October 1, 2023

Healthy Snacks on the Go for Your Next Flight or Road Trip

Plan ahead, bring a cooler when possible and don’t forget the water!

Parent sharing bowl of nuts with children while on road trip.

Eating right when you’re on the road can be a challenge. But whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, you can still stick to healthy eating habits on the go. (And, bonus, those healthy choices can give you more energy to enjoy your vacay.)

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With a little advanced planning, you can steer clear of dietary roadblocks, says registered dietitian Sereen Zawahri Krasuna, RD, LD.

“Bringing your own snacks and small meals can make a big difference,” Zawahri Krasuna says. “Having healthy snacks around when you’re on the go can keep you feeling your best so you can enjoy your trip more. And planning ahead can be easier on your budget, too.”

So, what snacks, meals and drinks are the best choices for busy people on the go? Zawahri Krasuna offers advice.

Healthy road trip snacks

If you’re traveling by car, it can be easy to fall back on fast food options, rest stop vending machines and gas station snacks. After all, they’re oh-so-convenient. But those quick food choices come with a price: They’re typically loaded with sugar and saturated fats. And they come with a literal price, too — one with a pretty high markup.

Instead of relying on pit-stop snacks, a pre-packed cooler and icepacks in the backseat can go a long way to satisfying your road trip cravings without breaking the bank or fueling your tank with empty calories.

Grab a cooler and a picnic basket (or a canvas tote or other bag) and pack these healthy road trip snacks:

In the bag

  • Applesauce.
  • Single-serving bags of veggie chips.
  • Single-serving containers of tuna.
  • Single-serving packets of unsalted nuts, like almonds or cashews.
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit (add some dark chocolate chips for a hint of sweetness).
  • Air-popped or bagged popcorn (stick to kinds that are low in salt and no butter).
  • Low-sugar protein bars and powders.
  • Peanut butter sandwiches on whole-grain bread.

In the cooler

  • Fresh veggies, like baby carrots, celery sticks, bell peppers, snap peas or mini cucumbers.
  • Fresh fruits that don’t make a mess, like bananas, apples, plums, apricots or grapes.
  • Low-fat string cheese or cheese slices.
  • Single-serving containers of hummus or guacamole.
  • Whole-grain wraps with deli turkey or chicken, avocado, shredded carrots and hummus.
  • Water.

Remember that stocking up for the drive home is just as important as when you head out.

“A lot of times, we’re really well-prepared and packed up when we leave, but we can neglect preparing as well for the ride back,” Zawahri Krasuna notes. “But stopping at a store to pick up a few healthy choices for the ride home is just as important.”

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Shopping at convenience stores and gas stations

Sometimes, grabbing a bite from the gas station or convenience store might be your only option. And that’s OK. You can typically find healthy road trip snacks even in corner stores, if you know what to look for.

Sure, chips, candies and giant sodas may be plentiful in those aisles, but they’re not going to be your healthiest choices for the ride ahead.

Look instead for options like:

  • Applesauce.
  • Low-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Hummus with veggies.
  • Fresh fruits.
  • Pre-cut veggies.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Single-serving bags of veggie chips.
  • Single-serving containers of tuna.
  • Single-serving packets of unsalted nuts, like almonds or cashews.
  • Air-popped or bagged popcorn (stick to kinds that are low in salt and no butter).
  • Trail mix without candies.
  • Low-sugar protein bars.
  • Bottled water or canned sparkling water.

Healthy choices for airports and train stations

You can find healthy food even in the airport and train terminals — sandwiched between the hot pretzel stands, cinnamon roll counters and fast food joints. If you’re looking to buy food at the terminal or train station, look for options like:

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Hummus with veggies.
  • Fruit cups made with fresh fruit.
  • Pre-cut veggies.
  • Oatmeal.

The prices at the airport can be sky high, though, and you may be on the run to make a connection. So, having some ready-go-roll snacks can help to fuel you for the trip.

Granted, you can’t take a cooler through airport security. But with some planning, you can still bring healthy food options along for the ride.

For a plane ride, particularly, it helps to keep your snacks low in sodium to help guard against retaining water on a long flight.

Zawahri Krasuna suggests packing nourishing snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated. Divide them into clear baggies to get through security. Healthy options that will travel well in your backpack and carry-on include:

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  • Applesauce.
  • Single-serving bags of veggie chips.
  • Single-serving containers of tuna.
  • Single-serving packets of unsalted nuts, like almonds or cashews.
  • Air-popped or bagged popcorn (stick to kinds that are low in salt and no butter). 
  • Homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and dried fruit (add some dark chocolate chips for a hint of sweetness).
  • Peanut butter sandwiches on whole grain bread.

Particularly important for air travel is to bring a refillable water cup, Zawahri Krasuna says. You’ll need it emptied before going through security, but filling your own cup of water at a bottle-filling station before your flight will help ensure you stay well-hydrated on the way.

Eating out on vacation

Sure, it can be tempting to “treat yourself” on vacation and set aside your healthy habits. But Zawahri Krasuna advises sticking to healthy eating patterns as much as you can.

“Keeping your body healthy and nourishing it is going to go a long way,” she continues. “Eating healthy foods will help you feel your best to enjoy your trip. And keeping up healthy habits even away from home will mean not having to try to undo any changes in your habits that you got used to during vacation.”

Going all-out on sugar for a few days, for example, will mean your body will crave more sugar even after you get back from your trip. Sticking to healthier choices, on the other hand, will help you stay on track long after you return.

Keep up your healthy eating habits at restaurants and even fast food locations by choosing options like:

  • Veggie appetizers.
  • Salads (go for dressing on the side so you can control how much you use).
  • Steamed vegetables.
  • Lean, grilled protein, like chicken or salmon.

When it comes to eating on the go, planning will take you far. Bon voyage!

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