Take a healthy, stress-free recreational journey—whether your mode is via car, RV, trailer, camper, or tent—with these 8 healthy eating tips for road trips from food and nutrition experts.
The great outdoors is calling! What better way to take a vacation, while staying safe and sound, saving money, and seeing more of your own beautiful country. I am planning a road trip up the Pacific coastline this summer, and I’m bringing along my husband and two dogs in an RV filled with my favorite ingredients to cook meals each night under the stars. No matter what your method of recreation—car, RV, trailer, camper, or tent—road trips can be super fun, but also a bit of work when it comes to being organized for delicious, healthy food without too much stress. That’s why I asked some of my favorite nutrition experts for their best tips for healthy, delicious eating on the road. Have a great journey! Please share some of your own tips for eating on the road.
Eat and Live the Goodness,
8 Healthy Eating Tips for Road Trips
1. Plan Meals Ahead. It’s a good idea to write out a meal plan for your road trip in order to be organized, and reduce your stress level when you’re hungry and low on supplies, or even kitchen tools. “My family just moved cross country in a RV. Our RV had a fridge and pantry, so we planned out our meals and snacks and we bought everything before we left. We had peanuts, peanut butter, rice cakes, granola bars and fruit in the car. Our meals included frozen pancakes, red beans and rice, fresh fruit and frozen steamable veggies. I had prepped roasted sweet potatoes to reheat for meals as well,” says Betsy Ramirez.
2. Hit Supermarkets on the Road. It’s hard to get everything you need before your road trip, so make sure to strategically shop along your journey, especially when you see a well-stocked supermarket on the horizon. “We stock up at markets along the way, especially ethnic, regional, or markets like Wegmans and Whole Foods Market with good prepared foods,” says Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN of Hermann Communications.
“My favorite veggies for road trips, because they can actually last for days with no refrigeration and can be easily popped into the mouth without a lot of fanfare, are sugar snap peas, carrots, and cherry tomatoes. Lastly, avocados, which can come with their own little portable shell, are great for travel and easy to smear on flaxseed crackers which offer a hearty chunk of healthy fats and protein,” says Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, Integrative and Eco-Dietitian.
3. Preload Healthy Snacks. Don’t wait until your in the middle of nowhere to look for healthy munchies. Plan ahead and load up! “We find ‘snacky’ meals easy and fun for on-the-go so we bring filling fruits, nuts, trail mixes, and whole grain bars. Fruit is a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and so many vitamins and minerals. We usually bring more durable fruits like apples and oranges. Nuts are a fantastic on-the-go protein ‘snack’ meal full of healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber. Walnuts are also a nice plant-based source of omega-3s. Whole grain bars provide sustained energy for your family adventures. We enjoy parking somewhere with a nice view and snacking while sitting on our tailgate. If we can, we like to find a spacious spot so that we have room to stretch our legs and move around a little. Maybe even throw a ball or frisbee around for a few minutes before we hit the road again,” says Lacy Ngo, MS, RDN, author of The Nourishing Meal Builder.
“The combo of a variety of mixed nuts or seeds and dried fruit is always a winning combo for easy-to-snack-on-the-road nourishment. Try dried cherries and hazelnuts to shake it up!” says Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, Integrative and Eco-Dietitian.
“I am ALL about the snacks. Finger foods are perfect with a mix of cold and room temp options, such as veggie trays, apples, bananas, halo oranges, dried fruit/trail mix packets, and bars,” says Michele Fumagalli, RD, LDN of Fit Plate Nutrition.
4. Don’t Forget a Great Breakfast and Lunch. You may be focused on snacks and dinner time, but those breakfast and lunches are equally important to plan for. “Start your day with a filling, nutritious breakfast high in fiber, whole grains, plant protein, and unsaturated fats. We have left as early as 3:30 am for trips, so it is important to have everything ready to heat up and eat efficiently,” says Melissa Altman-Traub, MS, RDN, LDN. MEd, RDN.
“We pack our favorite sandwiches for lunch in a big cooler with cut up veggies, easy to pick up fruit (apple slices, grapes, blueberries) and healthy snacks like whole grain crackers and nuts. We also bring refillable water bottles and a few cans of seltzer to stay hydrated,” says Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD of Sound Bites Nutrition.
5. Pack a Water Filter. The last thing you need to do is buy cases of bottled water on your road trip! “We really dislike buying endless plastic bottles of water, so we bring along a Brita or similar filter pitcher, and filter our water on the road, refilling our non-plastic water bottles,” says Jan Patenaude, RDN, CLT, LEAP Mentor.
6. Pack Essential Kitchen Gadgets. “I pack my immersion blender, or one that plugs into the car, to make smoothies. I’ll either pack in a cooler or buy on the road frozen fruit, plain yogurt that I’ve frozen, peanut butter and chia seeds. This way, I know my kids will at least have something healthy each day from my concoctions,” says Theresa Gentile, MS, RDN of Full Plate Nutrition.
“My travel must-have food gadgets are stainless steel water bottles so water remains cool while on the road, especially in summer, and an Instant Pot, which makes meals quick easy and less messy. We always keep pocket-size hand sanitizer, paper towels and picnic blanket handy for any impromptu quick bite at a picnic area,” says Tejal Pathak, MS, RD, CDCES.
“The Instant Pot mini is my favorite for our road trips! I can make meals quicker than going out, and with today’s epidemic it’s our only choice. We do oats or breakfast breads for the morning,” says Wendy Jo Peterson, MS, RD, CSSD.
7. Practice Proper Sanitation. The last thing you want to do is get sick on the road. “Road trips are tricky, even before the pandemic. You never know how clean a rest stop or a restaurant may be until after the fact. Handwashing is the key to keep you safe. Rule of thumb is to wash after entering and before leaving. It’s also a great idea to have a disinfectant to wipe down your area if you choose to dine in as well. Stay safe and wash your hands,” says Jaymar Saniantan, RD of Nutrition Phitness.
8. Keep Your Food at Safe Temps. Another important part of food safety is appropriate food storage temperatures, which can be difficult in warm weather. “Keep foods cool. Below 41 degrees F. Use a cooler thermometer to be sure. Better to stash cooler in an air-conditioned back seat than a hot trunk. Never use cooler ice in your beverages. Leaks happen,” says Mary Angela Miller, RDN.
Check out my other tips for healthy traveling: