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Rheazombi's Tips on How to Eat Healthy on a Road Trip!

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Rheazombi, Feb 6, 2015.

  1. Rheazombi

    Rheazombi Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    #1 Rheazombi, Feb 6, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015
    Inspired by the EV obesity thread... ( ) I decided to make a new thread instead of clogging that other one with an infodump.

    As someone who road trips frequently, I've figured out over time how to eat healthy on the road. It's not super easy but can be done. It is a 'sad but true' fact of life that the USA does not have a culture of healthy eating, and traveling by road is a veritable minefield of unhealthy eating choices. This has been slowly improving in recent years but is still pathetic. You still have to go out of your way if you want to eat right.

    Eating fast food once in a while won't kill you, but eating it every meal on a long trip spanning several days or even a couple weeks is awful. If you're on a calorie restricted diet, this can be even more difficult. Also, when you're roadtripping, you may not be working out as often as you usually do. Also, much of your trip is spent sitting down, making that cheeseburger harder to burn off.

    First, some shops/restaurants I recommend (in descending order):

    > Whole Foods - If you have one near one of your stops or on the way, it's a great place to get healthy snacks, fresh fruits/veg, and their salad bar/deli is full of healthy, tasty options. These are not super common though, take advantage of them if/when you can!

    > Any other grocery store worth its salt (Shaws, Stop n Shop, Albertsons, Safeway, Trader Joes, etc) - Most towns you pass through usually have one good grocery store. Use these as an opportunity to stock up on food that will last you a couple days as you continue on in your journey. Can help you get through an upcoming food desert.

    > If you're lucky, you can always find a good cafe or healthy restaurant. These are less universal so you're on your own. Avoid anything labeled "Multi-grain": it's a scam and usually includes a lot of refined carbs. "Whole Wheat" is always your best bet. As far as smoothie shops go, make sure you look at the calorie count. Some of these so-called "healthy" smoothies have 800 calories. In general, grocery stores are always a better option because you actually know what you're eating and how many calories it is. Restaurants also have restricted hours whereas the food you bought at a grocery store is now always available to you. But, it's nice to be able to sit down and eat once in a while.

    > Seafood: If you're near the coast, a sushi place is always a healthy option. Ask if they will substitute brown rice, or just get all sashimi. 8 pieces of sashimi or nigiri is surprisingly filling. Miso soup and edamame is also tasty and healthy. Other seafood places are healthy too. Just skip the buttered crab/lobster and get a baked salmon fillet with lemon instead of cream/butter. And NO fish and chips!!

    > Panera - These things are everywhere lately. Luckily they have a lot of healthy options. They have way more selection than a Subway, so it's easier/more pleasant to eat healthy. They also list the calories on their menus. Your best bet is a half sandwich and half salad since their portions are HUGE. For salad, get certain items on the side: croutons, dressing, cheese. They have good, healthy soups also. Au Bon Pain is similar but in my experience, their food sounds way healthier than it actually is.

    >Subway, Quiznos, etc - Sometimes you're in a place with no grocery stores/Paneras. Usually, you can still find a lame franchise sandwich shop. Healthiest thing on their menu: whole wheat turkey sandwich. Mustard, lettuce, onion, tomato. NO mayo, NO cheese or bacon. Get the 6 inch, not the foot long. Skip the chips and soda. Only 300-400 calories!

    >Starbucks - These are EVERYWHERE. However, despite being a mega billion dollar company, somehow their food selection still sucks. But, if you must: Some of their sandwiches are vaguely edible and not super caloric (yay?), their parfaits are eh but healthy-ish, and they have some overpriced fruit cups or fruit platters (eat only the hard cheese that comes with the fruit platters, not the caloric brie). Whoop-de-doo. So, Starbucks is not a great option for food but again, you can probably easily find one if you're near civilization. (PS: it goes without saying that many of their fancy coffees are also super fatty and caloric -not to mention expensive-, so try to get regular coffee, espresso shots, or black/green tea if you need a zing)

    >Burger King: Only use this as a last resort and if you have good self control. I mention it because there are Burger Kings where other eateries dare not to tread. Ironically, the one thing on their menu that is "healthy" is a Whopper Jr. It's basically the original menu item from the late 50s that was considered a "regular" Whopper. It's only about 240 calories. With ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, it's not the worst you could do to yourself. You could probably even get two. Skip the mayo, cheese, fries, chicken nuggets, and soda.

    Places I DO NOT recommend:
    * McDonald's, KFC, ChikfilA, other fast food/fried chicken/burger joints (even tasty ones like Five Guys, InNOut, etc) - for a variety of reasons. (Not healthy, not tasty, not worth it : pick one!)
    * Dunkin Donuts - terrible, unhealthy food with nary a vegetable in sight. They are great though if you have to make a bathroom stop - I've never been turned away even without ordering anything. McDonalds is the WORST for this (toilet hoggers!)
    * Peet's - if you can believe it their food selection is worse than Starbucks. Basically just pastries and maybe oatmeal.
    * Gas station food, 7-11, CVS/Long's/Rite-Aid/Walgreens - I don't know why these places even pretend to sell food. They're selling diabetes and nothing else. Pringles, soda, and candy. UGH
    * Pizza Places - ubiquitous, tempting, evil.
    * American "Restaurants" (ie: Olive Garden, Not Your Avg Joe's, Bertuccis, Chilis, TGIF, Outback Steakhouse, Unos, Applebees, Arbys, Cheesecake Factory, Long John Silver's) Basically, avoid any restaurant with a TV commercial if you value your arteries and maybe seeing your grandkid's first steps someday.

    The pitfalls of many of these places: they either have foul-tasting healthy items, faux-healthy afterthought options, terrible selection, require too much self-control, or sell garbage. And of course, to make things more annoying/tempting, they are ubiquitous, always just off the highway/super easy to get to, and cheap! AVOID AVOID AVOID. Many people I know eat exclusively at these when they travel because they are the MOST convenient. Then those same people complain that they always gain weight when they travel. Go figure.

    Secondly, when you're traveling, it's nice and sometimes necessary to have your own food with you. It helps to have a cooler in your car, and try to stay at hotels that have microwaves in the rooms. Your goal should be to rarely, if ever, rely on restaurants, room service, and delivery/takeout. (Your wallet will stay fat while you stay thin - quick, trademark that!)

    Obviously you don't always have a cooler or access to a microwave, so I've made some suggestions based on each situation.

    (Healthy) Foods that require a microwave, but no cooler (never spoils):
    (ie: you have a nice hotel with a microwave or you brought one along, but you ran out of ice or cooler foods. These foods keep longer.)

    * Unbuttered, unsalted popcorn
    * Ready-made soups (My fav brands: Imagine, Whole Foods 365, Trader Joe's, Amy's)
    * Tasty Bite Indian dinners - don't require refrigeration and keep for a long time.
    * Uncle Ben's ready-made rice dishes (always opt for Brown or long grain rice varieties. Wild rice is even healthier.)
    * Annie Chun noodles
    * Instant, Sugar-free Oatmeal (I recommend McCanns. Quaker oatmeal is sugary slop.)
    * Canned baby corn, etc. (Avoid tomato-based canned food - the acid erodes the lining. Avoid certain other canned veggies which are actually canned with sugar, like peas, corn. Read the labels!)

    Cooler required, NO microwave required (easily spoils):
    (ie: you have a cooler and ice, but you can't find a hotel with a microwave)

    * Sugar-free yogurt (Skyr -Icelandic style yogurt- is my fav. Fage -pronounced faya- is Greek and also good. Avoid Dannon/Yoplait: the watery, overrated, candy of yogurts)
    * Small carton of milk (for cereal, coffee, oatmeal)
    * Veggies for dipping (cucumbers, carrots, celery, mushrooms, broccoli)
    * Healthy dips: tomato-based dip, hummus, yogurt-based dips, tzatziki
    * Healthy cheese: red wax baby bell cheese, mozzarella string cheese, hard cheeses (asiago, low-fat cheddar, swiss, etc)
    * Fruits: pre-cut apples, pre-cut watermelon, fruit cups, berries (blueberries are healthiest option)
    * Pre-made parfaits (low sugar).
    * Pre-made salads (in most cases, avoid the dressing it comes with, or use a teaspoon amount)
    * Inner ingredients for wraps
    * Pre-made pasta salad (lowfat, preferably whole wheat), tabouli
    * Material for sandwiches: deli meat, etc.

    NO cooler OR microwave required (will eventually spoil):
    (ie: mostly supplemental foods that assume you have other ingredients in a cooler)

    * Whole Wheat Bread for sandwiches
    * Whole wheat/spinach-based wraps
    * Bananas, apples, oranges, and other fruits that don't require a cooler.

    NO cooler OR microwave required (never spoils):
    (ie: food you may want in the car even not during a road trip. Also great if you're roughing it with no hotels or minimal access to ice/grocery stores.)

    * Granola bars: try to find some that aren't too sugary. I used to get Fiber One bars, but now I believe they are too sugary to be worth it. Nutra-grain bars (if desperate). Whole Foods has some good granola bars.
    * Dried fruits: apples, strawberries, raisins, freeze-dried mangoes, etc (use sparingly as dried fruits are sugary)
    * Granola, trail mix - trail mix is designed to be carb-y and caloric so you don't die in the wilderness, so choose a healthy option and use sparingly
    * Beef or turkey jerky (low sodium) - my fav brand is Chef's Cut. (Avoid Oberto, Slim Jims, Squatch.)
    * Healthy cereals: Plain Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Kashi GoLean, Eat Natural Muesli, Special K, or get some healthy cereals at Whole Foods.)
    * Healthy chip snacks: Pita chips, pop chips, Whole Foods air-puffed cheetos
    * Hunt's sugar-free, non-gelatin jello (not a lot of nutritional value but can tide you over if you've had too many cals)
    * Non-hydrogenated Peanut Butter - yes you will have to stir it, you big baby
    * Rice crackers
    * Roasted seaweed snacks
    * Whole wheat pretzels
    * Nuts: (Healthy options: walnuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, etc). Make sure they are vaguely fresh as some nuts form cyanide as they expire. (Avoid unhealthy nuts like salted peanuts, caloric nuts like macadamia nuts, chestnuts, pecans, "beer nuts", sugared almonds, candied walnuts, etc.)
    * Seeds (Healthy options: unsalted pumpkin seeds, unsalted sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, wheatgerm) Also, flax seeds - just remember they spoil quickly and must be ground, not whole, to have any benefit. Avoid any seeds that are salted.
    * Condiments - mustard of choice and ketchup (up to you whether you think they need a cooler), salt, pepper, small thing of sugar in a bug-proof container, olive oil, balsamic vinegar if you eat a lot of salads and are feelin fancy.
    * Also, don't forget basic stuff like plastic forks/knives/spoons, NAPKINS, paper plates, water bottle/thermos, etc. If you don't like using disposable flatware, get a titanium spork and some campsuds for dishwashing.

    That's everything! In case you're wondering, there are very few foods that require both a cooler and a microwave. There are a few frozen foods that need heating but these are usually not healthy and a cooler wouldn't keep them cold enough anyway.

    Disclaimer: Obviously you don't need all this stuff, and the length of journey informs how much you need to plan in advance. The list is comprehensive because many people are picky eaters and need ideas for healthy foods. If you never go on roadtrips but hate how when just driving around casually you always end up at fastfood joints, then stock up on a few of the NO COOLER/NO MICRO options so you always have a healthy snack within reach. Also, if you're in bear country, don't leave all this food in your car, obviously. The list is also biased regionally because I live in New England. I grew up in CA but I don't remember too many specific healthy eating options. This is also not a camping/backpacking/fire-cooking list. This list assumes you have a car and no fire. Also, feel free to print this out, post it online elsewhere, whatever.

    Hope this helps any people who generally have a hard time eating healthy on the road. Please comment if you found it useful, want to share your experience eating/trying to eat healthy on the road, any suggestions to make it better, or if you have any food/restaurant/regional recommendations, etc.

    TL;DR: don't eat fast food, grocery stores are your friend.
  2. Johan

    Johan Took a TSLA bear test. Came back negative.

    Feb 9, 2012
    Drammen, Norway
    Impressive list! Well thought out. Wow I'm glad I don't live in the US as a poor person. I've always found it easy to eat healthy when I'm visiting but then again I've mostly been to NYC, Miami, LA and SF and when I travel I don't think too much of prices.
  3. AudubonB

    AudubonB Mild-mannered Moderator

    Mar 24, 2013
    Denali Highway, Alaska
    I'm not sure I trust a zombie's idea of how to eat healthy.
  4. Rheazombi

    Rheazombi Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    but brains are a great source of nutrition! lol
  5. Jaff

    Jaff Active Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    Grimsby, Canada
    Nice list, thanks for compiling it!
  6. napabill

    napabill Active Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Napa, California, United States
    #6 napabill, Feb 6, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2015
    I'm fond of Carl's Jr/In-Out-Burger's so-called protein burgers (no bun), hold the catsup. I find that a hunk of protein in my stomach holds off the future hunger pangs.
  7. TEG

    TEG TMC Moderator

    Aug 20, 2006
    Silicon Valley
  8. SamT

    SamT Member

    Oct 16, 2014
    Northern Virginia
    I would add chipotle to the mix, they have a lot of healthy choices. I always skip the rice and add more beans instead.
  9. Rheazombi

    Rheazombi Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Yes, I was a bit harsh on Starbucks. I just expect more out of such a huge company. Also the fact that I had to eat it every lunch for a year straight may have something to do with it, lol.
  10. Pollux

    Pollux Member

    Jul 16, 2013
    Merry land / District of Confusion
    Wow! Nicely done, @Rheazombi!

    You mentioned restaurants; in the MA area, there are several Legal Seafoods: tuna sashimi, shrimp, other tasty things that shouldn't be unhealthy for you. Also, Panera (which you mentioned) makes it particularly easy to see the calorie counts on their menus.

    You'll have to start a separate thread explaining your choice of forum name. :)

  11. ItsNotAboutTheMoney

    ItsNotAboutTheMoney Active Member

    Jul 12, 2012
    Make sure you don't get a depressive's brain: they're way too high in sodium.

    Nice list, by the way.
  12. Auzie

    Auzie Tree Hugger Member

    Jul 29, 2013
    #12 Auzie, Feb 13, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2015
    Same here.

    Sorry Rheazombi, but to me your list does not seem completely healthy. It is just my opinion and I could be wrong. I am not a health expert. I haven't been to doctors for years, planning not to go, so I could claim that my health is a little bit of a credential.

    It could be that my idea of healthy food is different from your list.

    There seems to be too much of processed food on the list. Food that does not go off (packed with various chemicals that stop it from going off) may be disagreeable with the body. Bread that lasts longer than a day is disagreeable.

    Some items on your list (nuts, salads, seafood, yogurt, milk, cheese) are on my list of agreeable foods as well.

    My choice of a road trip food would be coffee, more coffee, apples, nuts and dark chocolate. Plenty of water as well. Chocolate may not be that healthy, but it works wonders for me. Travelling used to be much easier when I used to be a smoker, I did not need apples and chocolate then:biggrin: I miss those times..

    We are lucky in Sydney to have a variety of fresh food everywhere and plenty of places that serve and sell food. There are lots of fancy restaurants in Sydney that prepare excellent quirky food. My favourite places are Thai restaurants.

    Different continents have different eating habits. Colder climates inhabitants can tolerate heavy food (and heavy drinking:wink:, smoking etc). In warm climates, we do not need to eat so much food to be energetic.:biggrin:

    In Europe, I found food to be heavier than in Australia, especially northern countries, but very healthy and excellent quality. Southern European countries tend to consume lighter foods closer to my liking. I found Italian food quite healthy but too much pasta for my taste. In Asia (Singapore, KL), after initial adjustment to different air, food was quite interesting and to my liking. Small sizes, plenty of variety of veggies, very little meat or fish.

    When I was in US, I could not believe the quality and quantity of food serves, not in a good way. Simply scary. I found the serving sizes suicidal.

    After tasting all the various meals and foods across 4 continents, here is my summary:

    The best tasting meals that I had were in small German rural restaurants. Meals were simple, like schnitzel and potato or salad, but the quality, preparation and taste were outstanding. I can not replicate the taste no matter how much I try. It must be due to all local organic produce, healthy animals roaming the fields and being fed healthy food.

    Sydney gets top notch for food choices availability, variety and quality. Asian food is quite healthy with lots of veggies, spices, no bread, not much meat. European food has a bit less of a variety, more bread, starches and meat, but the quality is excellent and serving sizes are adequate.

    US seems to lead the world in bad eating habits and poor food choices. Processed foods and the serving sizes seem to be the major culprits.

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