Start by prepping for healthy, low-cost eating in the car by stocking your cooler with snacks and drinks for the road. In a recent study, one group of road-tripping families was asked to pack a cooler with drinks and fruit. A second group was asked to travel without a cooler. Result? The families with coolers spent an average of $2.31 less per 100 miles on their road trip food than those without coolers. Perhaps more importantly, they also ate 82 calories less per hour of driving. And since driving for several hours can significantly lower your calorie burn for that day, taking in fewer calories becomes that much more important.
Keep plenty of water and low-calorie drinks in the car: The recirculated air can make you extra-thirsty, and thirst is often mistaken for hunger. When it comes to snacks, keep on hand homemade protein-rich nibbles like trail mix and nutty granola bars, as the protein will keep you fuller longer. And of course you’ll want to include easy-to-eat fruits and vegetables like cherries, grapes, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. When paired with dip, the vegetables become a great appetizer once you reach your destination and start making dinners. It’s also good to bypass the rest-stop junk food by packing super-flavorful sandwiches topped with crisp vegetables and spread with pesto or herbed cream cheese.
Some smart cooler-packing tips:
Freeze water and other drinks in plastic bottles the night before you leave, and use them to help foods stay cold in the cooler. (Never let any plastic bottles sit in the hot sun, by the way, or the chemcials in them may leach into the contents. And be sure to recycle one-time-use bottles when you're done with them.)
Make your sandwiches the night before also, to make your getaway less hectic. Plus, the sandwiches will stay cold longer if they’re thoroughly chilled in the fridge before they go into the cooler.
Aim to fill your cooler with 75 percent food and 25 percent ice, frozen drinks, or cold packs. This allows the cold air to circulate more freely, which will better chill your food.
If you’re headed to the beach or lakeside, consider renting a place with a kitchen. This will save you a bundle on food money. Studies also show that the more frequently you eat out, the more likely you are to gain weight from all those hidden calories. A good strategy is to eat all your breakfasts at home, plus a lunch or dinner every day. That leaves one meal out each day at the local crab shack, drive-in restaurant, or steakhouse. Once you’re at your destination, be sure to check for local farm stands so you can pick up fresh, local produce. Trying out new and local food can be a great part of a vacation for you and your family.
If you’re camping, opt for chicken, turkey, or tofu sausages and hot dogs rather than the usual high-fat versions of these grilled goodies. And look for all-natural, nitrate-free brands. Accompany them with plenty of grilled vegetables.
So…ready to hit the road? Try these snacks and fixings for some great vacation dinners, courtesy of the Rodale Recipe Finder.
#1: Ultrametabolism Road Mix. For filling, healthful snacks in the car, skip the processed junk and try this homemade trail mix or Almond and Oat Bars.
#2: Rolled Garden Sandwiches. Those highway signs for fast food will be a lot less tempting if you’re packing these rolled turkey and Swiss sandwiches, or wedges of crusty bread layered with pesto, chicken, and vegetables. Or hand out these healthy, handy Mediterranean Salad Wraps.
#3: Pasta Salad with Cucumber, Red Pepper, and Feta. For two salads that will hold up great on a car trip, take along this tangy pasta salad or Vegetable-Packed Israeli Couscous.
#4: Chicken Sausage with Summer Squash. This dish is easy to prepare at a campsite or your vacation rental. Round out the meal with Spicy Grilled Corn. If you’re staying at a cabin or condo, bring your own pasta and vegetables (or use local farm stand finds) for easy, great-tasting dishes like Summer Market Pasta or Penne with Summer Vegetables.
#5: Honeyed Summer Fruit Bowl. This refreshing fruit salad is wonderful for breakfast, or as a sweet treat after lunch or dinner. Make it even more amazing by using seasonal peaches, plums, berries, and melon.