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Healthy Eats on the Road

Written by contributor Amy Thompson of Progressive Pioneer.

Road food, ugh, my stomach does a flip-flop just thinking about it.  Yet, it seems to be an inevitable part of family vacations.  But does it have to be?

Here are a few suggestions for maintaining your family’s healthy eating habits while on the road (with a few treats and splurges here and there, of course). Perhaps mentioning first those foods that definitely do not work while traveling would be easiest.  Steer clear of the following:

  • Anything that spoils quickly.  Tuna sandwiches are not your friend on that August cross-country road trip.
  • Food that requires assembly.
  • Strong odors.  Again, leave that tuna at home.
  • Foods that stain.  Have you seen your kid’s car seat lately?  Should the inevitable spill happen, you want cleanup to be as minimal as possible.
  • Food with too many disparate parts.  Think hummus and cucumbers in a pita, rather than a double-decker club sandwich.

Now, let’s talk about what does work on the road.  There are so many fun and delicious options, you’ll wonder why you ever patronized those drive-throughs in the first place. In my mind there are two categories of car-friendly foods; finger foods and drinkable foods.  Here are some of our favorites in each.

Photo by Stock Exchange

Finger Foods

  • Sandwiches cut up into cubes.
  • Whole wheat noodles like ziti or rotini with a lidded container of sauce (Remember the no-staining rule; try a homemade ranch instead of the traditional spaghetti sauce.)
  • Tiny rice crackers spread with nut butter (the nut butter is key here as it cuts down on the crumb explosion; rice crackers can be surprisingly messy)
  • Mini burritos.  Roll up beans, rice and cheese taquito-style in a small corn tortilla (heat them first, so the cheese binds everything in place).  They’re still tasty cold and are a novel treat on the road.
  • Sweet mini-burritos.  Fill these with cream cheese, a little cinnamon and honey and dried fruit and nuts.  Yum!
  • Veggie sushi.  Sushi isn’t typically associated with road trips, but if you leave out the fish it travels well, is compact, neat and fun to eat.
  • Homemade popcorn

Drinkable foods

Photo by Stock Exchange

The key to this snack is leak-proof containers.

  • Green smoothies are a great, healthy breakfast, though this will only work the first day of your trip as they won’t store longer than about twelve hours.  Offer green smoothies when you have one of those trips that starts by loading sleeping kids into the car at 3am.  It’s a much nicer meal to wake up to than a bag of chips or a fast food breakfast sandwich.
  • Yogurt.  Make your own yogurt smoothies by whizzing up fruit, yogurt and a little milk or juice to thin it.  These are so much easier to eat than yogurt with a spoon, while offering the same nutritional benefit.
  • Soup.  I know, that one took you by surprise! But a nice, pureed soup (butternut squash, black bean, garden pea and mint, etc.) is perfect in a thermos with a spout: nutritious, delicious and self-contained.

Photo by Stock Exchange

We know that man cannot live on car snacks alone, so the other solution I’ve found to avoiding road food is to plan your stops near grocery stores. While driving across the country on a shoe string for my first year of college, my two friends and I never ate out.  We packed up our tent in the morning, drove to the nearest grocery store and bought fruit, granola, yogurt etc.  The same routine for dinner.

We spread out our feast on the hood of the car right there in the parking lot.  Of course, you may want to take the kids to a nice grassy spot nearby.  Utilizing grocery stores, instead of restaurants and drive-throughs, will save money and keep everyone healthier, more balanced, and less grumpy.  Simply pack a picnic blanket, some plastic dishes, silverware and a cutting board and knife (trust me, this is imperative) and you’ll be ready for a healthy meal wherever you are.

Happy trails!

What are your favorite road foods?

by Amy

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. abbie

    ohhh, I love the mini-burritos idea. I’ll have to try that.

    My favorite on-the-road snack is dried fruit. I’ve realized that in order to get the vitamins and especially fiber I need in my diet, I really need to make every bite work for me. So, snacking on dried apricots really gives me a nutrition packed snack. And it’s easy to take along.

    As a Korean family, we take a sushi-like snack along in a cool container. It is called kim-bap in korean. It is seaweed filled with rice, fresh veggies, picked radish, maybe meats like crab, and maybe kimchee. Though the latter don’t really go along with the doesn’t spoil, and doesn’t smell part. We usually make it in the AM, hop in the car, and eat it the same day at our destination.

    And I hadn’t ever thought about soup on the go. But I’ve been craving gazpacho lately with all the farmers market produce coming into season. I am going to have to try this one out. Thanks for the tip and the great post!

    • Amy

      Yum, I love kim-bap! I used to have a Korean roommate that turned me on to it and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’m a big fan of fresh and dried fruit in the car too; it’s a must have:)

  2. Christina @ Spoonfed

    Great ideas. And great minds… 😉 I, too, posted this week about eating well while on road trips: ‘Tis the season!

    I have a pretty comprehensive list of tips and tricks, so I hope you’ll check it out. I also provide several resources for finding stores and restaurants with healthy food, as well as farmers’ markets, on the road. Oh, and we bring smoothies, too!


    Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat
    .-= Christina @ Spoonfed’s last blog: Real food on the road =-.

  3. Nikki Moore

    great timing! my husband and I will be taking our first road trip/camping trip this summer, and I have never packed food for a trip, let alone for camping. There are some great ideas here, especially since we are trying not to spend much. We will be eating in some nicer restaurants in the one big city we’re visiting, so hopefully we can balance it out!
    .-= Nikki Moore’s last blog: A list of fake organic and fake natural products! =-.

  4. Tina~

    ahh…road food…
    We have food allergies so we’ve perfected this issue.
    Our grocery has a wonderful, organic, pastured clean deli meat, so we make deli rolls
    of organic turkey and beef wrapped around thin slices of cukes, sweet peppers, avocado,
    etc and serve it in a sturdy romaine leaf. If we stop to eat, we use the same romaine leaf set up for well chilled pastured egg salad mixed with organic Annie’s mustard and olive oil or salmon salad mixed with same ( instead of mayo).
    Boiled eggs and cheese with veggies travel well as well.
    I make dried carrots, daikon radish, peppers, peas etc for finger snacks in the car, and of course do fruits as well. We do bruised fruit smoothies on the go too. I just bring a jar of homemade yogurt, some frozen fruit in well sealed containers and a couple of clean empty quart jars. I mix the mushy thawed fruit with the yogurt in a clean jar, put the lid on and give it a few good shakes. It makes a wonderful easy smoothie- don’t need the blender at all!

    We also use to find local restaurants that are organic, and I try to plan the trip around farmer’s markets by checking,or Trader Joe’s, or Whole foods if I have to resort to that depending on where we go. If we’re traveling for distance or duration, we usually stay in a Residence Inn or other suite set up that provides a small kitchenette so I can restock and cook real foods…
    Looking forward to summer!

  5. Susan

    Perhaps these are commensense, but I typically make muffins, breakfast cookies or energy bars and take them frozen for a first-day snack or breakfast. Homemade trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, cereal, etc., is great way to have a healthy-ish, crunchy, protein-filled snack with a little sweetness. We also recently went camping, and I made a yummy couscous salad that I scooped into ziptop bags for easy eating (without extra dishes or washing) our first night (although that could be messy for younger kids in the car). Finally, we bought a great soft-sided cooler from REI that even fits under the seat ahead of you on an airplane (we got this one: We take it on both road trips and airplane travel, and pack it with both food and reusable utensils, napkins, ziptop bags, etc (even plastic knives can cut through a lot when you can’t take a regular knife along). This has allowed us to avoid airport food, and more easily eat on the road once we arrive at our destination. Just be very mindful for TSA food restrictions. Our jar of peanut butter was confiscated on our last trip. Woops. For air travel, we take empty Nalgene-style bottles and sippy cups that we can fill up after security. My kids eat like crazy when we travel, and being well-prepared makes everyone happier, and saves us considerable time and money. Thanks!

  6. Jackie

    Great ideas. I especially like the idea of going to the grocery store. That never would have dawned on me lol.

    Sushi in the car ~ dang I wish I could get my family to eat sushi anywhere. 🙂
    .-= Jackie’s last blog: The Sales Funnel Simplified =-.

  7. Paula@Motherhood Outloud

    Great and timely post! We leave tomorrow for a road trip to the beach and I have found that the key for us is just planning ahead! (Isn’t it always?) Packing healthy snacks in individual baggies (which I’m hoping we can reuse once we get there) so that I can grab them is my plan. That way we aren’t caught off-guard and starving during a gas-stop. I’ve packed things like pretzels, dried fruit, and carrot sticks in kid-friendly baggies as well as granola bars. I love the Thermos stainless steel water bottles for travel (and everyday) because they keep things cold for hours!

  8. Karen @ Pledging for Change

    Some great ideas here thanks Amy.
    Anytime we go out for a long trip we take fruit fruit and more fruit. You can’t go wrong with some dried fuits to snack on and a banana to fill you up. I also make some flapjacks from organic oats and these certainly fill you up as well as providing slow release energy. And as they are sticky they don’t tend to break up drop over car seats.
    Drinks we take are fresh fruit juices.
    When you arrive at destination you should have very little rubbish and no dishes to have to sort out.

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