The two greatest roadblocks to dietary adherence for most people are maintaining as healthy a diet on the weekends as the weekdays and staying on track when traveling. Those of us in Chicago are extremely lucky to have two airports that have a ridiculous selection of restaurants to find a healthy meal at, so I'll focus on how to adhere to your diet during long car rides. Road trips typically include very few food options other than fast food and gas stations.
If you know you have a long car ride to your destination that will include at least one meal, your best option is to simply prep some meals just like you would during the week and pack them in a cooler. Obviously your choices are going to be much more limited if you’re eating in the car than if you are making something you can throw in the microwave, but a super simple and easy idea is to grill up some of your favorite meats and veggies, chop them into bite-size pieces and bring some toothpicks to eat them with. There's no mess, this is very convenient, and probably more filling than most of your options you'll encounter on the highway. Sandwiches would be the other obvious option, and again you’ll be able to come up with something much lower calorie and more nutritious than what may be available on the road.
Packing lunches for a road trip might be wishful thinking for many people who simply don’t want to deal with any extra hassle or carrying a cooler or lunch box with them. Fortunately there are some pretty solid options at common fast food joints as well. In fact, many fast food hamburgers in of themselves aren’t anywhere near as bad as you might think from a calorie perspective, especially if you skip the cheese and don't have fries with them.
-McDonald’s: Quarter Pounder with no cheese: 430 calories, 26g protein, 38g carbs, 20g fat
If you stick to one of these options and have a diet soda or water, you might be eating even less calories at lunch than you normal do. The McDouble and all of its cheese-less varieties also has very similar calories and macros, ranging from 390-430 calories and 23-26g protein. You might be surprised to learn that all of McDonald’s chicken and fish sandwiches are well into the 500-600 calorie range, with their “Artisan Grilled Chicken on Artisan Roll” taking the cake at 750 calories, even though based on name and appearance it would seem to be the “healthier” option.
-Arby’s: Classic Roast Beef Sandwich: 360 calories, 23g protein, 37g carbs, 14g fat
Who would’ve thought the classic Arby’s sandwich has only 90 more calories than one of the most popular protein bars on the market? A Cliff Builder’s bar has 270 calories, 20g protein, 30g carbs, and 8g fat for comparison. Another slightly bigger but still decent Arby’s option is the Grand Turkey Club, coming in at 480 calories, 30g protein, 37g carbs, and 24g fat. If you opted for no Swiss cheese on this sandwich, you could probably cut about 80-100 fat calories off as well so it would have similar macros to the Roast Beef Sandwich.
-Chick-Fil-A: 12 piece grilled chicken nuggets: 210 calories, 38g protein, 3g carbs, 5g fat (!!!!)
Chick-Fil-A blows its fast food friends out of the water when it comes to calorie friendly meals. Their grilled chicken sandwich is also a great option at 310 calories, 29g protein, 36g carbs, and 6g fat. Even their breaded options aren't too bad, with calories in the low 400s.
These are just a few of the more popular options at very common fast food chains; pretty much all of these places have all their nutritional info posted online so when you see an exit coming up with a list of fast food, do a simple search and see if you can find meals with similar numbers to these. Fast food has gotten a bad rap in part because some of the offerings are ridiculously fattening, and the combo of a sandwich, fries, and soda can cause the calories for the whole meal to balloon quite a bit. But you don't add in grease-soaked fries and a soda to all your sandwiches at home, so it isn’t necessary to do so on the road. You might be a bit lower in vitamins and minerals as most of these places only serve veggies in salads that are packed full of fat too, but a day or two skimping on those won’t be the end of the world.
Your last option is to make do with what you find in gas stations, which is often my preferred way to do this as I can mix and match different kinds of foods to hit my personal dietary needs easier than I can with fast food options. Protein shakes/bars, low fat string cheese and beef jerky are all solid protein choices that are usually relatively low in fat. Many low fat string cheese are about 7g of protein and only about 55-70 calories per stick, whereas beef jerky is usually upwards of 11-14g protein per oz at about 80-100 calories.
For carb sources, fat free Snyders pretzels are only 110 calories per serving, and if you trust the fresh fruit at the gas station you can really make a decent meal with a combo of these options. I strongly advise against bags of nuts, or even worse, trail mix in the car for long rides. Being able to scoop easily consumable handfuls of carbs and fats when you’re totally sedentary on top of being bored in the car for hours on end is a recipe for disaster, so if you really feel the absolute need to have these then single serving packs are a much better option.
Being on the road doesn't mean your diet needs to go out the window. With either a little planning or simply making some informed choices at “unhealthy” fast food places, it's relatively easy to stay on track when you’re on a road trip. As always, feel free to leave any questions or comments concerning this post or anything you’d like to see a future blog about.