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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.
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area makes her "Healthy Roasted Chickpeas" for her travels. “I love traveling with this filling snack because the chickpeas are filled with plant protein to help keep you fuller for longer. They're perfect for long plane rides or road trips. The chickpeas are crunchy and delicious — and you can flavor them however you like. They can be easily packed up in a zip-top bag for when you hit the road!”
Like these RDs, I travel with fresh produce and nuts, and often take some boiled eggs along for the ride, particularly when I’m traveling through meal time. For easier eating (and to reduce mess), peel them in advance, and be sure to stick them in a bag with a small ice pack if they’ll be left unrefrigerated for more than two hours. If you have the option, store the ice pack in the fridge where you’re staying and re-use it to keep fresh fruit and veggies cool on your trip home. Another pro tip: You can easily pick up small packets of salt and pepper at an airport eatery or gas station stop — perfect for seasoning your eggs on your travels!
Packaged snacks definitely make the cut with these nutrition pros, provided they meet some healthful standards. “If I’m purchasing an item at a kiosk, I usually look for a fruit and nut-based bar with 5g of added sugar or less per serving and no added salt,” says Feller. “I generally look for options that have a short ingredient list with recognizable names and limited additives. When flying, I like to be mindful of my added sugar and added salt intake. I’ve found that my post-travel digestion is much better when I stick to snacks without refined grains and additives,” she says.
Amrita's high protein chocolate chip coconut bar scores high marks with Sass. “It's delicious, made with real food ingredients, including dates, quinoa, sunflower and chia seeds, and contains no added sugar,” she says, adding, “It satisfies my choc-o-tooth while providing 15 g of plant protein and 6 g of filling fiber.” Sass says the balanced macro ratio leaves her feeling energized for about three hours. “To make it a meal replacement I’ll combine it with an organic green juice.”
If you were intrigued by the roasted chickpeas but don’t have the time or inclination to heat up the oven, you can purchase them instead. Joan Salge Blake, EdD, Clinical Professor, Boston University and the host of the hit health and wellness podcast, SpotOn!, recommends Biena Chickpea Snacks. “They’re high in fiber and flavor and are light as a feather so they don't weigh down your travel bag,” she says.
“For an easy, on-the-go travel snack, I tend to bring a string cheese and a serving of baked chips, such as Beanitos Black Bean Chips,” says Keri Gans, RDN, nutritionist and author, "The Small Change Diet". “The individually-wrapped cheese is portion controlled and provides the protein needed to help with satiety. And since the Beanitos are made from black beans, they also provide protein, plus are a good source of fiber, another important nutrient for a well-rounded snack,” she explains. It turns out dietitians have a salty tooth, too. “The chips totally satisfy my craving for something salty, without actually being too high in sodium.” If you want to pack a similar snack, Gans shares this this pro tip: Pre-portion the chips in a small container rather than eating straight from the bag.
If you’re hitting the road or railways instead of the skies, Gorin recommends taking Dole Spoonable Smoothies (and a spoon) along for the ride. “These are a really fun snack to bring with you on a road trip. You have a smoothie bowl made with real fruit that you can eat on the go — and it comes with a little packet of granola to sprinkle on top for crunch,” she says. “The smoothie takes 35 to 40 minutes to thaw, so if you stick it in your travel bag before you get in the car you should be good to eat it on the road or train.”
If you’re looking for more portable fruit options, Largeman-Roth says she brings a bag of RIND dried fruit with her whenever she travels. “The Orchard Blend is my favorite. I love that they keep all the skins and peels on their dried fruit, which provides more nutrients, as well as more fiber. Fiber is important when you’re traveling because most of us don’t get enough and that can lead to constipation. This stuff really helps me stay regular, just saying! The dried persimmon is especially delicious and my kids love it too.”
Dried Mango from Peeled Snacks is another RD-approved option. “When I have a hankering for something sweet, I like to snack on fruit,” says Rizzo who notes that fresh fruit doesn’t always pack well. “That’s why I carry bags of dried mango with me when I travel. These naturally sweet treats contain no added sugar and are an excellent source of vitamin C. Plus, they come in small flat bags that are easy to throw into your purse or suitcase,” she says.
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