How to Hack a Healthy Meal at the Gas Station

Don't let a road trip derail your diet. Combine these dietitian-approved foods to create a nutritious and satisfying on-the-go meal.

Photo By: Deanne Revel

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Photo By: Holley Grainger

Road Trip Meal

You know the situation…you’re on a road trip, hunger strikes and the only place to stop for food is a gas station. There’s no need to fret! Registered dietitians have been there too and share their top choices for healthier grab-and-go snack food combinations to create nutritious, balanced meals. “The line of divide between meals and snacks has certainly blurred in the United States. Convenience stores and gas stations are increasingly offering healthier grab-and-go-snack foods that when combined can become a nutritious meal,” says Karen Buch, RDN.

How to Choose the Best Food

Use this quick equation to determine which nutrients you need to keep you feeling full and satisfied: Protein + Fiber + Healthy fat = average of 350 calories, 12-20 grams of protein and 5-10 grams of fiber per meal. Start by anchoring your selection on a protein choice like hard-boiled eggs, milk, yogurt, beef jerky, nuts or peanut butter. Add fiber-rich foods like fresh fruits (usually by the register) and vegetables (usually pre-sliced in the refrigerated section), popcorn, whole grain crackers, oat- or nut-based bars or nuts. Add a healthy fat source like guacamole (yes, many gas stations sell individual packs) or a nut-based food. Wash it all down with a naturally calorie-free drinks like water, coffee or hot tea.

Deconstructed Yogurt Parfait

“Start with a container of regular or Greek yogurt (read the labels to find a low sugar option) and break pieces of a fruit-and-nut based bar into the yogurt,” suggests Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. Using a bar or a serving of dried fruit and nut trail mix limits the number of ingredients you need to purchase. Registered Dietitian, Elizabeth Shaw says, “My favorite meal is to grab a plain yogurt from the cooler, a single serving bag of unsalted peanuts and a banana. Coming in at around 400 calories, not only do you get a great source of protein, but also fiber, potassium and satisfying healthy fats.”

Peanut Butter and Apple Bruschetta

Registered dietitian, Chelsea LeBlanc believes in having some fun with easy-to-find ingredients. “Purchase a small jar or packet of peanut butter (found on the dry food aisle) and pair with apple slices and a whole grain food source. Whole apples are usually located near the register and larger gas stations often have individual servings of sliced apples in the refrigerated section. Get fancy by smearing the peanut butter on a whole grain breakfast biscuit or cracker and top with the apple slices. Pair with a bottle of water to wash it down. This meal offers protein, whole grains, fiber, healthy fat and will help to ward off your sweet tooth.”

Tuna Salad

Kristen Smith, MS, RD suggests making tuna salad by combining a can of tuna and condiments from the hot dog station like a packet of mayonnaise and relish. Spoon tuna salad on top of whole wheat crackers. Pick up a piece of fresh fruit or canned fruit with no added sugar for a balanced meal.

Protein-Packed Beef Jerky

Of all the processed foods you will find at the gas station, beef jerky may be one of the best choices believes Registered Dietitian, Jessica Spiro. Jerky can be high in sodium so look for a low sodium option if available. Pair with plain or flavored almonds, mandarin oranges and a cup of hot tea. Jessica Lee Levings, MS, RDN also suggests that a cheese stick with a piece of fruit, a serving of beef jerky, and five whole grain crackers can create a balanced dinner.

Pumped Up Oatmeal

“Most gas stations have hot water that can be used for instant soup or oatmeal,” says Amy Bruursema Getman, RD. “Add a piece of fruit and peanut butter or trail mix and it’s a meal.” If a microwave is available, make the oatmeal with milk for a boost of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Choose walnuts as a delicious option loaded with healthy fat and fiber.

Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Sandwich

“Even a convenience store with minimal offerings will likely have a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread (ideally whole wheat), and little cartons of milk,” says Katie Morford, MS, RD. “Nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned peanut butter sandwich downed with a side of milk, which delivers protein, healthy fats, calcium, and whole grains. Swap jelly for fresh fruit like sliced bananas, apples, or strawberries.”

Ready-to-Eat Salad with Grilled Chicken

“Larger gas stations like Speedway, Quick Time, and 7-Eleven have many nutritious options such as salads with hard-boiled eggs or chopped turkey,” offers Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN. Plus, many fast rood restaurants are connected to larger gas stations and offer fresh salads and sandwiches. When choosing a salad, make sure to read the label to find one that offers vegetables, lean protein, and even nuts or dried fruit. Use a low-fat dressing or a small portion of regular dressing to keep calories in check.

Prepackaged Snack Meal

Who says that prepackaged foods can’t be healthy? Look for options that contain carrots, snap peas, celery, fruit, cheese, and/or nuts. Hummus (made from chickpeas) and guacamole are often sold in single serving packages so use these as a dip for your veggies or for low-fat pretzels. Pair with a hard-boiled egg or two (sprinkled with salt and pepper) for an easy and well-rounded meal.

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

“Use single-serving cottage cheese containers and pair with fruit and nuts,” says Lauren-Harris Pincus, MS, RDN. Look for a low-sugar bar (such as one sweetened with dates) for a sweet side to add additional fiber and nutrients. Enjoy as is or crumble the bar onto the cottage cheese. Wash down with water for extra hydration.

Cheese and Crackers

From large convenience stores to small, rural gas stations, cheese and crackers with a piece of fruit and a protein bar combine all of the elements needed to keep you full and satisfied and are easy to find. Many protein bars have a savory profile so consider these as opposed to sweet ones when browsing the protein bar aisle.

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