Making healthy meal choices is easy when you have the time and ingredients to do it. But when you’re out on the open road, either on a road trip or looking for a quick to-go lunch in between meetings, making the right decision isn’t as clear-cut as it is in your kitchen. Instead, you’re often left to choose between fast food restaurants and convenience stores, both of which can contain sweet, salty, and greasy foods that can be a tempting choice.
“It can be overwhelming to walk into a convenience store or a gas station and feel like the only things there for you are unhealthy,” says Judy Matusky, dietitian at Paoli Hospital. “But the key is knowing what to look for. You can still make healthy choices if you know what’s good for you and what’s not.”
Below, Matusky offer a cheat sheet for hungry and healthy eaters on the go.
Fruits and vegetables
Believe it or not, you can buy produce at gas stations. Bananas, apples and oranges are all easy to store and don’t require refrigeration, which makes it easier for gas stations to sell. If the produce looks old, moldy, or just plain unappetizing, look for a refrigerated fruit cup or vegetables. Some larger convenience markets sell fruit cups and parfaits, or packets of carrots and celery with hummus or apples with peanut butter.
Certain convenience stores and mini-marts will offer a larger refrigerated section than gas stations. Look for protein-packed snacks like string cheese, a pack of two hard-boiled eggs, a small pack of cheese and crackers or a Greek yogurt.
Trail mix has the potential to be a healthy snack, but can also be filled with added sugar and salt depending on its ingredients. Avoid trail mix snacks that include candy, chips, cheesy snacks, or chocolate chips. Trail mix might seem healthy but with ingredients like these, it can be a salty, sugary calorie bomb. Instead, look for trail mix that contains unsalted nuts and seeds and dried fruit.
Sometimes, you just need something salty. Instead of greasy cheese curls or flavored chips, look for plain tortilla chips. They’ll give you the salty flavor you crave with some extra fiber from the whole corn flour. Pair them with some jarred salsa for an extra treat.
Healthier sandwiches and salads
Fast food restaurants offer calorie-laden burgers and sandwiches, but even their salads can have more calories than you think. Opt for leaner menu choices like veggie wraps, grilled chicken sandwiches or even a small, plain burger. Salads can still be healthy but, if you can, ask for dressing on the side and customize your toppings to avoid bacon bits, croutons, or fried toppings that can add calories.
Vending machine picks
When you’re stuck with only a vending machine, it’s hard to make a meal out of what you can find. Instead of choosing unhealthy options, which are usually right at eye level, look for packages of peanuts, granola or breakfast bars, 100-calorie snack packs or pretzels.