How to Eat Healthy While Traveling in a Car

Whether you're heading out for a business trip or vacation with your girlfriend, your diet might take a dive. Between fast food stops, huge restaurant meals,... Follow these eating guidelines and you'll have a good time on the road.

The key to staying healthy on the road is to plan ahead and to find easy ways to eliminate the less healthy temptations beckoning from the comfort of your car.
How healthy are you eating while traveling?
1. Plan ahead. 
While it's easy to say, it's harder to implement but planning ahead is a way of overcoming the unhealthy eating choices. Package your home cooked meals the day before your trip. Use thermos style lunch containers to keep foods warm where needed. You'll be more likely to bring food with you on a trip if it's already pre-packaged, easy to eat while driving, and handy.

  • Prepare of purchase plenty of healthy snacks such as small carrots, cut cucumber slices, fruits, snack bars, nuts, etc. Ensure that items are in easy-to-open and hold bags. Few to none of the drive-through windows will sell you an apple, a banana or a handful of nuts.
  • Don't try to cook food for taking on the morning you're heading off you won't as it will seem like a waste of time, especially amid last-minute packing and fixing the house, etc. However, you can usually spare 5 minutes or so to warm up pre-cooked food for placing in the thermal lunch container.

2. Make a schedule and preserve the special nature of mealtimes. 
You know when you get hungry. If you eat dinner every day at 6, you'll be hungry right around that time, every day, wherever you are. So don't let hunger surprise you. Try to stick to your normal eating schedule, even when you are on the road. This will prevent you from overeating, eating too frequently or getting your internal clock all out of whack. If you delay eating until later, it's likely you'll feel cranky and over-indulge when you do actually stop to eat.

  • Don't make the mistake of treating meals as temporarily unimportant when on a long trip. They remain important because they provide a chance to break the journey, walk around and stretch and relax, refocus you and give you a chance to realign your posture. Choosing a lovely spot to eat, such as a park, by a river or a tourist spot can also give you the opportunity to discover something interesting or beautiful, which is different from your usual day-to-day routine.
  • Stopping when hungry is also a perfect opportunity to refresh, making the continued drive safer because you'll be more alert, especially from exercising such as walking about and stretching.

3. Make your coffee or tea at home. 
Making coffee or tea, or whatever beverage you like to drink, will allow you to drink it the way you like it, when you need it. A thermos full of coffee or tea will go a long way and will prevent you from being tempted at the drive-through window when you stop for your daily brew. "Would you like a sugar-packed doughnut with that coffee?" You'll be tempted to think: "It's only 78 cents... don't mind if I do!" Also, coffee brewed at home may contain less caffeine (commercial machines extract more caffeine due to their better constant heat retention) and may be more flavorful (a subjective decision) than the coffees you would get from fast food outlets and you're likely to put less sugar in your drink if you make it yourself. And if you like coffee, try making cold-brewed coffee ahead of the trip it's less acidic than its hot counterpart (less heartburn).

4. Buy a cooler. 
If you take long trips, a cooler and a couple of bottles of water put in the freezer the night ahead (hint this means planning) will save you tons of money and will also help you eat more healthily. The cooler can keep both food and drinks cool, allowing you to have luncheon meats, dairy products and other perishables like berries.

  • If you're on a very long trip, consider investing in a small car fridge that runs off the power of the car or even a solar version. This will allow you to take along milk, meat, dairy products, vegetarian analog products, etc. and you can make good meals from these items. Throw in a small cooking stove used for camping and you have everything you need for a meal within 10 to 30 minutes.

5. Eliminate distractions. 
Whatever it takes, keep your eyes on the road and don't look at the billboards. Many of these will show you juicy looking burgers and golden fries, targeted at making you pull in to the next fast food franchise coming up in the next 50 miles (80 km). You're most unlikely to ever see a billboard advertising anything to encourage you to eat healthily. Turn off the radio, bring along an interesting audiobook or a bunch of podcasts and listen away. You can also keep your eyes occupied by trying to make up words from people's license plates. After a while, you won't even notice the billboards and their inviting morsels.

  • If you can, stay away from busy highways where most of those billboards are found. Take the scenic route! You'll have plenty of beauty to feast on instead.

6. Make informed choices. 
If you must eat from the drive-through window, take along a book like "Eat this, not that" or download one of the many apps will let you see the nutritional value of the items on your favorite fast-food joint menu. And even if you're not a vegetarian, reading the suggestions for vegetarians in fast food outlets will often provide healthier choices (not always, use your common sense). Reading ahead about what is healthier in the array of fast food choices will enable you to make better informed choices.

  • Any fast-food chain where you can pick and choose what goes into your meal is always best. Think Subways or Harvey's. You can at least decrease the amount of mayo that goes into your sandwich, chose a whole grain bread and less fatty meats.
  • Think thrifty. The reason why many food items find themselves on the "dollar menu" is because of their smaller portions. They may not be healthy choices, but at least they don't typically contain 1000 calories each. If you must indulge in something calorie-laden, keep the portion really small.

Using food to stay alert while driving

If you're like most drivers, staying alert during a long drive can be challenging but is obviously crucial to safe driving. Caffeine can be one choice but too much caffeine can bring about the jitters, headaches and other problems and not everyone wants to resort to dosing up on caffeine anyway. The following food tricks might be of use to help keep you alert when driving:

  • Begin each travel day with a healthy breakfast. Don't skip this important energy starter of the day. Focus on whole-grain toast or bagels, peanut butter, fruits, cereal with yogurt and eggs.
  • Eating fruit on an empty stomach: This will ensure that the glucose in the fruits enters your bloodstream faster, giving you a quick boost.
  • Having more frequent meals during the drive than usual. Instead of 2-3 meals, try 4-5 meals to keep your glucose levels even. Each meal should be light but packed with energy giving foods.
  • Avoid eating too much meat as it takes longer to digest, requiring more energy.
  • Drink a lot to stay hydrated.
  • Include whole grains in the food you're eating. These will mete out energy gradually and avoid the high followed by a crash of refined and processed foods.
  • Choose healthy snacks mid-afternoon, a time many people crave something sugary to inject more energy. Try fruit, crackers and cheese, nuts and vegetable pieces with hummus or salsa.
  • Apples are considered by some to be helpful due to the chewing activity and the fructose levels. Equally, peeling an orange and releasing its strong aroma may be helpful too.
  • Chew peppermint flavored chewing gum. The chewing activity and the strong mint flavor can help keep you alert.
  • Don't overdo foods that can make you feel sleepier but do have them closer to bedtime. These include foods containing a lot of tryptophan such as milk, bananas, turkey breast and low-fat cheese.
Rules for Eating Healthy on the Road

Healthy eating starts where you stop. If you're on the road and stop at a fast-food joint, your food choices will be limited to fast food. But if you stop at a grocery store that offers whole or healthy foods fruits, bagged carrots, nuts, hummus or a supermarket that features a salad bar, you quickly expand your choices (and reduce junk-food temptations).

Eat frequently, and in smaller amounts. Eating small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day sends a signal to your brain that the food supply is plentiful, so it's okay to burn through those calories quickly. Limiting your calorie load at a single sitting also gives you lots of energy. Eating too many calories in one meal even if they're healthy calories sends your brain the message that leaner times must be around the corner, so those calories will get stored as fat. Eating too much at one sitting can also make you sluggish and sleepy.

Eat plenty of protein. Eating the right amount of complete protein for your weight and activity level stabilizes blood sugar (preventing energy lags), enhances concentration, and keeps you lean and strong. A complete protein is any animal and dairy product or a grain plus a legume (such as whole grain bread with nut butter, or corn tortilla with beans). When you need energy for a long hike, a long drive, or a day at the beach, stoke your body with high-quality, lean protein.

Pack snacks so you're not skipping meals. Often when we're traveling, we don't have access to food at regular intervals. Or worse, we skip meals so we can have that big piece of chocolate cake later. The problem is, your body responds as if it's facing a food shortage and your metabolism slows way down to prevent you from starving. To keep your mind and body humming, pack healthy snacks in your car or backpack. Examples are almonds, raw vegetables and hummus, yogurt and berries, fresh and dried fruit, and hard-boiled eggs.

Avoid "feel bad" foods. You know what these are: They're foods you crave, but after you eat them you feel sick or depleted. When you're on the road, it's particularly essential to avoid foods that drain your energy and deflate your mood. Foods to avoid: (1) simple carbohydrates or high glycemic foods, such as fruit juices, sodas, refined grain products, or sugary snacks; (2) anything deep fried; (3) nonfat desserts and sweeteners, which are loaded with chemicals that your body can't easily metabolize; (4) anything partially hydrogenated (this includes nondairy creamer, Jiffy-style peanut butter, margarine, and most packaged baked goods); and (5) excess alcohol.

Drink lots of water. Yes, water is a food. The body needs water for virtually all of its functions. Drinking plenty of water will flush your body of toxins, keep your skin fresh, and help you eat less. It will also help you avoid travel lag, symptoms of overexposure to the heat or sun, and junk-food cravings. Believe it or not, many of the unhealthy cravings we experience on the road can be satisfied with a refreshing drink of pure water.