You're on the road and it hits you -- not driver fatigue or the need for a bathroom break. We're talking about the powerful hunger of a snack attack. Do you run inside a convenience store for a bag of M&M's and energy drink while you get gas? Or are you a bottle of water and handful of peanuts type of snacker?
All it takes is a little planning ahead and you can easily avoid foods that contain no more than simple sugars and carbohydrates, such as soda, candy and other convenience store staples. Just as you'd pack an overnight bag with your must-have items from home, plan your road snack pack before you hit the highway. A small insulated cooler is a road trip must-have, as are small food storage containers or resealable baggies (the snack-sized kind are perfect for portion control) to keep finger foods ready to go.
When it comes to snack selection, instead of those that add extra sodium and empty calories to your diet, choose ones that are a well-balanced mix of protein and good-for-you fats -- think back to that bottle of water and handful of nuts. The best snacks for a road trip are the kind that will keep you feeling full longer so you'll be less likely to reach for a bag of potato chips an hour down the road. You'll not only keep your energy up but your belt-size intact. Let's begin our suggestions with a great potato chip alternative: nuts.
Skip the chips. If you're craving something salty and crunchy, put away the Ruffles and pop open a container of nuts. Peanuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, whatever your favorite nuts -- or seeds, such as pumpkin or sunflower -- are good combinations of healthy fats and protein. Although nuts are packed full of protein, fiber and healthy fats, keep portions small: Just 14 almonds or 20 pistachios equals 100 calories, the caloric sweet-spot for snacking [source: WebMD]. And keep sodium levels in check by choosing unsalted varieties.
A 64-ounce Big Gulp may sound like it's just the beverage to get you through your drive, but soda didn't earn its nickname "liquid candy" because it's good for you. Soda's high levels of refined sugar and empty calories have been linked to obesity and Type 2 diabetes, among other conditions and illnesses. Just how bad is it? If your daily calorie needs are about 1,600 calories, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends you eat (or drink) no more than six teaspoons of refined sugar as part of your daily diet [source: Jacobson]. One can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons (about 39 grams or 1.3 ounces) of sugar [source: Brain]. Avoid soda.
Healthy beverage alternatives to soda, sports drinks and fruit drinks include water, seltzer, 100 percent vegetable juice and 100 percent fruit juice. Keep a few bottles or drink boxes chilling in the cooler while you drive.
Fruit is one of the best on-the-go snack options out there. Berries are already naturally snack-sized and finger-friendly, as are grapes. Prepare fruit by washing and slicing it as needed before you start your trip. Store it in lidded food containers inside an insulated cooler to help keep it cool and fresh. While fresh fruits can be cubed, sliced or eaten whole, also consider single-serving containers of applesauce or dried fruits. Dried apricots, cranberries, raisins or whatever your favorite dried fruit may be can be a healthy part of your daily diet, as are fruit leathers. Keep in mind while snacking: One cup of fresh fruit equals half a cup of dried [source: Ray].
For less mess, avoid fruits that will leave you with waste to worry about, such as cherries or other fruits with pits.
The Snickers bar is many people's favorite go-to candy bar. One 2-ounce (58 grams) Snickers bar packs in 280 calories, 14 grams of total fat and 30 grams of sugar. That's a sugar-bomb of empty calories. Consider replacing your favorite candy bar with an energy or granola bar to boost your protein and fiber intake while avoiding the sugar trap. To be sure you're not trading one sugar-laden bar with another, look for bars that contain 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein and less than 35 percent of calories from sugar, at the minimum [source: Magee].
Raw, pre-washed and prepped vegetables are snacks you can always feel good about. Some road trip-friendly choices include cherry or grape tomatoes, snack-sized or baby carrots, broccoli florets, celery sticks and snap peas, but any of your favorite vegetables will stay fresh when sliced and stored in an insulated cooler.
Add hummus or peanut butter as a dip and you'll also add good fats and protein to help keep your hunger low and energy level high. One cup of baby carrots (about 12) with 2 tablespoons of hummus for dipping, for example, is a good-for-you 100-calorie snack.
Low-fat cheese, including string cheese snacks, single-serving cottage cheese containers, or cubes of your favorite low-fat medium-hard cheese such as Colby or cheddar are perfect car-friendly finger foods. Two string cheese snacks or 1.5 ounces (4 grams) of cheese is just 100 calories, and also contains calcium and other important vitamins and nutrients. How much is 1.5 ounces of cheese? If you slice cheese into the shape of a domino, about two slices will equal 1.5 ounces [source: PBS].
Concerned about lactose intolerance? Some cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, are often tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant, as are soy or other nut-based cheeses.
If you're on the road and looking for a snack, pre-packed trail mixes can often be found in convenience stores, but beware their fat, sodium and sugar contents. Luckily, trail mix is a quick and easy make-at-home snack that will keep well in a storage container with lid. Combine granola, raw nuts and seeds, and dried fruits for a basic trail mix. Give it a touch of sweetness with dark chocolate chips, or if you want something with both crunch and spice, try adding wasabi peas. And don't forget the trail mix classic: GORP, which stands for good old raisins and peanuts. Change that up a bit, mixing 2 tablespoons of dried cranberries with 1 tablespoon of peanuts and you have a single-serving, 100-calorie snack.
Cheese and crackers is a classic combination that contains protein with whole-grain, good-for-you carbohydrates, keeping your hunger satisfied for the long-haul. Prep cheese slices at home or throw a few single-serving string cheese snacks into a cooler, and separate your favorite crackers into single-serving portions ahead of time to make this snack car-friendly. You can even pull this combination together at a convenience store, in a pinch.
Looking for something that combines both salty and sweet? Try swapping the cheese on your cracker for peanut butter (or another nut butter if you're concerned about peanut allergies) or apple slices for healthy alternatives that are good sources of protein, fiber and vitamins.
Yogurt, whether it's in a travel-friendly tube, blended into a low-fat smoothie, or mixed with fruit and granola and kept in a lidded storage container in the cooler, is a great snack for kids and adults alike.
It adds calcium and vitamin D to your daily nutritional intake, which is good for the health of your bones, teeth and other bodily functions. Most brands also contain probiotics (check the label for live active cultures). Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that help keep our digestive system running smoothly, and depending on the type of microorganisms, may also help reduce the risk or severity of some infections and other conditions (something to think about if you are prone to travelers' diarrhea).
In addition, yogurt may also help keep blood pressure levels from climbing too high. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that adults who ate two or more servings of low-fat dairy every day had a 54 percent reduction in their risk for developing hypertension than their peers who ate smaller amounts [source: Pressner].
Sandwiches can be a quick and easy way to keep hunger at bay while adding some good protein and hearty grains to your daily nutrition. Some may need to be stored in a cooler, such as wraps made with lean meats and cheese or a mini-pita sandwich stuffed with hummus and raw vegetables, but other options such as peanut butter (or any other nut butter) and jelly on whole grain bread can be kept at room temperature.
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More Great Links
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- Brain, Marshall. "How much sugar in soda?" Science on the Brain. (June 24, 2011) http://marshallbrain.com/science/sugar-in-soda.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "How many fruits and vegetables do you need?" (June 24, 2011) http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/downloads/General_Audience_Brochure.pdf
- Dairy Council of California. "Cheese." (June 24, 2011) http://www.dairycouncilofca.org/Milk-Dairy/Cheese.aspx
- Drayer, Lisa. "Portion Patrol." Women's Health. May 2008. (June 24, 2011) http://a.abcnews.com/images/GMA/100Cal.pdf
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- Magee, Elaine. "10 Ways to Have That Snack and Lost Weight." WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. 2003. (June 24, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56527
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- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "An Introduction to Probiotics." 2008. (June 24, 2011) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
- PBS. "Food Smarts: Serving Size Surprises." (June 24, 2011) http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/body/foodsmarts/article3.html
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