Healthy Eating on the Road

Do you find yourself stopping off at the nearest McDonalds, KFC or service station on a long road trip to refuel?

It seems like the logical, quick option. However, fast food is likely to make the ill-effects of lengthy car travel far worse than they need to be.

Eating healthily on the road can take some preparation – but if you don’t have time before you leave, there are some tricks you can rely on when you’re on the road. Often a supermarket can be just as fast and easy as stopping off at a burger joint, and getting out of the car to stretch your legs rather than going to a drive-through is a huge bonus.

Even if they take an extra five minutes of your time, these alternatives to fast food will make your car trip much more pleasant!

Lunch box

Lunch in a box is a great solution when you’re on-the-go, and it doesn’t have to be greasy, fried, or come in a ‘Happy Meal’ box! There are endless options to pack for a convenient and healthy snack on the road.

Dried fruit – Get adventurous! Sultanas and apricots aren’t the only dried fruits available. Try dried pears, peaches, apples, dates, prunes, mango and papaya. Just skip the banana chips, as these are cooked in oil and are high in saturated fat.

Fresh fruit – Apples, oranges, and grapes make the best travelling fruits as they don’t bruise easily – even better, try freezing your grapes for a delicious, refreshing snack during your drive. If you plan on eating your fruit early on in your journey, try plums, pears or bananas too. And of course, if you’re feeling extra harried, you can buy tubs of pre-cut fruit salad!

Nuts & seeds – Nuts make a great snack for the road as they’re super filling. Raw nuts are the healthiest option, but roasted, unsalted nuts are also a good choice. Watch your portion sizes, and skip the flavoured or honey-coated varieties.

Snack bars – Not all “nutrition” bars are healthy, so make sure you read the labels before you make your choice. Watch out for bars that are high in fat, calories and sugar – many ‘healthy’ snack bars are actually comparable to chocolate bars in nutritional value. Opt for a bar with a decent amount of protein (around 9 grams is a good starting point) as this will help you feel fuller for longer.

Baby carrots – A bag of baby carrots or some celery sticks are great for munching on, especially if you know you’re likely to reach for the snacks out of boredom!

Cheese – Surprisingly, some cheeses keep well for a day without refrigeration. Choose hard cheeses like cheddar, Romano, or Swiss. Wrap them tightly in cloth or waxed paper to stop them sweating, or pack them in a cooler with freezer bricks.

Peanut butter & crackers – Fill a mini plastic container with peanut butter to help you practice portion control. Pack a few plain rice, seed or other reduced-fat crackers for dipping in a snap-lock bag and you’ve got a snack fit for any peanut butter nutter! Other nut butters like almond or cashew are also good options.

Tuna lunch packs – You can now find ready-to-eat tuna snack packs in supermarkets which contain tuna and crackers all in one package. These provide a high-protein snack, helping to stop those hunger pangs.

Water – No need to stop for litres of soft drink if you’ve packed water beforehand. If it’s warm weather, try freezing a few bottles before you go – they’ll melt throughout the day, and stay nice and cold. (Don’t forget to leave a few centimetres at the top of the bottles before you freeze them, and top them up with water before you hit the road.) If it’s cooler, consider packing a Thermos® of hot water so you can stop for a cup of tea, or hot water and lemon.

Deli delights

If you’re on the road for more than a few hours, a snack might not cut it. However there are many more options than the nearest fast food outlet when the hanger starts to set in.

Most small towns you pass through will have a supermarket. Visit the supermarket deli counter for a healthy, fast lunch or dinner – just stay clear of mayo-loaded dishes which are high in calories and fat. Try a fresh salad, sushi rolls, or some of the following deli foods:

  • Low-fat deli salads, such as tabouli, three-bean salads, green salads
  • Hummus and pesto spreads with vegetable crackers
  • Marinated vegetables, including capsicum, artichokes and mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Lean deli meats
  • Falafel

Many deli counters will even whip you up a sandwich or roll to order. Skip the butter and mayonnaise and opt for nutritious avocado instead. Then, finish up your deli delight with some fresh fruit.

Picnic perfect

Roadside picnic areas, especially those near rivers or lakes, provide a priceless way to picnic. They’re also a great place for cooped up kids (and adults) to let off some steam, and give you a chance to stretch your legs after a long period of inactivity. Any of the deli-style or snack foods mentioned above make great picnic foods too. Other good picnicking foods when you’re on the road include:

  • Canned fish
  • Cold quiche
  • Crisp breads and crackers
  • Pre-cut fruit salads
  • Pita bread and bean dips
  • Sushi rolls
  • Savoury muffins
  • Thermos of hot soup, coffee, or tea

If you’re going to picnic, be prepared by packing:

  • Can-opener
  • Pocket knife
  • Thermos
  • Salt and pepper packets
  • Picnic plates, cups, cutlery
  • Snap-lock bags for leftovers
  • Rubbish bags
  • Chopping board
  • Wet wipes/paper towels
  • Picnic rug

Organise a picnic bag that you simply throw in the car any time you need it, and you’re set to go for any car trip!

The best fast food options

If all else fails and you find yourself at a fast food outlet, don’t despair. You haven’t failed in your healthy eating quest just yet!

If you’re stopping at a petrol station, your options are often limited. Better choices include sandwiches, grilled chicken or fish pieces (without batter), falafel, fresh rice paper rolls, salad plates (watch the mayo, and opt for dressing on the side!) or small low-fat muffins.

Most fast food restaurants now offer “healthy” menu options, but be warned – they’re often still calorie-laden. For example, a Hungry Jack’s Chicken Caesar Salad contains a huge 425 calories and 28 grams of fat!

There are no standard rules for what’s healthy and what’s not when it comes to fast food. The best option is to ask for the nutritional information before making your choice (many fast food restaurants now display this on their menus). Here are some of our top picks:

Fast Food Outlet Menu Item Calories kJ Fat Carbs
Chicken Treat BBQ Chicken Salad 133 559 3g 3g
Red Rooster Chicken Tenders Salad 177 740 5g 5g
Nando’s Chicken Garden Salad, no dressing 210 876 5g 13g
Subway 6-inch sub Veggie Delite, no dressing, cheese or oil 229 958 4g 39g
McDonalds Lighter Choices Lean Beef Burger 251 1050 8g 26g

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