By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
I’m sure by now a lot of people have seen the meme floating around that says “Shopping for road trip snacks should always look like an 8-year-old set loose in a convenience store” (probably not a direct quote, but you get the idea). And while this may be true for those once-in-a-lifetime road trips with your bestie, a healthcare traveler’s road trip schedule is usually a little different.
For those of us who drive back and forth across the country several times per year, this style of road trip eats is not a very healthy or sustainable way to live. Not only do we spend a lot of time in the car between assignments, but many of our days off are spent driving to the nearest well-known attraction in our area. If we spent every moment in the car chowing down on Doritos and gummy worms, we’d likely end up ten pounds heavier at the end of each assignment.
While it isn’t always easy to eat healthy on these long treks, it can be done. Here are a few of my best tips for keeping your nutrition in check while spending hours in the car.
1. Go in with the right mindset.
If long term health is your goal, keep that in mind when you set off on your trip. Rather than approaching your drive with the mindset “I am on the road so I’ll just have to do better when I get there” try thinking “What small choices can I make so I feel better at the end of this trip?”
The reality for most of us is we can’t prep and pack our meals for these trips, but we can control small choices we make over the course of several days. Remember that you don’t have to be perfect and convenience will be necessary, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to binge or completely disregard healthy choices.
2. Don’t drink your calories.
On road trips, I drink two beverages: coffee and water. If I stop somewhere like Starbucks, I only get skim milk or sugar-free syrups added to my coffee to keep the sugar and fat content low. If I get bored with water, I may add a Crystal Lite packet or grab a sparkling water, but overall I stick to plain water in a reusable cup.
If plain coffee is a total no-go for you, check out the Macro Barista on Instagram. He posts tons of great recipes and how to order them at Starbucks
3. Pick one snack at each stop.
Especially if you are driving late at night, it can be difficult to avoid snacking completely while driving. Rather than loading up on three or four options, I pick one snack (usually salty fair) and try to stretch it out until the next stop. Some of my favorites that I have found at most travel centers are Skinnypop, Pop Chips, or even plain popcorn if I can’t find anything else.
If you are more into sugary snacks, try to pick the smallest portion or portion out a small handful and put the rest of the package away. It can be so easy to absentmindedly eat a whole bag of candy while you are busy driving, so plan ahead to keep yourself from accidentally doing this.
4. Strategically plan your stops.
When you sit down and plan your drive for the day, make a rough plan of where the best places will be to stop for larger meals. I know I will be hungry every three to four hours, so if I hit a larger town with more options around the three-hour mark, I know it is probably better to just stop then because it may be a while before I hit another place with multiple places to eat a meal.
Just to note–I essentially never sit down and eat. When mealtime rolls around I make a mental list of places that sound good, and as soon as I see one of those places I stop. There is nothing worse than waiting for a particular option than getting to the end of a city and realizing there are no more places to eat.
5. Have a list of “better” fast food options.
Anyone who has road tripped for longer than five or six hours could probably list the top five restaurants you see most frequently at rest stops. These options are pretty basic especially when traveling through rural parts of the country.
I have a small list of entrees at most of these places that do not consume an entire day’s worth of calories and I stick to these options when we stop. On road trips, I am typically eating fast food out of necessity, not because I am truly craving something specific, so I just eat what I know is best for me and move about my day.
While road trip eats won’t always be the most wholesome, the good news is many chains and fast food restaurants have shifted to have at least one or two options that are better than their standard fare. Focus on the things you can control and be mindful of your water intake. At the end of the day, these small choices will add up over time, and leave you feeling much better than spending three days in a car downing bags of salty food and slamming energy drinks.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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