by Caleb Ho, Words by Michaela Mazure
Eating healthy can be a challenge for anyone, but it is especially difficult when it comes to traveling. Gas station mini marts are stocked with sugary snacks, restaurant chefs have a heavy hand when it comes to salt, and coffee shop pastries are oh so tempting at those caffeine pit stops. So is eating healthy even fathomable when it comes to the road? My family trip to Rutgers University in New Jersey turns this oxymoron into a thing of the past with some simple snacking solutions.
I guess I should admit something before you commit to my findings - I’m naturally a healthy eater. As a nutrition major, I always have a suspicious eye for nutrition labels, and I actually enjoy eating my fruits and vegetables. Road trips are especially daunting because I know I won’t be able to cook my own meals, and my nutritious food choices will be limited. However, with a little extra effort and planning, eating healthy on the road is a piece of cake… or should I say fruit?
The day before any road trip, a trip to the grocery store is a must. Since our trip was a little under five hours, we weren’t bringing a cooler - otherwise, I would have stocked up on fruit and fresh snack options like hummus and veggies. However, no cooler couldn’t stop me from getting my Vitamin C fix - I quickly grabbed a box of dried pineapple. Dried fruit is a great alternative when the real deal is out of the question, so stock up on your personal favorites. Be conscious of sugar content and portion size with these though; they’re not as filling as whole fruit, so it’s easy for the calories to quickly add up. Next were granola bars - the perfect snack for literally anytime of the day. Whether it’s a morning snack, or a little something to hold you over between lunch and dinner, granola bars are the perfect quick bite that will satisfy both your hunger and your sweet tooth. I went with Clif Bars because the limited time Pumpkin Spice flavor was too tempting to pass up, but Kind Bars are great with a low sugar content and healthy fats.
Nuts and trail mix are a great snack choice because a small amount can be extremely filling. I went for individually wrapped portions to help keep the amount I eat in check, and to make it easier to share. I grab some pretzels, shredded wheat biscuits, and wheat thins to appease my dad and sister, but any snacks that aren’t too messy and can be easily paired with other foods are good choices. The last - and frankly most important - grab in my opinion… nut butter. Dip the snacks in it, eat it straight out of the jar, whatever makes you happy, but I rarely leave the house without this versatile, spreadable goodness.
Our road trip began at 8am on Saturday, and thankfully I was able to quickly whip up a bowl of oatmeal with pb, pour a mug of coffee, and grab an apple to enjoy in the car. When we stopped at Dunkin’s five minutes in, I was still enjoying my breakfast in the back seat that I didn’t even bother to go in, so the aroma of the fresh baked donuts were held at bay. The other great thing about oatmeal is that it’s extremely filling, so having the snack bag next to me was a non-issue.
About three hours in, we stopped for a bathroom break. This time, I caved and got a coffee, but instead of getting food there too, I opt for one of my snack bag options- a win both for my diet and my wallet. After arriving, we explored the area around our hotel, and I discovered the Muscle Maker Grill- a restaurant focused on healthy preparations of high protein meals. I decided to get a side order of grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli to share with my dad: the perfect mini-meal to hold us over until our early dinner reservations. We had scheduled our dinner for an upscale Italian restaurant in advance, so I knew we would be getting a quality meal, and that there was no risk of being stuck at a fast food restaurant for dinner.
Now, not everyone will be as lucky to stumble across such healthy option for restaurants as I was on their trips, but with a little extra searching, I guarantee you will be able to find better places than McDonald’s if you look hard enough. Even if fast food is unavoidable, just make smart choices with the menu. Take advantage of whatever fruits and vegetables you can, choose whole grains if you have the opportunity, and choose the leanest protein in the healthiest preparation possible. Simple choices like grilled chicken rather than fried, and side salad as opposed to fries can make a huge difference in not only calorie content, but also in the way you feel.
Inside Rutgers Stadium was probably the most difficult part of the trip in terms of healthy choices. I drank water to help keep myself full from dinner, but eventually I caved for a cup of frozen custard (in my defense, I didn’t have dessert at the restaurant!). A little treat here and there to help you keep in mind that it’s vacation is perfectly acceptable in my opinion. I was hungry again by the time we got back to the hotel, but rather than having to raid the vending machine for candy, a handful of crackers with peanut butter was all I needed for a pre-bed snack.
We decided to have the continental breakfast offered at the hotel, and unfortunately I was quite disappointed by my options. With no fruit, yogurt, or oatmeal, I decided to make some toast and add my own peanut butter to it to hold me over - definitely not ideal, but I knew I’d regret it if I opted for the sodium-soaked eggs and sausage. We made a stop for coffee about an hour later, and luckily the Dunkin’ had apples to satisfy my fruit fix. In another hour, we were craving lunch, and I took charge and directed us to the nearest Panera - one of my favorite choices when I’m forced to eat out. Salad with quinoa and grilled chicken was the perfect pick-me-up, and filling enough to hold me over until we got home.
Now eating healthy when away from home is not easy by any means, but it certainly is not impossible. Surrounding yourself with healthy snack options and putting in a bit of effort to find healthy restaurants will help you stay on track, and also feel great while doing it.