Smart tips for summer road trips

July 16, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Summertime means travel for many Americans. At any time of year, road trips mean long hours of sitting, along with gas station snacks and fast food meals.

Smart food choices can make a big difference in how you feel - on and off the road. Adding a few fitness breaks into your trip also can help you stay alert and focused. Nutrition and physical activity go hand in hand to help reduce stress - and to help the whole family be less cranky.

Ways to eat well on road trips include:

  • Take food with you to be in control of the menu. Whether it's a simple bag of snacks or a fully stocked cooler, packing food saves money and time - and improves nutrition. Some of the tastiest ways to eat well while traveling are:

  • Feast on nature's fast food. Fruits and veggies were made for dashboard dining. Most produce items are easy to eat without utensils and come wrapped in edible skin. Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy farm fresh bounty - from the grocery store, produce stand or farmer's market. Try fresh fruits, such as apples, bananas and pears, and bite-size veggies, such as baby carrots, celery sticks and grape tomatoes. Dried fruits are another sweet option.

  • Put some protein power into your tank. Many car snacks (candy, chips and pop) are pure fat and sugar. Adding protein to your body's fuel mixture will help you feel more satisfied, so you can go longer before the munchies strike again. Slices of meat and cheese, in sandwiches or solo, are a great way to get protein.

  • Stock up at a store. For the best value and variety, make pit stops at a local grocery instead of a fast food restaurant or convenience store. Many supermarkets are only a few blocks from major highways, so shopping can be quick and efficient. Produce stands and markets also can be nutrition bonanzas.

  • Dine at the deli counter. Today's deli options are usually extensive and delicious. With careful selection, they also can be nutritious. Choose mixed veggie salads, like coleslaw, broccoli or three-bean - and ask the server to drain off as much of the liquid dressing as possible.

  • Snack at the salad bar. A quick trip around a well-stocked salad bar can offer much more than a salad. Fill a container with sliced fruit. Refresh your veggie selection with broccoli and cauliflower florets, along with low-fat dressing for dipping.

  • Choose wisely at a gas station. Decent food and beverage choices can be found at a truck stop or convenience store. Skip the candy bars and snacks at the counter - and check out the possibilities in the snack aisle and beverage cases.

  • Cool off with water, juice or milk. Soft drinks are not your only alternatives these days. Choose bottled water, 100-percent fruit juices or reduced-fat milk.

  • Go nuts in the snack aisle. Nuts and seeds are probably your best bet in most snack aisles. Remember to downsize your portions. Large bags may tempt you to eat more when the drive gets boring. Buy a small bag - or take out a reasonable amount and put the rest out of sight (and out of mind).

Eating while driving is dangerous and distracting. Here are three tips for safer dashboard dining:


1. Drink liquids with a straw. Putting a cup to your lips can partially obscure your view of the road. A long straw makes it easier to hold a cup or glass lower down - and out of your line of sight.

2. Have snacks within easy reach. If you have to snack, eat small pieces one at a time.

3. Never eat or drink hot items while driving. Hot foods and beverages increase the chances of both car crashes and burns. Be safe, not sorry: Pull off the road and pay attention to your meal.

Along with the selection of nutritious foods for your travel, you should try to plan for some physical activity as well. Roadside fitness opportunities can be found at any rest stop or park. A five- or 10-minute walk can help both your brain and your body. Physical activity helps maintain mental focus and reduce muscle fatigue at the same time.

Think safety, health and nutrition as you plan trips.

Lynn F. Little is family and consumer sciences educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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