Yummy travel snacks are a must for road trips. They help keep the hangries at bay, making road trip travel adventures more enjoyable. We, as road trippers, don’t often stop for a nutritious lunch when we have a destination goal, which makes it even more important to travel with nutritious snacks.
Years ago, road trips meant we would pack chips, soda, Twinkies, Oreo cookies, Twizzlers, and other sweet and salty vacation treats. That won’t cut it if we want to stay healthy while on the road. The goal is to swap out our unhealthy snacks for more nutritious options that still taste great, keep us satiated, and don’t add to our waistline.
I spoke with Rose Pacific, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), about what makes a great road trip snack. As an expert in nutrition, Pacific recommends filling your snack bag and cooler with lots of healthy options to keep you satisfied along your road trip route.
She suggests “including some nutrient-dense snacks in your travel kitchen; they will help ensure that you have the energy to enjoy your destination when you arrive. Look for items that have protein, fat, and/or fiber to help keep you full on the drive.” Make packing your road trip kitchen a group effort. Set parameters around what foods are acceptable, and let all travelers choose some of their favorite healthy snacks.
If you have a sweet tooth, you can feed the sugar beast without packing a large bag of cookies. Foods with natural sugars like fresh or dried fruit and dark chocolate are healthier alternatives.
According to Pacific, “The natural sugars in fruit don’t elicit the same blood glucose response as foods with added sugars (like cookies) because fruit contains fiber to help regulate those glucose levels.”
Choosing snacks with natural sugars will minimize the sugar rush and crash that happens when you eat snacks with a high sugar content. This includes sugary beverages as well as snacks.
Protein helps keep you full and satiated. Snack on high-protein options like hard-boiled eggs, string cheese, jerky, and protein bars. Watch the sugar content in protein bars — some are little more than candy bars in disguise.
Energy balls are a tasty way to get protein-rich snack options into your cooler. They are simple to make and easy to store. Pacific’s favorite No Bake Energy Ball recipe is a perfect road trip snack. These are also great to keep in your freezer for when you need a healthy treat. Frozen energy balls will help keep your cooler chilled, and they will be cold and delicious as they thaw for snacking.
No Bake Energy Balls
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 2/3 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup ground flax seed
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons honey
Mix all ingredients together. Cover and cool for 30-60 minutes in the refrigerator. Roll into 1-inch balls. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: Short on time? We like Siren Snacks energy balls (they’re caffeinated!) and simple-ingredient protein bites.
Fresh fruit is a no-brainer when packing for a road trip. Select fruits that travel well and don’t need to be kept cold, like apples and pears. Pacific recommends any fruit that is “single-serve size like strawberries, grapes, and clementines.” It is difficult to overeat on fruit, helping you stay on track with your healthy road trip snacking.
Since we are aiming to eat 5 to 10 servings of fresh fruits and veggies every day, adding a few to your road trip snack pack will help achieve this lofty goal.
Sometimes nothing can take the place of a chip — you have to have it. However, the satisfying crunch of salty chips can lead to mindless eating — it’s easy to finish the bag without even noticing. Swap out the high-fat chips for baked tortilla chips and add a dip of guacamole or salsa to spice it up.
You may need to enjoy these crunchy and somewhat messy snacks at a rest area, but that will also give you time to stretch your legs. A happy and healthy bonus of eating at a rest area is that when it is time to get back in your vehicle, it’s time to stop eating.
If you have to have cheddar Goldfish — after all, they are a road trip snack tradition — purchase the snack pack size. The individual serving size will give you a taste of these delicious little cheddar treats. The single-serving size will help keep your total Goldfish consumption in check.
Snack pack sizing is a wonderful portion control aid. However, eating too much-processed food is not the healthiest snack. Keep processed snacks as a special treat along your adventure.
Purchasing trail mix is a good option, but making your own is even better. The purchased varieties can be on the stale side, and many are heavy with unwanted fat and carbohydrates.
When you make your own trail mix, you can select healthy ingredients you love, package them in snack-size servings, and keep an eye on the fat and sugar.
Pacific notes, “It’s fun to make a personal trail mix. Simply choose items you love and mix them in an air-tight container. Below is a list of some of my favorite trail mix add-ins.”
- Nuts – peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios
- Seeds – pumpkin, sunflower
- Dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, mango, apricot, banana chips
- Sweets – chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, white chocolate
- Savory – cereal, popcorn, crackers
Editor’s Note: Not going to make trail mix before your next road trip? We recommend Made in Nature’s Climate Pledge Friendly and berry-forward Fruit Fusion because it breaks the stale trail-mix mold!
“One of the best ways to keep satisfied while you are stuck in the car is to eat mini meals,” suggests Pacific. “Protein-rich options like deli turkey, ham, pepperoni, and cheese paired with crackers and carrot or cucumber sticks provide you with a nutritious and well-rounded snack that eats like a meal.” These easy-to-eat mini-meals won’t weigh you down and are a tasty snack that revs up your satisfaction level.
Having a protein-rich snack in the middle of the day will give you energy to carry on wherever your road trip adventure takes you. When you do arrive at your destination, you won’t be starving for dinner, which can lead to overeating.
Bring on the crunchy, salty popcorn. When you absolutely need to satisfy that crunchy and salty craving, reach for some popcorn.
“Popcorn satisfies the ‘need’ to snack without adding many calories and has an added bonus of having some fiber.” Pacific does warn, “Be careful of added flavors and sugars, they can thwart your good intentions with sneaky sabotaging empty calories.”
Opt for single-serving packages of your favorite popcorn. They are a great snack size and you can avoid having a large, tempting, half-eaten bag lying around.
Staying hydrated is important. Sometimes it seems easier to not drink water when you are on a road trip. Too much water equals more frequent stops along the route. But stopping every 2 hours for a break is good for the driver, they can get in a little eye and road focus rest. This gives you the opportunity to use a bathroom; therefore, you have no excuse to not drink plenty of water. Bring along an insulated water bottle to keep your water cool and refreshing.
Store a gallon jug of water in your cooler for quick water bottle refills. Adding ice to the jug will keep the water cold and help keep the cooler items chilled down.
“Dehydration will lead to headache, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, and constipation,” warns Pacific. “It will turn your fun vacation into a not very enjoyable trip.”
Healthy Snacks For Road Trip Success
Great road trip snacks will keep you going, keep you satisfied, and keep you happy. Eating healthy while you are on the road will help you feel better and you will enjoy your getaway knowing you are not overindulging.
By simply swapping out a few high-fat and high-sugar snacks for healthier snack options, you can keep your road tripping experience more about the adventure and less about Oreo cookies.
While you are planning your next road trip, visit our collection of fun and fascinating road trips. Whether you are motoring up the East Coast, West Coast, or anywhere in between, we have highlights to visit along your journey. Don’t forget your fur baby travel companion — visit our traveling with you pet tips and tricks to keep your pet healthy while you traverse the country.
Pro Tip: Choose a cooler that is the perfect size for the snack options you pack. A full cooler will help keep the internal temperature down and your snacks will hold the chill longer. Pack other, non-refrigerated snacks in a firm container so they don’t get crushed when you are rummaging through the road trip detritus that always seems to end up strewn everywhere.