We’re currently living out of our van and as such, all of our meals are bought, prepared and eaten on the road. Though we love beer and tacos as much as anyone, most of the time, with a good bit of planning, we’re able to stick to our preferred eating habits: a balanced diet of organic and whole foods. (We also do our best to avoid trans fats and fake sugars.) We try to keep a cooler of fresh and healthy food on hand even though it can be more than a little tricky to keep everything cool. Sometimes though, despite our best intentions, we are forced into eating something from a gas station. The conversation goes a little like this: “Would you rather go to the grocery store or try and get sunset shots of the inlet?” Almost every time we pick the adventure. Which means dealing with our hangry feelings post-shoot. As a result we’ve become really good at foraging for healthy food choices at gas stations. Here’s our top tips and picks:
You’re probably going to pay double or triple what you would for fresh fruit at the grocery store but sometimes it’s worth it. A banana or an orange can go a long way towards making you feel good in the way that a candy bar can’t. Especially if you’ve just finished up a workout our you want to get one in a little later.
If you can’t get your hands on any fresh fruit, opt for fruit cups instead. The sugary syrup that the fruit is sitting in can be drained if it’s too sweet or if you’re counting calories. Fruit cups are also nice to have on hand because they don’t really go bad and they take up relatively little space in your van.
Almonds, peanuts, cashews…almost every gas station is bound to have one more or nuts to choose from. They’re a great choice to reach for because they’re full of protein and are easy to eat. We really love salty, crunchy food so this is one of our go-to snack items when we’re on the road.
We eat a lot of Greek yogurt, and when it’s available, we opt for the kind made with whole milk. It isn’t always available at gas stations but boy does it feel like we scored when we find some we like. Our favorite brand is Fage. We love the texture of the yogurt (creamy and smooth) as well as the flavor – not overly sweet and a little tart on the tastebuds. In a pinch, we’ll reach for Chobani (peach and strawberry are our favorite flavors.)
Since our van is not connected to a water source, we’re constantly on the search for it. Most places have been really cool about letting us refill our reusable bottles at the fountain. A lot of times they don’t even charge but when they do it’s almost always cheaper than buying a bottle of water. (And it cuts down on plastic which we all know is good for our environment.) In addition to saving money and reducing waste, water is also healthier than most of the sodas and other flavored drinks staring back at you from the coolers.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find prepackaged salads at a gas station. If you’re really lucky they’ll be fresh and full of flavor, not wilted and watery. When you find a good salad at a gas station it’s like striking gold. Beware of processed meats that are sometimes added to salads. The fatty, weird “chicken” and “ham” that comes on some of them salads can be downright. Stick with the vegetarian salads and always check the “sell by” date. Add tomato, avocado, sunflower seeds and any other toppings that will dress up your salad and have you ready to get behind the wheel again.
Single serving cheese? I’ll eat it every time. I struggle a bit with the excess packaging but when I’m starving and I want something healthy, it’s hard not to resist a cheese stick. Most of them have about 8 grams of protein as well as some calcium. Not bad for something that is usually less than 100 calories. In addition to the nutritional value of cheese sticks, they’re also just fun to eat. Bonus: Grab some crackers or pretzels to go with your cheese and you’ve got yourself the perfect snack.
The energy bar market has come a long way since I tried my first gooey, sort of gross Powerbar back in the 90’s. They’re still easy to throw in the glove compartment of your van or stuff in your daypack. And like before they have fairly long expiration dates. What’s different though is the improvement in taste. We love Larabar Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Bars because they’re made with just a couple of ingredients (6 or less for each). They’re also kosher, vegan, non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free and don’t include any trans fats. We’re also really into RXBAR Whole Food Protein Bar, Chocolate Sea Salt Bars. They’re also dairy-free, gluten-free and and soy-free. Both of these brands make products that actually taste good and that we look forward to eating. When you’re in a gas station, looking at the choices before you, be sure to check the label and make sure that it isn’t a candy bar in disguise. If there’s a ton of sugar and not much else, pass. Your blood sugar will thank you later.
Some people can do the beef stick and some cannot. I have tried so many times to eat beef jerky but every time I get a whiff of it I am reminded of dog food. My wife, however, loves the stuff. Her favorite is Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky. She says the protein keeps her full longer than many other snacks. Pro tip: Stay away from brands that pack a lot of sodium nitrites and MSG. You’ll have to read the fine print on the back of the bag, but if you’re into nutrition, you’re probably already doing this.
Who doesn’t love a little chocolate, especially when you’re traveling? We do. Just reach for dark chocolate instead of that bag of M&M’s. If the little nagging voice in your head starts up, remind it that dark chocolate has a bunch of great antioxidants in it and go for it. That said, be mindful about portion size. If you’re concerned about calories and are aiming for a balanced diet, take note of how much you’re eating and try to stick to a single serving. While a little treat can go a long way, over doing it can mean you’re getting a lot more calories and sugar than you might have planned for.
Van Life: How to eat healthy while traveling
Part of what we love about traveling is the opportunity to try new food. It’s one of the things that gets us psyched about exploring a new place. That said, it can get expensive. If you’re living the van life like us, chances are you’re making a lot of your own food and packing snacks in our cooler to help you cut down on costs. While planning ahead is the best way to avoid having to find something healthy to eat at a gas station, the next time you find yourself in our shoes, just remember that with a little bit of thinking, you can probably find something that won’t completely throw your body for a loop.
In addition to eating healthy we also make a point to work out several times a week. We recently just wrote a post on the Best Places to Run in Florida as well as Van Life Workouts. Check ’em out if you need a little inspiration!
Don’t plan on ever running out of food? Good on ya! We’ve got some of our favorite cooking and camping supplies here!
What do you think about our tips on how to eat healthy while traveling? Do you have any suggestions for us? We’d love to hear ’em, please leave your comments below!