With summertime comes vacation time. When I was growing up my family took road trips during a time when there were fewer restaurants available to stop and eat. My mom would pack a cooler full of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables and cereal to nourish us along the way.
Today, there is an abundance of food options for purchase within every five to 10 miles of your journey. While the increased availability of food is convenient, it does not always present options that help us adhere to our goals for getting adequate whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins to fuel our bodies for a healthy and active vacation. Packing food for a road trip can be a great alternative that helps families save money and ensures the entire family is eating nutrition packed foods throughout their journey.
Here are my top 5 suggestions for getting started on your healthier road trip:
1. Plan. Plan meals and snacks for the days you want to provide meals in the car. Go to the grocery store two days before your trip and plan to prep the food the day before you leave. There are a variety of storage container options available at local home stores and markets. Bento boxes are one of my favorite options as these containers usually have three to four portion-controlled compartments perfect for preparing a well-portioned meal for each person. Assigning a color for each individual allows the younger members of the family to help with serving the meal or makes it easier to prep for those who may have special diet needs. Snacks can be portioned in individual containers or snack size bags. Avoid providing full size containers for snacking, such as a full box of crackers, as we tend to over eat recommended portion sizes when eating from larger packages.
2. Keep it cool. Proteins are an important nutrition that should be included in our diet daily. A cooler is essential to hold perishable, protein rich foods such as dairy products, meats, hummus and pasta salads to safe temperatures. Individual serving items such as cheese sticks, greek yogurt and smaller portioned meat and hummus help to ensure these items stay colder than larger, family-sized products. Be certain to check your ice throughout the day especially on very hot days and replenish ice every day or as it begins to melt. Choose hotels that provide refrigerators so that you can store your perishable foods overnight.
3. Think portability and minimal mess factor. Fruits and vegetables are great options for an on-the-go snack. Choose fruits and vegetables that are portable, minimize sticky finger mess while maximizing nutritional benefits. Bananas, blueberries, pre-cut apple slices or whole apples, carrot sticks, sliced peppers, and sliced jicama are a few of my favorite go-to fruits and vegetables when traveling.
4. Plan to stop and savor the flavor. Get the map out and plan stops at rest areas along your route. My husband and I have both felt that strong pull to just drive straight through to our destination so we can arrive in the shortest time. But that means eating in the car and not connecting with our family over a meal or for most of the journey. Making a commitment to stop at pre-determined destinations is the first step to avoid falling into the trap of eating in the car. Plan stops around meal times so that everyone can get out of the car to savor the flavor of the food and benefit from the companionship that mealtime provides. Eating with others around the table allows us to be more mindful to our eating experience which contributes to controlling our portions sizes and feeling more satisfied.
5. Play together. Enjoy an active game of chase, tag, soccer or Frisbee. Moving after a meal aids in digestion, helps burn off stored up energy from sitting in the car and can improve naptime for children while improving mental alertness in adults. Try to be active for at least 15 minutes at each planned stop.
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Jennifer Dalton, MS, RDN, LD, is the director of didactic program in dietetics at the University of Dayton. She teaches courses on nutrition and health and is an expert on functional nutrition, celiac disease and digestive health. Email: jdalton1@udayton.