Road Trip: Healthy Convenience Store Foods
Make healthy choices when you're traveling by choosing these light snacks from the convenience store. By: Karen Ansel, RD
This summer, millions of Americans will take to the roads. If you’re one of them you may think that means hours with nothing to nosh on but convenience store staples like chips and cookies. Not anymore. While convenience stores still have their fair share of less-than-optimal eats, many now stock a surprising selection of fresh and healthy choices. Next time you stop to refuel, test drive these light snacks.
Why start your day with a donut when you can get wholesome whole grain cereal? You may need to dig through the cereal display to find it, but it’s in there. Just be sure to read the label, as some varieties are more healthful than others. Look for brands that supply at least 4 grams of fiber and about 160 calories per cup (Cheerios are a safe bet that are almost always available). Mix with low-fat yogurt and a banana and you’ve got a wholesome breakfast you can take along for the drive.
Energy bars make a savvy snack to have on hand for times when you’re stuck in traffic and your stomach starts to growl. Yet they’re not all created equally. Many are low in fiber, high in calories and loaded with sugar. For maximum hunger control, aim for bars with a combo of at least 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein and fewer than 170 calories such as Kellogg’s Special K Protein Meal Bar or Kashi Go Lean Protein & Fiber Bar.
See more: The Best Energy Bars
Packed with vitamin E, monounsaturated fat and resveratrol (the compound responsible for the benefits of red wine), peanuts are a heart-healthy snack. But, if you’re not careful it’s easy to wolf down several servings before you know it. Enter in-shell peanuts. Shelling your own peanuts automatically slows you down, so you’ll be less likely to eat too many. About ½ cup supplies 7 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 20% of your daily vitamin E for a respectable 160 calories.
When you crave something cool and creamy, head to the refrigerator case instead of the ice cream case. There you’ll find low-fat yogurt (some stores even stock organic varieties). It will satisfy your taste buds while also delivering on the nutritional front. For about 140 calories or less, you’ll get one-quarter of your daily calcium and as much protein as you’d get from a large egg. Look on the label and you’ll see many brands are now fortified with vitamin D as well.
Squeezing in your 9 daily servings of produce when you’re on the road can be a major challenge. While fresh is best, it isn’t always possible. That’s when 100% veggie juice can help. One 12-ounce bottle provides the equivalent of 3 servings of vegetables for just 70 calories. It’s packed with vitamins A and C, heart-healthy potassium, and lycopene, a phytochemical cousin of beta-carotene. Each bottle also offers 3 grams of filling fiber.
Put down the peanut M&Ms and reach for a bag of trail mix instead. Its dried fruit and nuts provide the perfect mix of sweet, salty and crunchy - but with a healthful twist. You’ll not only slash fat and calories, you’ll get half the saturated fat you’d find in chocolate bars or M&Ms. Be sure to keep an eye on portions. Even though it’s good for you, trail mix is high in calories. Three tablespoons supply 140 calories and 9 grams of fat.
You no longer need to stumble across a roadside stand to get your fill of fresh veggies. Conveniently packaged single-serve bags of baby carrots make it easy to sneak in a serving of produce. Precut, prewashed and easily portable, they make a smart alternative to other bagged snacks. One 2¼ ounce bag delivers 90 percent of your daily dose of vitamin A and 2 grams of fiber for only 25 calories.
Stores like 7-Eleven are making it easier for you to get your fruit fix. Now instead of gravitating toward the snack aisle, check out the fresh food case. There you’ll find juicy fruit cups made from pre-cut cantaloupe, honeydew, and grapes. Not only are they a calorie bargain, they’re rich in fiber and also supply healthful antioxidants like vitamins A and C and beta-carotene. They’re filling too. One 8-oz container provides roughly 2 servings of fruit for only about 100 calories. If you can’t find fresh cut fruit, look for fruit packed in water or extra-light syrup.
It’s hard to squeeze in your 3 daily servings of dairy when you’re cooped up in the car all day. Calcium-rich snacks like string cheese can help. Grab a couple of these and you’ll get as much calcium as you would from a glass of milk. What’s more, their protein (one piece supplies 7 grams) helps you focus and stay alert behind the wheel. For a balanced snack, pair them with a bag of baby carrots.
Most convenience stores offer single pieces of fresh fruit like bananas, oranges, and apples year round. You don't have to look far to find them either—they are usually at the front of the store next to the cash register. If you don't want to worry about washing an apple or trying to peel an orange while driving, reach for a banana. This sweet fruit is packaged in its own skin for easy clean up and nonsticky fingers. Bananas are a potassium powerhouse, delivering energy to help keep you going on that long drive.