We’d be lying if we told you that you could find contemporary health staples like live-caught fish individually inspected for mercury or heaping piles of superfoods like arugula and asparagus in your average mini-mart. You won’t find sustainable, organic, cage-free, locally sourced foods at these stores, but you’ll be able to get some decent, convenient nutrition when in a pinch.
While we’re pretty sure that a road trip means a lot of sedentary activity (flipping your turn signal on, adjusting your rear view mirrors, pointing at oddities along the highway), your body can still benefit from this food featured in our piece, 11 Post-Workout Snacks to Eat on the Go. Beef jerky isn’t awful for you. Sure, most brands contain a fair amount of sugar, but your body (regardless of your level of activity) constantly craves protein. With most varieties including incredible levels of protein and nearly no fat, beef jerky is almost an ideal on-the-go muscle builder. And, for those who won’t go near beef for a multitude of reasons, there are prepackaged bison, chicken, and turkey jerkies available as well.
You probably won’t find any organic, rainforest-funding dark chocolate bars while stopping for fuel, but you’ll likely be able to find some chocolate with a decently high percentage of cocoa. Use our Complete Guide to Dark Chocolate in order to help educate yourself on which chocolates can play a role in your healthy nutrition plan. If you can manage to find chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 70 or higher, you’ve found yourself a great healthy treat.
The banana has quite a surprising history, and modern man has gone as far as stocking the fruit nearly anywhere food is sold. Don’t fear those seemingly untouched baskets of dirt-cheap bananas at the mini-mart — embrace them. Bananas, apples, and other fruits that you can find when you stop for gas may not be organic or locally grown, but they’re still healthy options in a pinch. Oranges are one of the healthiest fruits you can eat, and we bet you can easily find them on any gas station counter, too.
Individual servings of nonfat Greek yogurt are teeming with protein. While we don’t think that most gas stations will carry Greek yogurt alternatives like dairy-free yogurt or skyr, we can confidently assume that many will have at least two flavors of standard Greek yogurt brands like Chobani. Worried about a dairy intolerance? Don’t fret: People who are sensitive to dairy may still be able to eat Greek yogurt.
Hard-boiled eggs are simple, nutritious, and widely available at mini-marts across the country. There are so many health benefits linked to egg consumption, and if you’re looking for bioavailable protein you can’t beat the white of an egg. If you decided to hard-boil your own eggs before embarking on your road trip, consider learning the best way to hard-boil eggs and how to peel a dozen hard-boiled eggs at once.
There are healthy chips and there are unhealthy chips; knowing what to look for is paramount in gas station chip selection. You’ll want to look at the overall calorie count per bag (finding a bag that’s 120 calories or less is our suggestion), sodium content (for healthy adults, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day tops and 1,500 milligrams ideally, so the closer this is to zero the better), and ingredients. If you refuse to carve a special space in your diet for potato chips (even while on a road trip), look for healthy chip alternatives made from things like snap peas, carrots, and black beans.
Have you checked out our Ultimate Store-Bought Hummus Taste Test? Generally, this healthy snack is high in iron, vitamin C, and dietary fiber, which are all nutrients anyone’s body can benefit from while sitting in the car for long periods of time. Pair it with some carrots or celery and you’ll have yourself a virtually guilt-free supply of quality calories. Do your best to avoid hummus that’s tainted with listeria, though. No one wants to spend a road trip next to someone who has a high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and/or diarrhea.
If you’re looking for something a little bubbly, we suggest reaching for a zero-calorie seltzer. If you’re looking for an antioxidant boost, try an antioxidant-infused Bai. Each bottle only contains about five calories and is sweetened by stevia and sugar alcohols. Sure, a glass of lemon water is much more natural and probably healthier, but when you’re looking for a bit more flavor to carry you through the next leg of your trip, a five-calorie drink isn’t a bad option.
Nuts are widely available in mini-marts across the country, but the average gas station spread will mostly contain heavily salted varieties. Refer to our guide to the healthiest nuts when making your decision, and try to find raw, unsalted, or lightly salted nuts when possible. While peanuts certainly are tempting, they’re technically legumes not nuts. The macronutrient (protein, carbs, and fat) content of a peanut and an almond are virtually the same, but almonds are richer in many vital micronutrients than their underground-growing counterparts. Thus, we suggest avoiding peanuts in favor of tree nuts like vitamin E-rich almonds and brain health-inspiring walnuts (if you’re fortunate enough to stumble upon them).
Protein Bars are pretty hit-or-miss, which is why they made our list of 27 “Health Foods” That Aren't Really All That Healthy. You’ll want to get your reading glasses out in order to check the nutrition label on protein bars, searching for one that has equal amounts of protein and carbohydrates. Many mini-marts now carry protein- and fiber-packed Quest Bars, so keep your eyes peeled for them the next time you’re fueling your car and your body.
Like protein bars, dried fruits are a “health food” that isn’t super healthy. Combined with calorie-dense nuts, sugar-laden chocolate candies, and a fair amount of sodium, dried fruits make up a good percentage of trail mix. While this may sound like a recipe for dietary disaster, you’ll find some quality calories in the form of healthy fats and protein from peanuts and tree nuts found in trail mixes. If you can find a variety that has dried fruit that isn’t infused with undesirable sugar, then you’re a step ahead of the game — and if you can manage to avoid bags that contain chocolate candies, you’ll also be doing yourself a favor. If you’d like to completely control the contents of your trail mix, make your own perfectly healthy trail mix using a recipe like Jennifer Leah Gottlieb’s Clean Trail Mix recipe.