IMG_1701Summer, sun and fun…it’s time to get out of town for a vacation, even if it’s just for the day.  And what better way than a good ol’ road trip.

For many, a road trip justifies indulging on salty, high-fat snacks, candy, sugary beverages and a lot of extra calories.  Unfortunately, these treats are already everyday choices for many.  And when eaten behind the wheel, these foods can detour the fun by causing tired, bloated and heavy feelings, not to mention, their negative affect on blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol.

Don’t be caught asleep at the wheel when it comes to what to eat.  Get into the driver’s seat with a little planning and set your GPS to stay alert, refreshed, healthy, to arrive with energy.

Start by creating your safe and healthy travel tool kit: a cooler or insulated bag, freezer packs, napkins, paper towels, sanitary wipes and a food thermometer.   Just as important as eating the right foods, is eating safe foods.  Keep your chilled foods at a safe 40 degrees Fahrenheit and wash your hands regularly.

You’ll want to download the Home Food Safety program’s mobile phone app before you leave town by visiting www.HomeFoodSafety.org.   The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics along with ConAgra Foods knows what when you have a food safety question, you need the right answer on the spot.

As part of your tool kit, you’ll need plenty of sealable containers or plastic bags for portioning.   A small paring knife can be handy as well, just in case.  Wrap the knife in a kitchen towel and secure with rubber bands for safe transport.

Topping off the fluids

You’ll want to pack and replenish ample water to fight fatigue and keep the body running on all cylinders.  Water and calorie-free carbonated seltzer are the best hydrators according to your body’s operating manual.

Beware of caffeinated coffee, teas and other beverages along the way.  Like a hilly road, every caffeine-induced crest is followed by a valley.  And when you come down, you may feel even more tired and dehydrated.   Too much caffeine can cause jittery feelings and stimulate unnecessary snacking.

Caffeine’s not the only thing in beverages that can take you for a ride, steer clear the extra calories in sugary sodas.  A 12-ounce bottle of soda is equal to almost 19 teaspoons of sugar with no other nutrition.  For about one fourth the calories, a 12-ounce can of low-sodium 100% vegetable juice pours up three servings of vegetables or a 6.75-ounce box of 100% apple juice provides 100% of the Daily Value for vitamin C.

Refueling

You’d never put gas in your car if the fuel makes the engine go slow.  So don’t choose foods that make your tired.  Be prepared and pack protein foods to keep you alert, safe and arriving on schedule.

The protein in a couple tablespoons of nuts or seeds will help keep your fuel gage on full.   The healthy fats in nuts and seeds can also help lower low density lipoproteins (LDLs), “bad” cholesterol.  But over eating on even healthy fat can cause weight gain and elevated cholesterol.  Use individual sealable bags to portion raw unsalted pistachios nuts, almonds, peanuts, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts and pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Low-fat cheese is also a great protein food.   Cut low-fat cheese into manageable chunks or slices before bagging.   Or, pack individual packages of string cheese or containers of low-fat cottage cheese.  If you forget spoons from home, use veggie sticks to scoop or just pick them up at a convenience store along the way.

If you don’t eat dairy cheese like vegans and some lactose intolerant people, you may enjoy soy or nut cheeses instead.

Blend chickpeas, lemon juice, minced garlic and tahini

Blend chickpeas, lemon juice, minced garlic and tahini

But protein’s only part of what keeps your gas gage out of the red, naturally high in fiber vegetables will give you a lot of mileage without many calories.  Choose carrots, celery and zucchini sticks, red, green orange and yellow pepper strips, or broccoli and cauliflower flowerets – whatever, just washed and cut into fun finger-food sizes.  These veggies, in combination with a couple of tablespoons of hummus or low-fat sour cream dip for only an additional 100 calories, can also help you munch and crunch your way to lower blood pressure.

For the long haul, carbohydrates are necessary.   Stick to whole grains which have more vitamins and minerals as well as protein and fiber than their more processed cousins.  Pre-make several cheese and whole grain cracker snacks or a peanut butter and sliced apple sandwich on whole grain bread.

Stay on the road by making your own trail mix of raw unsalted nuts, high fiber cereal, air-popped popcorn or wasabi peas, a few dark chocolate chips and dried fruit for a fun spicy sweet contrast.  Three cups of air popped popcorn has the same number of calories – approximately 80, as ½ cup bran flakes.

Satisfying sweet cravings, individually packaged yogurt is a good source of carbohydrate and protein, calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones along with potassium for lowering blood pressure.  Shake to mix well and freeze the night before for a frozen yogurt treat that will help keep your other foods chilled in the cooler.

Or a piece of fruit is relatively low in calories with lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and sweet flavor.  Fruit cut into easily handled pieces is fun, and freezing the pieces makes eating fruit into a treat.  Be sure to keep the fruits like apples and pears from browning by coating the cut surfaces with lemon juice.

Pit-Stops

It’s important to plan a stop every couple hours to move your body, and occasionally gas up.  The key to a successful active pit-stop is to avoid the navigational pull of the candy and snack aisles at the roadside convenience mart.

Interesting cultural or historic sights can break up stopping repeatedly at eating centers.  Active pit-stops will invigorate, increase oxygen consumption and circulation.  Walk around, do a few calisthenics and stretch.  A 180-pound person walking 15 minutes will burn approximately 113 calories.

When seeing the sights, dried fruits fit into a pocket or purse requiring no refrigeration.  Try an easy to eat fruit leather. Or, two tablespoons of raisins, pineapple, mango, apricots or cranberries are a great source of iron and a serving of fruit.  Pre-portion these in airtight bags to avoid the calories from adding up faster than the miles traveled.

Before getting back into the car, get rid of waste and germs.  Many rest stops have designated recycling bins.   Wipe car surfaces with sanitary wipes.  And make sure that everyone has washed their hands.

Stopping at a convenience mart can be a great time to check the temperature of the food in your cooler.  Add ice by filling sealable plastic bags.  Hotels will generally let you put your ice packs in the kitchen freezer if you need to stop for the night.

If you do need food, convenience marts will typically carry whole grain cereal cups, individually package baby carrots and other raw vegetables, packaged fruit cups and whole fresh fruit.  For less than 200 calories, you can also find energy bars with 3-5 grams of fiber, 5-7 grams of protein and less that 35% calories from sugar.  And, while you’re there, pick up a pack of sugar-free gum.  It’ll help pass many snack-free miles.

Choosing natures treats can prevent many wrong turns down a salty-sugary path.  But the best prevention is packing your own.   Eating healthfully, and safely, is like setting your body on cruise control for feeling good and having fun.