A Happy, Healthy Family


How to Eat Well on the Road

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We're smack-dab in the middle of vacation season, and while part of the fun of visiting other cities is trying out their cuisine, it also doesn't hurt to put a little forethought into how you'll make wise food choices, at least part of the time.

One of the biggest struggles is the the road trip to and from your destination. It's so easy to just go through a drive-through for coffee and donuts in the morning, stop at another fast food restaurant for burgers, fries, and maybe even ice cream at lunch, and then go out for a big dinner. In between, the entire family is munching on chips, candy, and other treats from the gas station, and after a few days (or hours!) of this lifestyle, you all feel pretty gross.

Here are some tips for cleaning up that road trip diet just a tad; I promise, the little bit of extra prep time will be worth it!

Car Snacks
Don't buy from the gas station unless you're getting an apple, banana, or bottle of water! Come prepared with some of these healthier options (some require a cooler, but others are easy to just throw into a reusable grocery bag and store wherever there's room).

homemade muffins
whole wheat pretzels
homemade popcorn
fruit (apples, grapes, and oranges travel well and won't stain too badly if your kids are messy)
vegetables (carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumbers, and yellow bell pepper strips also don't stain much)
hummus and nut butters for dipping
nuts (mix up some different types of nuts and raisins to make trail mix)

If you will have access to a refrigerator at your destination, take other produce for snacks during your stay! Berries, bananas, pears, watermelon, tomatoes, and spinach can all be a little messy or tricky to eat in the car, but if you can squeeze in a few of those items during your visit, you'll feel so much better than if you're eating only restaurant meals every day.

Water, water, water!
Water is the healthiest option and won't stain or make everything sticky if it spills everywhere.

I always pack a big cup with a lid for each person as well as a few jugs of water that I store in an easily-accessible place in the trunk or backseat. That way, when someone needs a refill, you don't have to go to a drive-through or gas station where there are unhealthier options.

Meals on the Road
If you have to leave before breakfast, pack something for everyone to eat instead of planning on drive-through donuts, hash browns, or biscuits. Muffins (like these or these) and fruit work well, or you could do granola bars (look for the healthiest ones you can find or make your own) with fruit. Again, water is a fine option for a drink--your kids don't need milk or juice. If you need coffee, pack a thermos of it.

We used to always stop at fast food restaurants for lunch during road trips because that's just what people do, right? After a particularly gross lunch stop a few years ago, though, we changed our game plan, and now I always pack a lunch for everyone. When it's time to eat, we either eat in the car (which saves a ton of time), or we find somewhere to have a picnic lunch (which is so much nicer than eating in a fast food restaurant, and the kids can still have a chance to run around and burn off energy).

Because we have very small children, I have to be mindful of the mess factor in the car, so typical lunches on the road might be whole wheat pitas with natural peanut butter (no added sugar or oil) and jelly with as little sugar as I can find, or sometimes I'll do whole wheat pitas spread with hummus. Go into your snack stash to add some grapes and carrot sticks to round out the meal. For adults, you can pack the same lunch or even pack a salad with a little dressing in a separate container.

We have usually reached our destination by dinner time, but if we haven't, that's the one time we'll stop because everyone needs a break by that point. Be mindful of where you stop, however, and choose a restaurant and meal option with some nutritional value--think salads, meals with vegetable sides that aren't fried, or sandwiches with fresh ingredients. Skip the greasy, fried foods. You'll feel better in the long run.

Tools of the Trade
Through trial and error, we have come up with a few ways to make eating on the road as mess-free and convenient as possible.

1. Lunchboxes: Use lidded containers or lunchboxes to pre-pack snacks and/or meals. I always have a large bag of food on our trips, but I also try to pack snacks and lunches before we go so that when it's time to eat I can just pass out containers or lunchboxes instead of having to rummage through my big bag.

2. Baby wipes: They are your best friend. I'm sure every mother knows that baby wipes are absolutely essential for cleaning up spills, messy faces, sticky fingers, and who knows what else. Even if you don't have kids or if your kids are big, baby wipes always come in handy in the car!

3. A "trash" bag: This doesn't have to be an actual trash bag (it could be a grocery bag, a large Zip-loc bag, etc.), but if you have a designated place to put used wipes, wrappers, apple cores, etc., it's going to keep your car a million times neater than if you wait until you reach your destination to clean up.

4. Bibs: Even if your kids have outgrown bibs, bibs can come in handy if your family has to eat in the car. My two year-old never wears bibs at home anymore, but if we're eating in the car and I know his clothes need to stay clean, I always pack a bib for him.

5. Soft cooler bag with shoulder strap: If you are going on an extended trip or have tons of extra space in your car, hard-sided coolers are wonderful. If you're tight on space, though, cooler bags give you the option of bringing produce along but can still squeeze into smaller areas. I have one similar to this and love it.

Do you have tried-and-true road trip snacks or tips? Tell me in the comments!

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