Over the river and through the woods — if only it were that simple. For most people, traveling involves eye-glazing waits at an airport or train station, or hours of driving. At some point, you’ll want a snack.
Snacking healthfully while in transit can be tricky. The grab-and-go options “are likely to be processed or ultra-processed foods higher in fat, higher in sodium and lower in fiber,” said Kayli Anderson, a registered dietitian and faculty member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
Deviating from your usual routines when you travel can lead to unpredictable spikes in hunger, she added. And time pressures — rushing to catch a flight or train, for example — can make it hard to sit down for a meal.
“Boredom eating” is also common during long trips, said Shona Halson, a professor and behavioral science researcher at Australian Catholic University in Brisbane. Research has shown that being bored can increase the desire to snack, as well as the urge to consume unhealthy foods.
An occasional day of suboptimal snacking isn’t a big deal, Ms. Anderson said: One bad snack “or even one entire trip-worth of meals is not going to make or break your health.” But if eating well on the road is a priority, here are some expert strategies and suggestions.
If you can, pack snacks to bring with you.
“The key to travel snacking is to plan ahead,” said Christopher Taylor, a professor of medical dietetics and family medicine at Ohio State University. “If you can become less reactive, that gives you a big leg up.”
“You pack your toothbrush. Pack your snacks, too,” echoed Joan Salge Blake, a clinical professor of nutrition at Boston University.
Nuts are Ms. Salge Blake’s go-to choice. “They’re heart-healthy and a source of fiber, which most Americans are short of in their diets,” she said. Pistachios are her favorite because, unlike many other nuts, they’re a complete protein source — meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. “But all nuts contain protein, which helps you feel full,” she added.
She also recommended packing dried fruit — apricots and raisins, for example — because it’s a source of potassium and fiber. Eat the fruit and nuts together “and you’ve got a great sweet and savory snack,” she said.
Lisa Young, a registered dietitian in private practice in New York, said “hummus with veggie sticks — carrots, red pepper, jicama, celery — are at the top of my list.” The chickpeas in hummus are another complete protein.
“If you’re traveling by car, the ability to pack your own cooler is an advantage,” Dr. Taylor said. He suggested stocking protein-rich foods like cold chicken or hard-boiled eggs. Nut-butter sandwiches made with whole-grain bread are another healthy choice, he said.
If packing snacks ahead of time isn’t realistic, many airports and train terminals now have market-like food shops that sell produce and salads, and grocery stores are an easy alternative to gas stations when you’re driving somewhere. “A lot of places have healthier prepared foods — stuff like bento boxes with vegetables and hummus,” Ms. Anderson said.
OK, but what if I just want a sweet or salty store-bought snack?
Dr. Taylor recommended trail mix as a relatively healthy, satisfying and convenient option — one that you can find just about everywhere.
Ms. Salge Blake put in a vote for seeds, particularly pumpkin and sunflower. “Similar to nuts, they are a good source of fiber, protein and potassium,” she said. She suggested adding seeds or trail mix to store-bought yogurt — protein-rich Greek yogurt, if you can find it — to make a parfait.
When it comes to energy or protein bars, choose ones that have nuts, seeds or fruits toward the top of their ingredients list, Ms. Salge Blake said. “I love KIND bars,” she said. “But any bar that has a lot of nuts is going to have some protein and fiber in it.”
If you want a healthier alternative to potato chips, Ms. Anderson said she looks for dried bean snacks, like dried chickpeas or edamame.
Dr. Young likes popcorn, which is a whole grain and contains fiber. She suggested making your own at home with an air popper, but said she also likes the Skinny Pop brand.
And if you’re wondering what to drink, all the experts recommended plain water (no surprise). “My other go-to drinks are unsweetened iced tea or flavored sparkling water,” said Lona Sandon, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “These help keep you hydrated and do not have added sugar calories,” she said.
Above all, when you’re snacking on the go, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Ms. Anderson said.
“Eating different foods can be a fun and enjoyable part of traveling,” she added. “You don’t want to miss out by micromanaging too much.”