Eating healthy on road trips and long drives can be tough. Discover best foods, favourite meals and car snacks to keep your body fuelled.
If you've ever had to drive long distances, you'll know the true meaning of stress, delays, frustration and even infuriation. Even the best healthy eating intentions can falter during road trip service station stop-offs. Don't despair though - with a little planning, all is not lost.
Petrol station, service station, 'servo' or truck stop - call them what you will.
It's fair to say that over the last decade or so, most have become brighter, lighter, more pleasant places to stop off. With a greater selection of food and beverages of offer than ever before.
However, that's only half the story.
The prices tend to be somewhere north of extortionate and the quality of food variable. To make things worse, traffic congestion is on the increase. As a result, journey times are longer, increasing the need to make extra stops.
Road trips can make healthy eating difficult
If you're trying to watch what you eat but spend a lot of time on the road, how can you navigate around the nutritional obstacles that are in your way?
The problem is that while you may set off with the healthiest of eating intentions, spending hours behind the wheel can do strange things to your mind.
The number one enemy is undoubtedly boredom.
If your journey's long or you get stuck in a jam, it's inevitable that you'll feel bored. Research shows that regardless of hunger, comfort eating and boredom are linked. Therefore, it's not surprising you're more likely to reach for the sweet treats. You may find yourself pulling into a service station and tucking into a nutritional nightmare.
It's not only boredom that can scupper your good eating intentions.
Driving requires your continual concentration. You need to stay mentally alert. Although a hit of caffeine and sugar will help achieve this and stave of tiredness in the short term, it can just make things worse in the long term. Just when you need maximum alertness - towards the end of your journey.
Best food to eat before a long drive
Before I explain how to navigate your way around a service station, it's worth mentioning the alternative. Avoiding them altogether.
This doesn't mean you don't pull in for a rest or walk. They can be great for taking a mental break when you feel the need. However, it does mean starting your journey prepared and with your car loaded up with the right kind of nutritional goodies to see you to your destination.
You might think preparation simply involves chucking a few things in the car for the journey. It's more than that. Healthy eating requires just as much planning as your road trip route.
In reality, it involves more than this - preparation starts when you do your shopping. If you haven't got the right foods in your cupboard, you're not going to be able to take the right foods with you.
If you're planning a long car journey, bear this in mind when you make your pre-trip visit to the supermarket.
Favourite snacks while driving long car journeys
Examples of good snacks include easily-consumable fruits.
Peeling an orange while navigating your way through freeway traffic isn't a great idea. Think grapes, apples, pears, etc.
You could also choose wholegrain cereal bars, nuts and raisins, carrot sticks, homemade sandwiches (with wholemeal bread), oatcakes, etc. This list is endless and only limited by your imagination and general principles of safe snacking on the road.
If you're travelling alone, remember to place everything within easy reach. You should be able to safely reach for something with one hand only and without taking your eyes off the road.
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For safety and convenience, it's best to drink from sports drinks bottles. They're easy to grip and drink from without spilling. You can easily reseal them by pushing the nozzle down with your mouth at the end of your gulp. Again, don't risk your safety and that of other road users by attempting to remove and replace screw caps on bottles.
Your service station guide to eating healthy during your road trip
If your journey isn't too long, healthy snacking can be great for keeping your body and brain nourished.
However, for really long journeys, getting out of the car for a 'proper' sit-down meal can be very refreshing. Besides, there are only so many apples, sandwiches or nuts and raisins you can eat before monotony sets in.
If you do decide to take a proper meal break, remember you don't have to rely on service stations to get a sit-down meal. Unless you're passing through very remote terrain, you can generally find small cafes and restaurants within easy reach of the main roads.
If you do a regular journey and have to make do with stopping at a service station, maybe you can find an alternative.
Simply go to Google Maps and type in the name of the service station you intend to stop at. Then do a 'search business in the area'.
You can enter keywords such as 'cafe', 'restaurant', 'wholefoods' etc. Good old Google will then show you exactly where the nearest eating alternatives are. Some of which may be just a couple of minutes extra driving time.
You may end up with some superb food at half the price of the service station.
In a hurry
If you're really in a hurry, settling for a service station may still be your best option.
Bear in mind however that not all service stations have the same facilities. If you find a service station that you like, it's a good idea to stick with it.
Having found the best service station you can, here are some useful guidelines when making your choices:
Best meal choices and favourite snacks while driving
Stick to light, freshly prepared meals wherever possible.
A large, heavy meal will sit in your stomach and won't keep you alert when you carry on with your journey.
Grilled fish and chicken dishes with vegetables are a good option. Likewise, baked potatoes with low-fat toppings such as tuna (no mayo), cottage cheese or baked beans.
Avoid the pies, sausage rolls and hot chips. They're likely to be a fatty nightmare.
Sandwiches can be a great option and are often the best meal for truckers
They can be of variable quality though. In general, the best foods to eat before and during long drives will be low GI and low fat.
Look for freshly prepared wholemeal options. Choose low-fat fillings i.e. not drowned in mayonnaise.
Pre-packed sandwiches and wraps are a bit of a gamble - you sometimes just don't know what you're getting.
Use your judgement based on what you can see and make the best selection you can.
Desserts can still be included and may even become your favourite snack while driving
When it comes to service station desserts, most are sweet and stodgy. You may well regret not bringing along your own fresh fruit.
The better stations often have a selection of quite tempting fresh fruit salads, but you'll pay a premium. Single pieces of fruit are generally really expensive.
Yoghurts, however, are a pretty safe bet, especially if you pick sugar-free options.
Drinks, since it's not just food and snacks you need to think about while driving
The coffee on offer might be great quality or it may not.
You're likely to pay a high price for it too.
If you're getting towards the end of a journey, coffee can give you a short-term lift.
Just bear in mind that some of the full cream lattes are loaded with calories. The same is true of hot chocolate, which might be crammed full of sugar.
Decent tasting tea might prove hard to come by. Water is generally the best bet but at a push, a 'diet' sugar-free drink can be a welcome treat.