Healthful snack ideas for families on the go.
By John P. Brackin
The road can be one of the toughest places to maintain a sensible diet. You get away from home for a few days and your normally disciplined eating habits have a tendency to go out the window. But healthful eating doesn’t have to be incompatible with a great road trip. Plenty of snack foods are available that provide both guilt-free enjoyment and nutrition. The trick is simply to know what to look for.
The following suggestions are based on recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new food pyramid, as well as other dietary resources such as the American Heart Association. The foods recommended here also represent popular food groups that are easy to find, whether they’re picked up at an interstate truck stop or during a pre-trip grocery run. If you have specific concerns about health or nutrition, it’s always best to consult a physician.
So many different types of crackers are out there, in all flavors and styles, that you should be able to find one or more that you both enjoy and feel won’t slow you down. A good starting point is to look for a cracker made with whole grains. The benefits of whole grains have been well documented and include, among other things, a reduced risk of heart disease.
One popular brand that fits the bill is Triscuit. Triscuit-brand crackers are made from 100 percent whole grains and contain no trans fats “” those nasty, artery-clogging fats that are so prevalent in today’s processed foods. You also can find Triscuits in a reduced-fat version, which makes them compatible with a low-fat lifestyle “” and just the thing to go with a slice of low-fat cheese.
For a sweeter-tasting cracker, graham crackers are a good option. Honey Maid Low Fat Honey Grahams combine the goodness of whole grain with the natural sweetness of honey. They also contain only 1.5 grams of total fat per 8 crackers and zero saturated fats “” good numbers to see when you’re considering the health of your heart. Like many low-fat foods, however, they’re still calorie-dense and should be enjoyed in moderation.
Cereal bars are an excellent way to quiet those midday tummy grumblings while still being able to look at yourself afterward in the rearview mirror. Packaged as a sort of healthier version of the candy bar “” notice the similarly sized portions and shapes “” they’re available at nearly all fuel stops and often contain a surprisingly high level of vitamins.
The Honey Nut Cheerios Milk and Cereal Bar, for example, includes 25 percent of the day’s recommended value for calcium and 25 percent for Vitamin D, which is the nutritional equivalent of a bowl of cereal with milk. The comparably loaded Cinnamon Toast Crunch Milk and Cereal Bar includes 30 percent of your day’s iron and 3 grams of protein.
If you’re looking for a less hearty bar, the Special K Bar combines the familiar taste of Special K cereal with a variety of fruit flavors, including strawberry, blueberry, cranberry apple, and peaches and berries. These are particularly well-suited for calorie counters, as each bar contains only 90 calories.
All of these cereal bars make good morning snacks as well. They’re filling enough to curb your appetite and potent enough to boost your energy until you reach your next stop. And, fortunately, they’re also low-fat.
A number of convenience stores now carry fresh fruit, often in little baskets by the cash register, and there’s no reason to pass it up. Fruit can be a great source of fiber and vitamins, and it’s not overly loaded with calories, which means you can eat a good bit without worrying about putting on pounds. And if that’s not reason enough, the National Cancer Institute has indicated a link between a fruit-rich diet and reduced risks for certain cancers.
Apples and bananas are a popular option, and they also have the added advantage of being relatively easy to eat. (Directions for eating an apple: wash it off, take a bite!) In terms of calories, according to the American Dietetic Association, one medium apple will typically contain 80 calories, which isn’t too bad for a mid-morning snack. A banana has slightly more at 110 calories, but it’s still a bargain, considering some of the alternatives.
When traveling, one easy way to insure you’ve got fruit on hand is to pack a few cans of pineapple slices or fruit cocktail before you go. It’s probably less desirable than the fresh stuff, but it travels well and won’t go bad after just a few days on the road. And for those who are counting carbs, there’s actually a new, low-sugar line available from Del Monte. Carb Clever Sliced Peaches contain 70 percent less sugar than the regular peaches-in-syrup product.
Potato chips aren’t exactly considered health food, but if you have to have them, you can definitely find some that are better for you than others. With the introduction of Olestra, fat-free chips have become fairly common, though in some people, they have a tendency to produce gastrointestinal distress. (Also, the FDA no longer requires an Olestra warning label, so you’ll have to look for it in the ingredients list.)
Another option is the baked chip. Frito-Lay has created an extensive line of chips under the brand name Baked!, and they contain far less fat than their regular-chip cousins. The Baked! Lay’s Original Potato Crisps, for example, contain 1.5 fat grams per ounce, compared to 10 grams in Lay’s Classic Potato Chips. Pretzels also make a good baked snack, though they can be high in sodium.
Everyone loves a good soda every now and then, but you can certainly do better in terms of finding a more healthful drink. According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, “Each can contains the equivalent of about 10 teaspoons of sugar.” They’re also loaded with calories and completely void of any basic nutritional value.
Fruit juice is a good alternative insofar as it actually provides nutrients, but often it’s not any better in terms of calories. An 8-ounce serving of orange juice contains 110 calories. Drink a regular 15-ounce bottle and you’ve consumed 70 more calories than you would from a can of Dr Pepper soda. Today’s juice companies have responded, however, by producing reduced-calorie fruit drinks, which are usually just as tasty.
Dole Light Cranberry contains 50 percent less sugar than regular cranberry juice. Minute Maid Light Lemonade contains just 15 calories per serving. Minute Maid Premium Light Orange Juice has just 50 calories and 10 grams of sugar. Carton-sized options also abound, such as Tropicana Light ‘n Healthy, which boasts “one-half less sugar and calories than orange juice.”
The new USDA food pyramid recommends nuts as a part of your daily protein intake, and as an additional benefit, they’re a good way to satisfy your midday cravings. David Zinczenko, author of The Abs Diet and editor-in-chief of Men’s Health magazine, recommends two helpings of almonds a day. “If you eat 2 ounces of almonds (about 24 of them), it can suppress your appetite,” he said.
Walnuts are another excellent nut that can aid in preventing heart disease. Not only do they lower bad cholesterol levels, but according to a recent Spanish study, they also improve the functionality of your arteries. The study concluded simply that “regular walnut intake may reduce cardiovascular risk.” And if that’s not reason enough, the FDA recently approved the nut as a heart-healthy snack.
As with any salty snack, however, you should make yourself aware of the sodium content. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,400 milligrams of salt per day.
If you take one thing from this article, let it be the importance of making informed food decisions. Obesity is a serious problem in this country, as is heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, all of which are related to the choices we make when we eat. You wouldn’t put the wrong kind of fuel in your motorhome, so why put the wrong type of fuel in your body? Arm yourself with the right nutritional information, commit to making sensible food choices, and you’ll be motoring down the road for a long time to come.
Nutrition On The Web
To prepare for those food choices up the road, check out some of these online resources:
United States Department of Agriculture
The USDA’s new and improved food pyramid is available here, along with tips and suggestions for how to make it work for you.
The Almond Board of California
This resource features all things almond, from recipes and nutritional information to relevant scientific studies.
Sponsored by PepsiCo, this Web site offers a surprisingly diverse list of healthy snacking ideas, making it a good site to hit before you head out on your next trip.