It’s 1:00 in the morning. You’ve been on the road for two straight days. Your legs feel tight and cramped, your back aches and you’re vaguely nauseous from attempting to read Hegel’s The Phenomenology of the Spirit long after your last dosage of Dramamine. As the gas station market’s sickly fluorescent lights glint dully on your greasy, unshowered hair, you rub your eyes, trying to decide between a monster pack of Jack Link’s beef jerky and a taco-flavored roller grill hot dog. You’re leaning toward the jerky because of the Sasquatch commercials, but you’re 80% certain either option will induce a bout of violent vomiting.
Gas stations are rife with small bundles of fat and sodium often mistaken for “food.” Traveling is a taxing affair. Shouldn’t you fuel your body with the proper nutrients to ensure a comfortable journey? Rest stop vending machines and fast food restaurants can leave you clutching your gut and leaning out the window. Next time you travel, buy snacks before you head out. Here are ten healthy snacks ideas that will leave you feeling fresh and energized for the adventures to come. Whether you’re in the back of a cab or stranded at the Charlotte airport, you can pop these portable treats in your mouth without feeling too guilty.
Apples are a favorite standby of travelers–and for good reason. They’re durable, self-contained, inexpensive and tasty. You can throw them in your satchel or saddlebag or haversack or rucksack and not have to worry about them getting crushed or bruised. If an apple doesn’t seem hearty enough for a journeyman’s appetite, pack a little peanut butter or almond butter or honey for dipping. Of course, any fruit can provide similar sustenance. Oranges, pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, papayas–you name it. Low blood sugar is a guaranteed spirit dampener. Fresh fruit is the cure.
If fresh fruit proves too fragile or messy, dried fruit can be a delectable alternative. Not only is it healthy, but it can appease that niggling sweet tooth so you don’t have to resort to candy bars and prepackaged pastries. Be careful, though. If you’re trying to eat healthy, watch out for dried fruit with added sugar. You’ll often find pineapples, cranberries, watermelon and banana chips are artificially sweetened. Make sure to read the labeling or dry your own fruit. Some of the healthier dried fruits include apples, apricots, figs, cherries and mangos.
Nuts and seeds
Traveling can be physically demanding. Protein is essential to keeping up your strength. But before you grab a Whopper or snap into a Slim Jim, consider a healthier source. Nuts and seeds possess an excellent protein-to-fat ratio and offer fiber in abundance. As with most foods, selection is key. Whether you opt for almonds or pistachios, cashews or peanuts, always make sure they are raw and unsalted. Otherwise, the high sodium levels will undermine your good intentions. As you may have noticed, small, single-serving packages of nuts are exorbitantly expensive. Buy in bulk to save cash!
When it comes to snacks, baby carrots are all you need. They are perhaps the most convenient vegetable for en-route snacking. They require zero prep, and the payoff is tremendous. You can dip them in peanut butter for a protein boost or non-fat yogurt for a taste of creamy cultures. Other great dipping veggies include celery, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. If you don’t mind doing a little prep work, pre-mixed salads and vegetable kabobs add a dimension of variety to your veggie snacking.
In the mood from something crispy and crunchy that isn’t plotting to murder you with sodium and cholesterol? Kale chips are sort of like potato chips–except way healthier. They do, however, require a little bit of kitchen work. Start with a pound or so of kale. Rip the leaves from the stems and chop them into small, chip-sized pieces. Spread a single layer across a baking sheet, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil and add your choice of seasonings (Parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, Asiago, cumin, salt, papper–whatever). Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. When the kale cools, you’ll have a crispy treat resembling a batch of really thin potato chips.
Another fairly healthy chip is the Pita chip. Not only are they delicious, but you can buy them in single-serving packs at grocery stores. They contain about half the fat of Lays potato chips but sacrifice none of the flavor. If branded Pita chips aren’t healthy enough for you, make your own! Simply cut pita bread into chip size pieces and spread them in single layer across a cookie sheet. Brush the chips with olive oil and add seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic power, basil, etc.). Bake for about 7 minutes at 400 degrees until crispy.
Homemade trail mix
Pre-packaged trail mix can be healthy, but you have much more control when you mix the materials yourself. Some ingredient suggestions include nuts, seeds, dried fruit, oats and dark chocolate. When selecting nuts, make sure they are raw and unsalted. Almonds are always a great choice. The same goes for seeds. As we discussed in the dried fruit section above, stick to unsweetened options as they are much healthier. When preparing the oats, toast them in the oven, sprinkling vanilla extract or cinnamon for a flavor boost. Dark chocolate is a wonderful, antioxidant-laden topper and will add a bit of sugar to the mix.
Okay, I’ll admit–rice cakes aren’t exactly a wellspring of nutrition. They’re high in carbs and devoid of vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. However, they have an extremely low calorie count and are great for folks on a diet. They can be a crunchy substitute for fatty snack foods like potato chips. If you’d like to add a dimension of nutrition (and additional filler), top your rice cakes with peanut butter or hummus.
Cheese is tricky. It can be high in fat and sodium, and there’s always the temptation to pair it with extremely unhealthy crackers or meat slices. But, if you’re careful, cheese can be a very rewarding snack packed full of calcium, protein and vitamin D. Some of the healthier cheeses include goat, gouda, feta, cottage and ricotta. If you can, choose grass-fed cheese over grain-fed. Grass-fed cheese retains many of the enzymes and nutrients grain-fed cheese does not. If you don’t want to eat your cheese straight, consider pairing it with vegetables, nuts or healthy whole-wheat crackers.
Popcorn is a whole grain and can be a healthy snack–if prepared correctly. Stay far, far away from the butter-drenched microwave-popped junk. To make healthy popcorn, make sure it’s air-popped and comes unseasoned. Of course, you’ll probably want to add your own seasoning unless you enjoy the taste of cardboard. Rather than drizzling on melted butter, experiment with your favorite seasonings. I recommend garlic powder and Parmesan cheese. You might also try paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, cinnamon or natural salt.
Photo credits: Fruit image courtesy of Moyan_Brenn. Nuts image courtesy of Iain Buchanan. Pita chips courtesy of ChristineLeiser. Cheese image courtesy of _gee_. Featured image courtesy of havenkevin.