Road Trip Food: Eating Healthy in the Car without Pulling Over

Road Trip Food: Eating Healthy in the Car without Pulling Over

Today marks day 21 since Jay and I left Vegas for our North American Road Trip. We are currently in Toronto, having traveled over 4,000 miles across the United States and Canada. At least 7 of those days were spent entirely in the car. Consequently, I’ve gotten really good at throwing together easy clean meals with only my lap, a travel bowl, and some bamboo utensils. And living out of a backseat cooler and a couple bags of dried goods.

Here are a few tips for you about how to build simple snacks and meals you can easily eat as a passenger or driver on a road trip. Ones that actually make you feel good at the end of the day rather than icky.

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

  • What to Bring

    • Fresh Food

      We always bring a cooler full of produce. You can easily make a salad without leaving the car –  and I’ll show you how later in this post. Here are some produce options that hold up well to travel:

    • In the cooler:16. Salad cutting pepper

      • Romaine
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Bell peppers
      • Fruit – berries
    • At room temp:

      • Tomatoes
      • Cucumbers
      • Corn (in husk/gmo-free)
      • Fruit – peaches, apples, grapes
    • Dried Goods

      We also packed a bag of non-perishable items that could be kept room temp. Sorta like our roadtrip pantry. In it, we had:

      • Canned beans
      • Boxed soup
      • Nuts
      • Dried fruit
      • Rice cakes and flax crackers
      • Emergency larabars and other whole-foods based meal-replacements
      • Powders – protein, Vega smoothie mix, greens
    • Tools

      There are a few tools that make eating out of your car just plain simpler. These include:

      • Cooler with cold packs
        Ours plugs into the car cigarette lighter which has come in handy but really is just an unnecessary luxury.
      • Big salad bowl
        Mine is a pop-up that flattens when not in use.
      • Utensil set
        Mine are bamboo with a carrying case. You can use the knife for cutting fruit and softer veggies like bell peppers.
      • Can opener
        We have a tiny travel one.
      • Cloth napkins
        Wish I had brought mine from home!
      • “Trash bags”
        For tossing food waste to pack out of the car.

Healthy Food without Leaving the Car

Snacks

How do you avoid eating at those dreaded truck stops when you are hungry and your energy is rapidly dropping? Plan ahead and bring your own snacks, lots of them. It’s also wayyyyy cheaper to shop at a regular grocery store before you leave.

Even if you overindulge, you will feel better than if you had given in and had some processed crap.

Car snacks - carrots and celery sticks
Veggie sticks like carrots and celery are my go-to snack.
Car snacks - romaine and salsa
If I want to get a little more gourmet, I dip romaine hearts in a jar of salsa. This is strictly passenger food – don’t try to drive and dip!
8. Wyoming cherries snack
Fruit makes a wonderful car snack. Especially when you buy it at a roadside fruit stand. For cherries, just keep a trash bag nearby for the pits and stems, and you are good to go!

Meals For the Driver

Sometimes it’s nice to stop and eat at a picnic table along the road, but we’ve found eating as you drive saves valuable time. Especially when you have 12 hour days in the car and want to arrive to set up your campsite before dark!

So far, we typically eat breakfast and lunch while driving. Often, as we push to make our destination, we will also eat dinner in the car.

As the driver, you should avoid meals that require utensils or distract your attention from the road. The best foods are those you can eat with your hands without having to look down. It also needs to provide a boost of energy to keep you awake.

You know the best food to eat as a driver? Fruit!

Packed with slow-release energy, and created by nature to easily be eaten by those of use with opposable thumbs (and hopefully you fall into that category), fruit is just made to be road trip food!

Road trip lunch to go romaine grapes banana
Romaine leaves, grapes, and bananas are all easy to grab and pop in your mouth while keeping one hand on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
Car meals - green smoothie while driving
If you plan ahead and happen to be crazy enough to travel with your Vitamix like us, green smoothies with a straw are the best choice for a driving breakfast – or lunch or dinner!

Meals for the Passenger

On this trip, luckily we have two drivers and are able to switch off. When I need to eat salad or meals that require utensils, I wait until I’m a passenger and then chow down.

11. Manitoba Travel raw zucchini marinara leftovers
Leftovers like this raw zucchini pasta with marinara make great car meals.
17. Ontario TransCanada roadtrip honeydew
Fruit is for passengers, too. Love chowing down on a bowl of chopped up melon!

Making Salad in the Car

Just because you’re riding shotgun doesn’t mean that you need to forego eating nutritious green things. It’s easy to make a salad with just ten minutes time. And really, what else better do you have to do? Can’t use the “no time” excuse now, can ya?

16. Salad tearing romaine into bowl
Romaine is easy to prep in the car – just tear it into salad with your hands. Baby spinach is even easier – just pour it out into your salad bowl.
16. Salad romaine pepper, bean mix
I made this salad without leaving the passenger seat. Ripped up romaine leaves, cut up bell peppers with a bamboo knife (or hand tear into chunks), and added some leftover bean salad from the cooler and then tossed it all together.

For Dinner Add Beans or Soup

A lot of times, I will open a can of beans, drain the liquid (keep a jar or ziploc bag in the car for this), and then toss them into my on-the-road dinner salad. This makes it an extra satisfying meal. Soup that you can just open up and eat straight out of the box is also awesome.

Take note that canned goods are lined with BPA unless otherwise stated. Eden Organic is one of the only brands I’ve found that uses a BPA-free lining on their cans. Come on manufacturers, get with the times!

There is also a new trend towards BPA-free boxes. I love the soups from Fig Food Co., and have been traveling with several in my dry goods bag. I like that they are also low in sodium, and I approve of the ingredients when used as an occasional meal. Plus you can just rip off the top and don’t even need a can-opener.

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas for making your next road trip a little healthier. Since I still have to drive back 4,000 miles across the continent, look for future articles from me on healthy travel.

Now your turn. Share the healthy eating habits you bust out on road trips. Leave it in the comments below.

I shared this on Healthy Vegan Fridays.

More Unforgettable Insight

8 Responses to Road Trip Food: Eating Healthy in the Car without Pulling Over

    • Tami, with need comes innovation. 🙂 When we didn’t have time to pull over and I needed to make dinner and craved a salad…

    • Tami, with need comes innovation. 🙂 When we didn’t have time to pull over and I needed to make dinner and craved a salad…

  1. All great ideas! On my recent 6,200 Canadian road trip, my son found that he could get hot water at gas stations for his raw oats/flax/sunflower seed/coconut combo he premixed at home. It kept him full for hours! Love hearing about your adventures! Keep the posts coming!

    • What a great idea, getting hot water at gas stations! Your son is smart – premixing and bringing your own oatmeal mix is one of the best compact travel foods.

  2. All great ideas! On my recent 6,200 Canadian road trip, my son found that he could get hot water at gas stations for his raw oats/flax/sunflower seed/coconut combo he premixed at home. It kept him full for hours! Love hearing about your adventures! Keep the posts coming!

    • What a great idea, getting hot water at gas stations! Your son is smart – premixing and bringing your own oatmeal mix is one of the best compact travel foods.

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