New Jersey Bariatric Center
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Avoiding Unhealthy Foods on Your Next Road Trip

By Dana Babeu, R.D. | August 27, 2020

With Summer winding down and another holiday weekend coming up, many of us are hitting the road in search of some fun and a change of scenery. While the pandemic has changed many things about how we travel, it hasn’t changed the temptation of unhealthy foods that awaits us on the road.

Your best bet is to pack your own cooler with drinks, snacks and even a picnic depending on your travel plans. When I traveled with my family to upstate NY a few weeks ago, we found a great park just off the highway where we stopped for lunch and stretched our legs. The scenery was beautiful, we had food we felt good about eating and there was no risk of overcrowding or waiting in line. 


Some of my road trip faves to throw in an insulated bag or cooler are: 

  • Single serving protein or collagen packets that are easy to mix with water
  • Ready to drink protein shakes such as Premier 
  • Cups of yogurt, cottage cheese or individually wrapped cheeses
  • Protein bars (low sugar)
  • Protein snack packs like P3 or Sargento Balanced Breaks
  • Deli meat roll-ups or lettuce wraps
  • Hard Boiled eggs
  • Low sugar beef jerky or meat sticks like Chomps or Archer Farms
  • Green salad topped with protein such as grilled chicken
  • Container of egg, chicken or tuna salad with veggies
  • Single-serving packs of nuts
  • Apples, oranges or other fruit that travels well
  • Drinks: water, protein water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea


If packing isn’t possible, then be on the lookout for these healthier options while you’re on the road.


Convenience stores and Rest stops

Depending on where you are geographically, there can be a lot of variation. 

  • Some interstate rest areas may have a deli where you can get some turkey breast or lean ham with low fat cheese.  
  • If pre-made sandwiches are your only choice, lose the bread and eat the insides with some brown or yellow mustard for dipping.  
  • Check the refrigerated section for hard boiled eggs, a Greek yogurt, part-skim cheese sticks, or a single-serve, low-fat milk.  
  • Check the aisles for small bags of roasted nuts or seeds, trail mix or protein bars. Just be sure to check the nutrition facts label for grams of sugar when choosing yogurts, bars or trail mix and always go with the lowest option.


Coffee shops

If your favorite coffee order requires you to say “light and sweet” or any word ending in –atta or –cino, I’m afraid you’re about to be disappointed.  These specialty drinks are liquid calorie bombs, and skip the baked goods altogether since there’s no such thing as low-carb, high-protein doughnut.  The good news is you don’t have to forgo your caffeine fix altogether, you just have to change what you order.  

  • Better beverage choices include an unsweetened latte made with low-fat milk or plain hot or iced coffee and tea.  
  • Try adding milk and your favorite no-calorie sweeteners or flavors like cinnamon, lemon and vanilla until you come up with your new go-to favorite.  
  • If you’re in need of breakfast or a snack, look for yogurt, egg sandwiches on thin bread or wraps, roasted nuts and protein/fruit snack packs.


Vending machines

Healthier choices here are probably the most limited, but don’t despair.  Try:

  • Roasted nuts, sunflower seeds or a single-serve bag of white cheddar popcorn 
  • The small portion size and combination of fiber, protein and fat will hopefully keep you just full enough to make it out of wherever you are in time for a healthy, protein-based meal.


Roadside/Quick Service Restaurants 

  • Chains like Wendy’s, Chipotle and Subway that have salads on the menu. Be sure to choose one with a good source of lean protein and a low-sugar dressing on the side. 
  • Grilled chicken sandwiches or nuggets from places like Burger King or Chick-fil-A can also work, but try to avoid white flour buns and choose a healthier side if one is available. 
  • Soup and chili from Panera or Wendy’s can be a good choice, just be sure to avoid cream bases and those loaded with starch. Beef barley, lentil, Manhattan clam chowder and chicken vegetable are a few to look for. 
  • Even a regular cheeseburger without the bun will suffice in a pinch. 


Armed with knowledge and tips, you can navigate your next road trip like a pro. Happy travels and stay safe!

Dana Babeu, RD, is a registered dietitian at New Jersey Bariatric Center, a medical & surgical weight loss center with offices in Springfield, Somerville, Hoboken, East Brunswick, Hackettstown and Sparta, New Jersey. She provides pre-operative and post-operative nutritional counseling to New Jersey Bariatric Center’s Gastric Bypass, Gastric Sleeve, LAP-BAND (gastric band) and revision patients, in addition to dietary counseling for patients in our Medical Weight Loss program.
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