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Eating Right on a Road Trip

From the Show: Eat Right Radio
Summary: Hitting the road for a family trip? You wouldn’t begin the trip with an empty tank of gas, nor should you leave without a few healthy eating tips.
Air Date: 7/8/14
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN
Mangieri Heather 0865webHeather Mangieri is a registered dietitian and an award-winning expert in wellness and human performance. She is board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and owns Nutrition CheckUp, a consulting practice that specializes in sports nutrition, weight management and family wellness.

Learn more about Heather here.
Eating Right on a Road Trip
Hitting the road for a family trip?

You wouldn’t begin your trip with an empty tank of gas, would you? The same goes for nutrition. Before you leave, you should also "fuel up" with a few healthy eating tips.

In this segment, Heather Mangieri shares expert advice on eating right on the road, including ideas for healthful snacks for along the way, how to avoid food poisoning and the importance of taking breaks to stretch.

With a bit of preparation, you can focus on the open road without worrying about the bumps. Tune in as Heather and Melanie help you make the best healthy and safe choices for your trip.

Melanie Cole (Host): Hitting the road for a family road trip, you wouldn’t begin a trip with an empty tank of gas. So remember to fuel up with a few helpful eating tips. My guest today is Heather Mangieri. She is a registered dietician-nutritionist and academy spokesperson. Welcome to the show.
Talk to us about road tripping. Now you said something a little bit interesting off the air about over-snacking during road trips. Why don’t you start with that, Heather?

Heather Mangieri (Guest): Yes, absolutely. There’s nothing more fun than loading up the car with friends and family and heading off to an adventure. But there’s something out being in the car that makes us think that we can snack the whole time. And often, those snacks are not the mini-meals that we recommend, but they’re the low-nutrient, sugar, salty foods that aren’t necessarily nourishing our body. We want to talk about some rules for the road trip, if you will.
First of all, I will always say, it depends on how long you’re going to be in the car, depending on what you’re going to pack and if you’re going to pack anything. If you’re in a car or vehicle or whatever it is you’re taking for two to four hours, it may not be necessary to pack snacks at all. You can start that trip well-fed and by the time you get to your destination, maybe that’s when you have your next meal. But if you’re planning on being in a car for a longer time, then packing and preparing healthy snacks will really prevent you from scavenging for junk food along the way.

Melanie: So you think, under two hours and you really should just load up a little bit beforehand so that you don’t have to snack the whole time.

Mangieri: Yeah. That’s generally my recommendation, because having food and snacks in the car really sets you up for that mindless munching, especially a lot of vehicles today have DVD players in them. We wouldn’t recommend eating while watching TV in your living room; we really don’t recommend that for the car either, because it really sets you up for just loading up on this munchy snacks and when it comes time to sit down to a real meal, nobody’s hungry.

Melanie: Well, that’s true. I have run into that numerous times myself. We get up there and then I’m going to make a meal and nobody’s really hungry because they’ve been eating little mini-bagels and things in the car.

Mangieri: Exactly.

Melanie: So when we do want to eat in the car, if it’s a longer ride and maybe we feed lunch before or something and then we get into the car, what are some good healthy things that also don’t make a mess in the car?

Mangieri: Well, the first rule of advice is to invest in a cooler and icepack, because planning protein-packed foods requires the most effort, because they require refrigeration and they can be a food safety risk. So if you have a cooler and icepack, your options are really endless and you can really build a healthy meal while you’re in the car. For example, making hard-boiled eggs in advance, or cutting up cheese cubes and having cheese and crackers in the car, mini yogurts, making turkey sandwiches—these are just a few items that come to mind—in a cooler. You can also pack the shelf-stable snacks, but that then leads to rule number two, which is always place them in a single-serve container. You can make a really healthy trail mix, for example, but it’s very, very easy to overeat, and if you’re just kind of eating it out of the bag, there’s a good chance that you’re going to fill up on that. So, trail mix, raisins, fresh fruits are really good options. Again, crackers and cheese, nut butter, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. There’s tons and tons of options, but the main idea is that you want to mix. You still want to mix that protein with those other more portable shelf-stable snacks so that you get a nice blend of nutrients.

Melanie: Well, I love your suggestion about putting them in single-serving containers as well, especially if kids are involved because you don’t want everybody sticking their little sticky hands into the same bag over and over and then the hands go into the mouth, and that’s a great way to spread colds and other germs. So, single-serving containers limit people so they don’t overeat and overindulge, plus keeps the spreading things around and making a mess of the car to a minimum. Give us some more, Heather
Mangieri: The next is huge one too. I just got back from vacation with my children. The backseat can become a disaster area if you’re not careful. It also gives kids the opportunity to choose what they want, which I think is really important, because we don’t all have the same taste and we don’t all want the same foods at the same time. But things like a bag of pretzels in the backseat of a car is a parent’s nightmare whenever you get to the destination. The third thing I would suggest is don’t forget meal times and set boundaries when you’re on a road trip. Just like you would have a meal time at home or a snack time, it’s important to do that when you’re road tripping too. If you stop for lunch at noon, set up that boundary that the next time that there’s going to be a snack or meal, it’s four o’clock, if you’re still in the car. And it doesn’t always have to be these constant snacks. It really can be, “No, no, no. We’re going to eat. We’re going to stop at a restaurant. We’re going to stop somewhere in two hours,” for example.
The fourth thing I always suggest is to think outside that typical restaurant, because nowadays gas stations and those quick stops along the way, most of them have microwave and so this can be a really nice way to pack meals if you’re trying to save money too. And this is something that especially my family would do a lot, because my son is on a special diet and he has some allergies, so we do a lot of packing meals, stopping at these stations, heating up meals in the microwave, and sitting there and having that meal, but it doesn’t have to be that quick frozen thing that they sell in that freezer section. It really can be something that you’ve packed in your cooler and that you’ve planned and then you’ve taken along.

Melanie: Heather, how healthy or unhealthy as a road trip snack is beef jerky? Because I’ve been reading labels lately and some of them have very little fat with good source of protein. Are they bad for us?

Mangieri: Well, I actually like jerky as a snack, because it’s a protein [pick] that doesn’t need refrigerated, which makes it really nice. I would say that beef jerky is very high in sodium, so you have to, again, watch proportion size. If you buy a bag of it and you eat the entire bag, well, that’s what makes it unhealthy. But having that serving size or passing along in the car and sharing it between everybody, I think it could be a good protein source, without needing that refrigeration and having to worry about food safety.

Melanie: And I think an important point to make is also just, when you were talking about making lunch and bringing the coolers, to make sure you bring napkins and things, even if you’re passing out peaches or grapes. That messy, sticky issue again comes out into the car. Give us some more of your great suggestions. We only have a just a minute or two left.

Mangieri: Okay, yeah. The other thing is, like you mentioned, baby wipes. They’re not just for babies. You can have them in the car. Kids make a lot of messes when it comes to that. But take a garbage bag in the car with you and keep it in the backseat; that way, if you have these single-serve items and they’re put into baggies ahead of time, or you have sandwiches wrapped in sandwich bags or foil, the kids can just fold up their mess, throw it right into that big garbage bag, take their wipe, clean their hands and then they’re ready to go. But, yeah, it’s a real preparation as far as really setting up what it’s going to look like in the car, just like you would set it up in a kitchen table, but with all portable things that can be thrown away.

Melanie: How often do we get out of the car and stretch?

Mangieri: That was going to be my last suggestion. Don’t forget to get out of the car and stretch. Even though the biggest complaint is “we want to get to our destination,” but when we travel for long periods, our hip flexors, our lower backs, shoulders and necks can really tense up, so take the time to stretch them out. I wouldn’t say there’s any set time, but we call them “burpy breaks” or jump rope or just run around that parking lot – no, not the parking lot, but on the side. A lot of the rest stops have areas where we can get out and stretch, so don’t forget that’s really important for your body.

Melanie: Thank you so much, Heather Mangieri. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio, with our friends from That’s where you can find more information – at This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening.