My motto is: Never travel without snacks! Just as traffic and weather are unpredictable when traveling, so is the snack selection. Some airports and convenience stops are well-stocked with plenty of healthy items while others — even in big cities — leave you with few nutritious options. Plus, bringing your own food means you can avoid the over-priced airport and rest stop fare.
Whether you’re hitting the road, railways, or the skies, travel can take you long stretches between meals and a healthy snack can help nourish you and satisfy hunger between stops. You might even find that by snacking well, you’re less irritable during those unpredictable delays.
Even when you’re heading out on vacation, it makes sense to stick to your (mostly) healthy eating routine. You’ll find it easier to offset vacation weight gain and you’ll feel better during your trip. So, on top of your sneakers, sunscreen, and clothing, add healthy snacks to your packing list. Here are some nutritionist-approved picks to choose from.
What makes a healthy travel snack?
Travel snacks need to be easily portable for road trips and airplane travel, and if the latter, they must be able to make it past TSA inspection. Yogurt, nut butter, and certain dips (like hummus and guacamole) are considered “liquids and gels” and would therefore need to meet size requirements to make it through US security. (Rules may vary if you’re entering the US from a foreign country.) Fresh foods need to travel well, meaning they’re easy to tote and not too messy to eat on the go. Beyond that, here are some guidelines the registered dietitians (RDs) considered when suggesting snacks that get the green light:
- Primarily made with whole food ingredients (think: beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, veggies, whole grains).
- Any grain-containing items should be made with whole grains
- Controlled (if any) amounts of added sugar and sodium
Fresh produce, like an apple, banana, or some baby carrots are easy options to tuck into your travel bag. “I’ll pack veggies I can eat with my hands, like sliced cucumber and red bell pepper, a little container of dip made from healthy fat, like guacamole or seasoned almond butter or tahini, and a handful of oven-roasted chickpeas for plant protein and fiber-rich carbs. This combo is chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is a fresh change of pace from the packaged options for sale at airports, gas stations, etc.,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a New York and Los Angeles-based performance nutritionist
Sass also recommends making overnight oats for a filling meal to take along. “I combine old fashioned rolled oats with plant protein powder, then add hot water, stir in seasonings like a bit of maple syrup, ginger and cinnamon, then fold in shredded zucchini, fresh fruit, and chopped nuts, and chill in the fridge overnight. This nutrient-rich complete meal is an ideal option if you have a chilled lunch sack to keep it cool.”
Maya Feller, RDN, who has a private practice in Brooklyn and a cookbook forthcoming this fall, shares a similar strategy. “In general, I do my best to have a balanced meal when I travel — either purchased before arriving at the airport or brought from home. My favorite travel snacks are always paired with a large bottle of water. I’m big on water simply because airplane travel is so dehydrating. Mixed raw unsalted nuts and fresh fruit are a usual go-to of mine. The nuts are a nice combination of satiating protein and fiber that do an effective job of bridging the gap between meals without additives. Simple and straight forward,” she says. (And remember if you’re traveling on a plane, fill up your water bottle after you make it through security.)
NYC-based RD, Natalie Rizzo agrees. “I like to snack on nuts when traveling because a small amount is really filling,” she says “But since some packaged nuts are coated in unhealthy toppings, like tons of sugar or salt, I make my own "Cinnamon Roasted Almonds" with just a little bit of cinnamon, agave and salt. All nuts contain healthy fats, protein and fiber, so you can use whatever type of nut you like best. Just try to stick to a one-ounce portion size so you don’t eat too many calories in one sitting,” suggests Rizzo.
Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of "Eating in Color" says grapes are her go-to travel snack for the whole family. “They’re refreshing and hydrating (at 82% water) and are super portable as well.” Largeman-Roth explains that all grapes (green, red and black) are a great source of polyphenols and other antioxidants. “I like to bring them on car trips in a small cooler. They help my kids stay hydrated without extra potty breaks, which makes travel more fun for everyone!” she says.