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August 21, 2013

How to Eat Carefully While on a Road Trip

Healthy-Eating-Road-Trip_Thinkstock-105671811-sAs students prepare to return to school across the country, is your family planning a last-chance road trip? In addition to watching the road, are you also watching what you eat? For all the education we do about distracted driving awareness, this feature is going in a different direction: in this article we are sharing healthy eating tips while in the car, especially if you’re taking a family road trip!

My friend Amy Culver, also known as “The Queen of Lean” has shared the following tips on healthy, calorie-conscious choices you can make while in the car, so that with a little planning, you can save money, eat nutritiously, and create some nice family memories on your end-of-summer road trip.

Healthy-Eating-Road-Trip_Thinkstock-146262330-sThere are two things that can be difficult to do while on vacation:  One is to not blow your financial budget, the other is to not blow your calorie budget.

The key to all of this is to plan for your own preparation of two meals a day -- breakfast and lunch -- along with snacks.  In addition to food, the only other thing that you will need is a cooler, something that most families travel with anyway. Before we hit the road, I also pack disposable dishes and utensils, as well as fruit that doesn't need to be refrigerated (such as apples and bananas). 


Breakfast: Rather than starting your day in a coffee shop, consider these alternatives.

First of all, you can have breakfast in your room.  We do this frequently and find it preferable to eating in a restaurant.  Having breakfast in your room will save you a lot of time: It's great on those days when you’re staying at a particular tourist destination, so you can be on your way and ahead of the crowd with very little effort, expense, or calories. Generally everyone has to take turns in the bathroom in the morning anyway, so everyone gets a chance to eat breakfast while waiting their turn.

Dry cereal travels easily.  All you need to do is to purchase milk along the way.  Each night, when we stop, we pick up enough milk for the morning. Cereal variety packs are a fun treat for the kids. And yes, they still peel open and turn into their own bowl – remember that?  Twenty years from now, your kids will remember them just as fondly.  Since sugary cereals aren't the most healthful breakfast choice, you might want to buy boxes of healthier stuff and alternate your choices.

Another quick, easy, and nutritious breakfast solution can be found at hotels and motels that include a Continental Breakfast, although you do need to tread carefully here: Steer clear of the empty carbs in bagels and pastries that are typically available. Oatmeal is usually offered and this makes a nice, filling choice. Some cold cereals (like Cheerios), yogurt, and fruit are also good healthful choices. Even if you wait and go as a family, this is still a great time-saver because they tend to be self-serve. If tables are in short supply, you can usually take the food back to your room to eat -- which can also be good for dieters because it means you’re not likely to go back for seconds.


Healthy-Eating-Road-Trip_Thinkstock-173368570-sLunch: Plan for a Road Trip Picnic Break!

Planning your own lunches provides all of the same benefits and can add some fun memories to your trip as well.  Essentially, this means you get to have family picnics during your road trip!  Growing up, our family vacations always included a picnic lunch on the first day out.  My Mom would make a batch of fried chicken the night before; now that she has passed, it has become a nice memory that I will always have with me. You can make a healthier version of this with baked chicken breasts (spray with olive oil spray and coat with cornflake crumbs and seasoning), and your family will hardly know you didn't fry it.  This is a link to my oven-baked "Fried Chicken" recipe. Add a whole-wheat roll and some fruit and you have a tasty and nutritious picnic meal.

Sandwiches make for quick and easy lunches on the road. Make sandwiches with whole-wheat bread and lunchmeat or PB&J.  For condiments, you can purchase small packets either at a restaurant supply store or on the web; these are nice because they don't have to be kept in the cooler. To round out your lunch, add a non-refrigerated individual fruit/pudding cup or a 100-calorie pack of baked chips. Having lunch this way is a great time-saver, all you need to do is find a nice picnic area by the side of the road and you’re ready to eat.

Depending on how long your trip is and how much cooler space you have, you may need to replenish your stock now and then along the way. Grocery stores are plentiful so this is not hard to do, and they also offer a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs.


Healthy-Eating-Road-Trip_Thinkstock-82756185-sDon't forget to plan for snacks.  Not just for the road but for the room as well. 

You don't want to have to rely on whatever you can find in the vending machine down the hall when you get a case of the late-night munchies. A good snack to start your trip with is a big bag of grapes. If you wash and pluck them before you leave, they should last at least two or three days in the cooler. Small cups of applesauce and snack bars are also a great snacking option. Many rooms now include small microwaves, so if the places you are staying in will have one, pack some microwave popcorn for the family to share.


Are You a Protein-Focused Eater?

If you’re following the new protein-focused Paleo diet, or are just avoiding carbs in general, pack a cooler with lunchmeat and cheese slices. Boiled eggs travel well, and chain grocery stores usually sell them if you run out.

If you choose protein bars for your on-the-road snack, look for ones that aren't full of sugar alcohol. Subtract fiber from carbs and try to get below 10 grams, or under 15 for sure. Atkins bars taste good, have fat and protein so they’re long-term filling, but not huge on calories or carbs. Nuts work well and are a great, protein-dense snack, so take your pick of almonds, pecans, walnuts, and macadamias.

In a pinch, don't be afraid of a burger. Just skip the fries, and get a side salad. These days, most fast-food restaurants understand what you mean when you ask for a burger “protein-style,” and will omit the bun and wrap your burger in lettuce. Ever had an In-n-Out burger protein style? It’s just as messy, and just as delicious as a burger on a bun, just a little more crunchy wrapped in leafy iceberg lettuce!

The key to successful weight loss and management is planning.  Road trip vacations are no different! It takes a bit more planning, but there are so many benefits: nice family memories, no need to find a suitable restaurant, no need to wonder just what they put into your food or how it was cooked, no need to wait for a table among the crowds of other families on the road, etc. 

And you can use all that money you'll save to buy more souvenirs!



Amy-Culver_Queen-of-lean_Fat-PantsAbout Amy Culver, The "Queen of Lean"

Amy is not a celebrity chef or trainer: She is a real person who once weighed more than 300 pounds but who cut her weight in half by changing to more healthy eating and living a more healthy lifestyle. 

Amy is now an AFAA Certified Personal Trainer and has been helping others to lose weight, have more energy, and feel better about themselves since 2004.

Healthy-Living-lifestyle-amy-culver-bookHer book, “The Healthy Living Lifestyle,” available on Amazon, chronicles how she lost 165 pounds at a moderate and healthy pace.

Find out more about Amy Culver at her website,



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