We’ve all had that moment at a gas station in the middle of nowhere: You’re several hours into the drive, the next rest stop is 50 miles away, and the only edible thing left in the car is half a pack of chewing gum. Faced with aisles full of candy bars, chips, trail mix, beef jerky, and energy drinks, what do you do?
It’s not a trick question—you can have your road trip snacks and feel good about your choices, too. Outlined below are the major food groups that will nourish your body, along with the best healthy road trip snacks to seek en route to your destination and which foods to pack before you hit the road.
What to Look for in a Healthy Road Trip Snack
Whether you’re staring down a gas station snack aisle or figuring out what to pack from home, here are four categories of healthy road trip snacks to look for:
- Protein: Protein isn’t just essential for body builders; your body needs it to keep all your organs running properly. High-protein snacks like eggs or nut butter will keep you fueled up and full for long stretches of driving.
- Healthy fats: Yes, there’s such a thing as fat that’s good for you. Polyunsaturated fats are required for basic bodily functions such as muscle movement, and because our bodies don’t naturally produce these specific fats, we need to ingest them through food.
- Fruits and vegetables: They contain vitamins and minerals that help form red blood cells, reduce cholesterol, and promote healthy bowel function.
- Complex carbohydrates: A major difference between simple and complex carbs is how quickly they’re digested. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and contain more fiber; both factors keep you feeling full longer.
1. Salmon skin chips
Buy now: Goodfish starter pack, $25 for 8 bags, goodfish.com
If you’re an umami fan, Goodfish is about to become your go-to chip replacement. Packed with protein and omega-3 unsaturated fats, the paleo- and keto-friendly crisps are upcycled from Wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon skins that would otherwise go to waste.
2. Dry-roasted edamame or chickpeas
Buy now: Biena Sea Salt Chickpeas, $13 for four, amazon.com
Put down the Cheetos and reach instead for these salty finger foods. Legumes are high in protein and iron but low on carbs, making them a nutritious alternative to pretzels and other crunchy snacks.
3. Nut butter
Buy now: Justin’s nut butter; $10 for 10, amazon.com
Justin’s, Rx, and a number of other brands sell single-serving nut butter packets that nip munchies in the bud. For the full PB&J nostalgia experience with none of the additives, check out Split Nutrition squeeze packets, which combines a variety of preservative-free nut butters and fruit spreads to delicious ends. Embrace your inner first grader with peanut butter and grape jelly, or try the cashew butter with sour cherry spread.
4. String cheese
Mozzarella’s most snackable format is a good source of protein to keep hunger at bay. But don’t go overboard, cheese lovers—each serving contains almost as many grams of fat as protein, which adds up quickly when you’re sitting for long periods of time.
5. Hard-boiled eggs, greek yogurt, or pouches of tuna
Buy now: Itsumo all natural tuna packs, $25 for 5, amazon.com; Chobani greek yogurt, $1 for 1, amazon.com
You may not care as much if you’re driving solo, but if you’re making the trip with other passengers, they may have unfavorable opinions about hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, and pouches of tuna. All three of these foods are rich in protein and healthy fats, but they don’t smell the best, especially in tight quarters.
6. Nuts and seeds
Buy now: Wonderful salt and pepper pistachios, $4, amazon.com
Pistachios and walnuts are especially good finds as they’re low in calories and carbs, high in fiber and protein. Regardless of your chosen nut, look for options that are unsalted and free of additional flavors (like cheddar, ranch, and barbecue) that will decrease the nutritional value.
Buy now: New Primal Sea Salt Beef Thins, $40 for 8, thenewprimal.com or amazon.com
Again, go for the pure stuff when possible—no Slim Jims or teriyaki flavoring. Look for brands such as the New Primal, which is low in sodium and sugar, made from grass-fed beef, and free of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Buy now: Sabra Classic Hummus Snacker, $3, target.com
As vegetarians and vegans know, hummus is an excellent source of protein. If you forget to pack hummus and baby carrots before you hit the road, keep an eye out for Sabra Snackers when you stop for gas. The single-serving cups come with pita chips or mini pretzels, making them both tasty and convenient.
9. Protein bars
Buy now: Oatmega Vanilla Almond Bars, $20 for 12, amazon.com or amazon.com; Rx Chocolate Sea Salt Protein Bars, $19 for 12, rxbar.com or amazon.com; Exo Cocoa Nut Cricket Protein Bar, $30 for 12, exoprotein.com or amazon.com; Primal Kitchen Coconut Lime Protein Bars, $24 for 12; primalkitchen.com or amazon.com; Aloha Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Protein Bars, $30 for 12, aloha.com or amazon.com
When all else fails, go for a protein bar. Just make sure you buy something that’s actually good for you, not a glorified candy bar that tastes like cardboard. Start with Bon Appetit’s favorite protein bar brands, which include Oatmega, Rx, Exo, Primal Kitchen, and Aloha.
Remember to pack a spoon and a resealable bag where you can discard the skin and pit. Also note that this suggestion is for pure avocado, full of (healthy) monounsaturated fat, not guacamole. If you’re spooning store-bought guacamole straight from the container to your mouth, we have no less respect for you but do caution that some of the fruit’s nutritional value is going to be lost in the mix.
Buy now: Olove’s 50-calorie Packs, $29 for 30, amazon.com
Salty, refreshing, and immensely flavorful, olives are also chock full of healthy fats to keep you feeling good on the road. If you love olives but not enough to pack an entire jar, check out Olove’s 50-calorie packs.
12. Chia seeds or flax seed
Buy now: Organic Black Chia Seeds, $7, target.com
These snack ingredients require a little prep work. Plan on an overnight soak to make chia seed pudding for your road trip, pack flax seed crackers to go with hummus or avocado, mix either into overnight oats. Have fun with it.
Healthy fats are admittedly difficult to find at gas stations and convenience stores. Those driving on the West Coast may see single-serving cups of avocado spread, and smoothie chains such as Jamba Juice offer chia seeds as add-ins. Your best bet is to plan in advance and buy these kinds of snacks online or at the grocery story before you hit the road.
13. Sliced vegetables
Carrots and celery are high in fiber and water content, low in fat and calories. If you’re lucky enough to find either on the road, they’re usually paired with unhealthy dips such as ranch and cream cheese. Stop temptation in its tracks and pack your sliced veggies ahead of time.
14. Freeze-dried fruit and veggies
While freeze-dried snacks often resemble astronaut food, the resulting product tends to explode with flavor. (Don’t believe us? Try the freeze-dried strawberries at Trader Joe’s.) The crunch adds to the snackability, making it easy to ingest all those vitamins and minerals. You might even want to split this snack into portions so you don’t eat it all at once.
15. Vegetable juice powder
Buy now: Athletic Greens, $107 for 30 travel packs, athleticgreens.com
Concerned about the sugar in freeze-dried fruits and the lifespan of fresh vegetables in a hot car? Throw all your excuses out the window with vegetable juice powder, also known as green powder. Buy ahead of time and shake in a bottle with water or juice to power up on vitamins in a flash.
Buy now: Old Bay Pickles, $12, mouth.com
This is one case in which you’d benefit from bringing the whole jar. The low-calorie snack is great for munching, and sipping on the pickle brine helps restore electrolytes.
17. Kind bars
Buy now: Kind Bars, $15 for 12, kindsnacks.com
These minimally processed bars are made from fruit, nuts, and seeds, ensuring you get all of the nutrients and none of the filler. Bonus: They’re gluten-free.
18. Fresh fruit
Depending on where you’re driving to or through, you may pass stands for fresh fruit. Support local farmers and stock up! What you find at these stands will likely be much fresher than what you would find at the grocery store.
19. Dried fruit
Buy now: Organic Dried Mango (with no added sugar), $14 for 1lb, nuts.com
This recommendation comes with one glaring caveat: Avoid anything with added sugar. If the ingredients list anything other than the fruit itself, reshelf that bag.
20. Coconut chips
Buy now: Dang Toasted Coconut Chips, $20 for 4, amazon.com
While not terribly filling, these crunchy nibbles will satisfy a sweets craving without breaking the caloric bank. We love the fun, Asian-inspired flavors by family-run Dang Foods.
21. Vegetable juice
In most cases, you’ll want to look for low-sodium V8, which is available at most convenience stores. Check the nutrition facts before going to the register since excess sugar will negate a lot of the health benefits.
Buy now: Drizzled Popcorn, $5, safeandfair.com; Skinny Pop, $16, amazon.com
As is the case with nuts and jerky, steer clear of flavor additives. Skinny Pop is a good choice for basic, prepopped popcorn. For something dangerously addictive, try Safe + Fair’s Drizzled Popcorn, a very mild kettle corn with ribbons of dark chocolate. Your greatest challenge will be sharing with your fellow passengers—Drizzled Popcorn is that good.
23. Puffed rice cakes
Buy now: Qaker Lightly Salted Rice Cakes, $3, target.com
Think of these plain rice cakes as fiber-rich vessels for more flavorful items in your cooler, such as hummus, avocado, olives, or nut butter.
24. Overnight oats
Get the recipe: Overnight oats, loveandlemons.com
Dress up your plain, rolled oats with almond milk, yogurt, fruit, sliced nuts, shredded coconut, chia seeds, or anything else that strikes your fancy. The more you load up on things you love, the more likely you are to reach for the overnight oats instead of pulling over for fast food at the next rest stop.
25. Whole-grain crackers
Buy now: Triscuit original, $3, amazon.com
In this case, you’ll want to look for function over flavor. Try to find something with at least four grams of fiber. Then pair the crackers with string cheese, a Split Nutrition packet, or another tasty ingredient you’ve packed for the road.
How to pack your road trip snacks
Don’t wait until you’re on the road to find out how long cheese and hard-boiled eggs last without refrigeration. These four pieces of gear will help prevent the majority of your road trip snack woes.
Pack a cooler
Buy now: Yeti Roadie 24 Hard Cooler, $200, yeti.com
Keep perishable items chilled with a cooler that’s made for long hauls. The Roadie 24 Hard Cooler from Yeti is slim enough to squeeze behind the driver’s seat, tall enough to fit a bottle of wine (just saying), and insulated enough to keep ice frozen for four or more days. When you’re toting snacks such as string cheese, pickles, eggs, tuna, or yogurt, your passengers will thank you for keeping everything nice and chilled.
Remember the ice packs
Buy now: Yeti Ice, from $15, yeti.com
Avoid the hassle of discarding melted ice and refilling the cooler at gas stations and motels by bringing reusable ice packs. Yeti sells three different sizes of its ice packs, which reach lower temperatures than water-based ice and stay cold longer. When the durable packs finally do begin to thaw (exact timing depends on the size of the ice pack and the quality of the cooler), they do so without leaving “sweat” or condensation behind, meaning you won’t need to worry about damp or soggy treat containers.
Save space with collapsible containers
Buy now: Prepworks Collapsible Storage Bowls with Lids (Set of Three), $15, bedbathandbeyond.com
Even the most spacious car cabin has limited real estate, so do yourself a favor and pack homemade snacks in Tupperware-style containers that are not just reusable but also collapsible—the less room you occupy with clunky, empty containers, the better. The set of three by Prepworks includes multiple sizes in bright colors that make them hard to lose. This versatile set is also safe to use in microwaves, freezers, and dishwashers, making them a convenient addition to any food storage collection.
Consider reusable cutlery
Buy now: Sea to Summit Delta Cutlery Set, $10, moosejaw.com
While treats such as popcorn and carrot sticks are ideal finger food, not all snacks are created equally consumable. Sure you could eat avocados and overnight oats sans cutlery, but the car upholstery will never forgive you. Rather than creating waste with disposable utensils, invest in reusable cutlery that will also come in handy on a camping trip. The Delta Cutlery Set from Sea to Summit includes a fork, a knife, and a spoon, connected by a carabiner clip for both easy removal and easy organization.