As most regular readers will know, Matt and I are in the midst of a big road trip (I'm writing from a hotel in New Mexico!) as we depart Oklahoma for an assignment in Las Vegas, and then head back east again. I love the novelty of being on the road and seeing new places, but it has its challenges as well. With no kitchen and no way to keep foods fresh, we find ourselves eating out much more often; what starts out as a fun and exciting treat can soon become routine, taking its toll on more than our wallets and our waistlines. For this reason, I rarely set out on an extended journey without at least a few things tucked away in a basket or cooler.
One of the things I look for in travel food is convenience, but nutrition and taste are also important. Muffins are a favorite grab-and-go food, and whipping up my batch of Road Trip Muffins last week got me thinking about the other foods I enjoy eating on the road. Unfortunately, it's hard to be gourmet when your kitchen is the passenger seat, but, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are my top ten travel treats:
1) Almonds. Dry Roasted, honey roasted, chili-spiced, they're all delicious and, if you pay attention to serving sizes, also a sound nutritional choice. Almonds pack plenty of protein - which is sometimes hard to come by on the road - and are also high in Vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Nuts are quite caloric and a bit fatty, but it's mostly monounsaturated, or 'good' fat so pay attention to your portions and you'll be fine.
2) Muffins. Simple to bake, easy to pack and conveniently pre-portioned, muffins make an ideal road-trip treat. If you choose the right recipe they can be healthy and full of filling fiber, too. Try to stay away from recipes with a lot of added sugar, choosing ones that rely on the natural sweetness of fruit instead (although be aware that fruit-heavy versions may spoil more easily), and substitute wheat flour for an added fiber boost. Just be warned that not all muffins are created equal and some store-bought versions can pack a full meal's worth of calories! Your best bet is to make your own; unlike their calorie-laden, plate-sized coffeehouse cousins, most homemade muffins make an excellent snack.
3) Rice Cakes. Matt is definitely not a fan of this choice, but for a quick, easy, low-calorie option, rice cakes are ideal. They come in a variety of flavors, both sweet and savory, and can be topped with peanut butter, cheese or jam for a more substantial treat. Also, if you're a 'crunch' craver, rice cakes are a much better choice than either pretzels or potato chips.
4) Peanut Butter. Though I rarely eat it at home, I almost always take peanut butter on the road. It's an easily-packed protein source that doesn't require refrigeration and makes a quick meal spread between a few slices of bread or spooned onto muffins, apples or rice cakes. One of the best road-trip meals I've ever enjoyed was a peanut-butter-and-honey tortilla I shared during a white water rafting trip with a friend - simple and delicious (of course, we were ravenous so almost anything would have tasted divine!).
5) Laughing Cow Cheese Wedges. You have to be careful with this one, but I've often brought these on trips with no refrigeration (I carried them across Spain in my backpack!) and haven't suffered any ill effects. The package does say to refrigerate, but I visited their FAQ and, as far as I can tell, this is for quality purposes. They make a good protein snack and can add a bit of variety and flavor to sandwiches, crackers or rice cakes.
6) Beef Jerky. The King of Protein Snacks, beef jerky makes an excellent choice for long trips and can even make do as a meal in emergencies (though I'm not advocating an all dried beef diet since it's usually high in sodium and can be high in sugar). Pair it with some fruit and lots of water for a more, well-rounded snack. This is one of Matt's favorites, naturally.
7) Apples. I love taking fruit on the road but hate when it gets bruised and mushy so I try to choose small, hardy varieties like Braeburn or Gala and keep them in a bag in the cooler. Spread with a bit of peanut butter or paired with a wedge of cheese, they make an excellent traveler's breakfast.
8) Instant Oatmeal. At home, I'm a fan of steel-cut or old-fashioned oats but you can't beat the convenience of instant packets for the road. These are best-suited to hotel-room snacks and quick breakfasts, since you'll need hot water to serve them properly, but I've enjoyed them just as easily with cold water in a pinch.
9) Nutella. There's absolutely nothing healthy about this choice, but it was one of our favorite treats during our travels in Europe. This rich, chocolate-hazelnut spread is sweet enough to be dessert but is sometimes eaten for breakfast, spread on a thick slice of bread, by European children. It's catching on in the States and if you haven't tried it yet, you should - just make it an occasional indulgence rather than a pantry staple!
10) Cereal or Granola. Not just for breakfast, cereal can also make a great traveler's snack. Pick low-sugar, high-fiber varieties (these will keep you full longer and make you less likely to have an energy slump while driving) and you can even make your own trail mix by tossing in a few nuts and some pieces of dried fruit. Granola can be high in calories and sugar, but it's also relatively simple to make your own and both cereal and granola will satisfy crunch cravings.
This is by no means an exhaustive list - I'm sure I'll think of more as soon as I post it - and I'd love to hear some suggestions. What snacks do you pack for the road? Are you a frequent-stopper or do you plan and prepare meals to be eaten on the go? Would any of these make your Top 10?