- Shannon Crocker MSc RD
Top 10 Dietitian-Approved Road Trip Snacks
Planning a last minute road trip? No snacks prepared? No problem! Here are 10 grab and go pre-packaged snacks that are actually good for you!
There’s one thing about road trips and me that drives @DietitiansHusband crazy. Okay, there’s probably more than one thing, but the one thing that bugs him the most is that I can’t go anywhere without snacks. I’m like a professional snack packer. Truly, it drives him…nuts.
But he sure does appreciate it when we’re five minutes down the road and one of our kids says: “I’m hungry”. Gahhhh!
Most of the time I have nutritious snack items in the kitchen, ready to take anywhere, anytime, but there’s the odd occasion where we spontaneously decide to go on a road trip and I’m not fully stocked.
So, what to do if you’re heading out on a last minute road trip and you don’t have anything prepared?
Are there any healthy pre-packaged snacks you can buy in a pinch?
You might have heard to avoid packaged foods; well, I’m here to tell you…that is total BS. There are lots of nutrient rich foods that come in packages. You don’t need to avoid all prepared foods; you just need to know how to navigate the plethora of packages to find the healthy choice.
While the grocery store is the obvious choice for picking up healthy snacks (hello giant produce section), you can find good-for-you last minute snacks on the road at the gas station, corner store, drug store and even Winners. Yes, Winners! It’s one of my favourite snack stops. Winners always has nuts, seeds, trail mix, and bars that win huge for tastiness and nutritional value.
What makes a smart packaged snack?
I look for snacks made mostly with whole foods that provide staying power with a good amount of protein, some fibre, quality carbs, and healthy fats. So, that means snacks made with ingredients like nuts and seeds, whole grains, dairy, pulses, and veggies and fruits.
Portion size is key when it comes to healthy snacking; smaller, pre-portioned snacks are always better than eating right out of a big bag (you tend to eat more out of bigger packages).
And here’s the most important factor: it’s got to taste good. I just bought some fig-filled energy bites and even though they are nutritious, they taste horrible. They didn’t make the smart snack cut!
How about sugar content of packaged snacks? Aren’t they high in added sugars?
Some packaged snacks, like energy bars, can have lots, so I always check the labels for added sugars. I read both the Nutrition Facts tables and the ingredients list. If added sugars are up toward the top (first three spots) of the ingredients list and/or there are a bunch of added sugars in that list, I likely skip it. Unfortunately, the only way you can tell if there are added sugars in a Canadian packaged food is by scrutinizing the ingredients list – you won’t find added sugars on the Nutrition Facts table.
How much added sugar I look for on the label depends on the snack; but generally speaking, lower is better.
What about fat?
I’m not terribly concerned with fat content if a snack is made with mostly whole foods (and not deep fried obviously); whole food snacks usually mean you’ll be getting healthier fats. But a quick double-check of the label for trans fats coming from any partially hydrogenated oils is a good practice anyway. You want to steer clear of those industrially produced trans fats – they are bad news for your heart!
Here are my top 10 grab and go pre-packaged snacks that are actually good for you!
1. Fresh fruit. Okay, so technically this isn’t packaged, but it’s a quick pick up at the grocery store and the ultimate travel snack. Fruits like apples, pears and blueberries aren’t messy and travel well.
2. Sugar snap peas. I power through these babies. Super crunchy, filled with fibre and low calorie. Really, any veggie would be great but these require no peeling, washing or chopping. You can crunch on a small bag of Mann's sugar snaps for under 100 calories (and they are great with hummus -- see below).
3. Nut-based bars. Look for ones that are lower in added sugars and made with whole foods ingredients. My current faves are Kind Bars (try the Almond Sea Salt & Dark Chocolate), Larabars (Peanut Butter, of course! The sugar comes solely from dates in that bar) and HoneyBar (they are a Canadian bar that is sweetened with, well, you know, honey!).
4. Popcorn. Popcorn is a whole grain that gives you gut-loving fibre. Skinny Pop and Pur (available at Winners) are my go-to brands; they are lightly salted and made with only 3 ingredients: popcorn, oil and salt. Simple!
5. Nuts and trail mix. Super nutritious and good staying power from protein, fat and fibre. One handful is serving. Look for mixes that aren’t filled with chocolate or candy. Toss a handful in a small container so you won't be tempted to mindlessly munch through a bag of trail mix while driving.
6. Crunchy roasted chickpeas. If you like to nibble more than a handful of something, roasted chickpeas are a better choice for you than nuts – they’re much lower in calories. Try The Three Farmers brand, it’s a Canadian company. (You can find this brand at Winners!)
These final four snacks require a cooler:
7. Greek yogurt. Loaded with protein for staying power! One little bit of trickiness…you need to make sure to bring some spoons. No grocery store around? Starbucks typically has Liberte Greek yogurt (and spoons!) so you can grab one when you stop for a coffee.
8. EGGS2Go! Hardboiled Snack Pack. Burnbrae Farms packs up two hardboiled eggs, peeled and ready to eat. Look for them in the prepared salad section in the grocery store.
9. Cheese. Packed with protein, cheese sticks or packs offer long lasting snacking satisfaction. I like the Balderson cheddar packs – you can get these at Costco or the grocery store. Starbucks carries cheese strings too.
10. Hummus. You can find individual packs (Sabre packs hummus with pretzels) or buy the shareable container at the grocery store. The perfect dip for those snap peas listed above!
One final word: You probably don’t want to be stopping every 20 Km to pee, but staying hydrated is key to staying alert and that’s kinda important while your driving around on a road trip. So, water bottles are a must; water’s best for quenching thirst and it helps stop you from picking up sugar-sweetened beverages along the way.