Food for Thought

Summer is here and many of us are planning vacations that include taking a road trip. Road trips can be a great time to make family memories and discover the wonderful nuances that make our country great.

But it can also be filled with a lot of potholes if you’re trying to eat healthy. With a little bit of planning and willpower you can navigate your way around those nutritional potholes.

In general you should apply the same principles of healthy eating to your traveling food selections; low sugar, low fat, and high fiber.

Here are some suggestions for you to consider for restaurants, fast food chains, hotel breakfast bars or service stations.


No matter where you eat, good selections include fruit and yogurt parfaits which will give you some calcium and protein without too much saturated fat. Always drink low-fat milk or 100 percent juice instead of sodas or fruit punches. Fresh fruit is always a winner as well because of its fibrous and vitamin-rich nature.

At restaurants or hotel breakfast buffets, you can choose an omelet filled with vegetables and a side of whole wheat toast instead of pancakes with syrup. A bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit is very filling, and if you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, consider opting for a bran muffin or whole wheat toast with jelly or jam.

Fast food restaurants have a lot of breakfast selections, but they usually have a lot of fat calories attached to them. A breakfast burrito is a good choice in addition to oatmeal if you combine them with low fat or skim milk or that 100 percent juice.

If your only choice is what you can find at a gas station, your best option is low fat or skim milk with a protein bar or single serve whole grain cereal. As a last resort, choose the hot breakfast sandwich or burrito over the Little Debbie treat or donut.

Healthy snacks in the car

Load up on fresh-cut vegetables and fruit. Bring along a small cooler with ice packs to keep your snacks fresh.

Bring plenty of water. It will keep you hydrated and, if you spill it, water won’t stain the upholstery like sodas.

Individually wrapped portions of string cheese can be kept in the cooler with the fruit and vegetables. They are a great source of calcium and protein.

Bring baked whole grain crackers along on your trip for added fiber and nutrients.

You also can pack sandwiches made with whole grain bread and peanut butter or lean meats. Keep these in the cooler, too.

Nuts such as almonds, cashews and walnuts contain polyunsaturated fats and are easy to take on a trip in either individual bags or larger containers. You can also mix dried fruit with them to add variety.

Lunch and dinner

Lunch and dinner on the road usually means going to a restaurant. Don’t spend too much time at fast food restaurants; instead, opt for full-service restaurants that offer more choices.

Healthy eating in restaurants

Order a soup or a salad to pair with your main course. Soups and salads are generally healthy and fill you up so that you eat less of the more calorie-dense main entree.

Skip the entree altogether. Soup and salad might be enough for a healthy meal.

Split a meal with your dining partner. Most restaurants serve huge portions, so there is usually enough food to share.

This saves calories and money. Besides, sharing eliminates the temptation to take leftovers back on the road where they can’t be properly stored.

Select foods that are prepared with healthier, low-fat methods. Baked chicken is healthy, but fried chicken has too much fat.

Eat the vegetables. Most entrees come with at least one vegetable. If not, be sure to order a vegetable side dish.

Skip dessert, or choose fruit instead. A full meal that ends with a sugary dessert may make you feel sleepy.

That might be fine if you are a passenger, but a bad idea if you are the driver.

At fast food restaurants

Find sandwich shops like Subway or Quiznos that let you select your sandwich ingredients. Choose whole grain breads, lean meats and lots of vegetables.

Many fast food restaurants offer salads, but you need to be careful when you select one. Some of those salads are very high in fat, especially taco salads or those topped with fried chicken strips.

Don’t super-size your meal.

It sounds like a great deal, but you will eat way too much calories, fat and sodium. Most pack more than your daily requirement for all of these elements.

Order sandwiches made with grilled chicken rather than fried chicken.

At the hotel

If your trip requires a hotel stay, you might get a bit hungry after a long day of travel. If going to a restaurant is not an option, you should still find healthy foods.

Eating at the hotel

Find a local grocery store and buy healthy snack items such as fruit, nuts, or healthy choices from a salad bar or deli section. If your hotel has a microwave, choose healthier frozen dinners or soup.

If your only choice for a snack is the hotel vending machine, skip the candy and chips and look for nuts or microwave popcorn.

Some restaurants will deliver food to your hotel room and may have some healthy menu items available.

If you go for a pizza delivery, don’t order extra cheese or meats high in saturated fat. Choose lots of vegetables and mushrooms and add a side salad.

If you follow these easy tips for better nutrition it will lead you to a healthy road trip.

Browning, a registered dietitian, is coordinator of outreach programs for Susquehanna Health.