Snack food is a travel must-have, but which snacks are the best to eat on a long road trip in the car? Find out how to choose from the plentiful selection of eats at the gas station shop, including finding the healthiest snacks for the entire family. Let’s hit the road with these ideas for healthy road trip snacks that can be purchased easily from the convenience store!
This post is sponsored by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). All thoughts & opinions expressed are my own.
This article was originally published on June 18, 2018 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Healthy Road Trip Snacks
Road trips call for great musical playlists, memorable in car photo-ops and conversations. And of course, plenty of snacks to keep everyone happy! When my family piles everyone inside the minivan for a road trip, we want to avoid bickering, whining and grumbling bellies. Having well-balanced, healthy snacks (that are still fun!) are important.
Find out how my family chose healthy road trip snacks for everyone, aged toddler to adult on a recent drive. I’ve included my healthy road trip food list that includes suggestions on substitutes for favorite road trip snacks.
Why Are Road Trip Snacks Important?
Snacks are especially important for kids. Their stomachs are smaller and they burn off their food quicker. Healthy road trip snacks for kids can prevent dips in blood sugar as well as crankiness in the car!
Recently my family headed out to Palm Springs for the weekend. It was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour drive that stretched out to nearly 3 1/2 hours.
We’d intended to hit the convenience store to fill up on snacks but were stuck in traffic, unable to get off the freeway. As you can see, at least one of the kids was not pleased!
Pre-Planning Car Snacks
A little planning ahead can make the long car ride more tolerable for the whole family. Check out these tips for the best way to pack easy road trip snacks.
Snack Storage – Ziploc bags are the standard for dry snacks. For perishable foods, use these handy spill-proof travel snack boxes, that have built-in ice packs to keep food chilled. Simply rinse and wipe out to reuse on the road.
Grocery Shopping – Visit the grocery store ahead of time to stock up on the best travel snacks. Here, you’ll be able to purchase and prep fresh produce, including vegetables and fruit.
Ideas for kid-friendly fresh vegetables that travel well are celery sticks spread with peanut butter, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), and snap peas. Cubed melon, sliced strawberries and blueberries are ideal fruits.
Coolers – The RTIC cooler is our travel must-have. It keeps a bag of ice frozen for days, even in direct sunshine!
Not enough trunk space for a hard-sided cooler? A cooler bag is invaluable in keeping foods cool. Store it in the car to chill water bottles and to keep fruits and veggies cold.
Ice Blocks – Wondering how to chill ice blocks without a freezer? If your hotel doesn’t have a fridge or freezer, fill the sink with ice from the ice machine. Submerge your ice blocks overnight to chill them for use in your cooler on the road.
Family Road Trip Must-Haves
If you’re planning to hit the open road during spring break or summer vacations, you’ll want to plan ahead. These are a few things to know before you step on the gas!
- Bring rubber bands or twist ties to reclose bags of potato chips and crackers.
- Pack several plastic bags to use for trash inside the car. Toss out garbage and replace the bag along the road to keep the back seat tidy.
- Need utensils for your in-car snack? Pack plastic flatware or pick up extras from fast food chains along the way.
- Rather than relying on plastic water bottles, pack a reusable water bottle for each traveler. Purchase a large jug of water, then refill bottles on the go. Sippers are less likely to spill than water bottles with screw-on tops.
- Choose a stainless steel water bottle versus plastic for road trip travel. Stainless steel will keep water colder longer than plastic. Also, the heavier stainless steel version will stay put in car cupholders, whereas the plastic bottles tend to topple out more easily.
Tips for Eating on a Road Trip
Snacks are in-between foods – Keep in mind that snacks should not be replacing regular meals on the road. You should still be stopping the car for everyone to get out, run around, and to eat a complete meal.
Don’t always rely on fast food dining – If you’re taking a very long drive skip the fast food drive thru, when everyone eats in the car. Try to stop every 2-3 hours so that everyone can get out of the car, stretch and eat.
Plan your dining spots – Ahead of your drive, plot out pit stops along your route. Research the best restaurants to get healthy food by viewing online menus or reading reviews.
Eat on time – Full meals should aim to stay on your usual time schedule, especially when traveling with young kids. For more restaurant tips, read my eating out tips for dining with kids.
Make less mess – There may be times on the road trip that everyone will want to eat a snack while driving. Consider snacks that are less likely to make a mess. For example, choose applesauce in a squeezable pouch instead of a cup that requires a spoon.
Safety First – You’ll also want to think about the foods that may be choking hazards for younger kids, avoiding raisins, popcorn and nuts. My friend Becca at This Crazy Adventure Called Life has more tips on the best road trip snacks.
Choosing Healthy Convenience Store Snacks on the Road
Any time I’ve road tripped with my family, we stop at a convenience store to grab snacks. It’s really a one-stop-shop! Convenience stores that are also a gas station make this the perfect rest stop location while on the road.
The NACS survey shows that convenience stores offer the top three reasons that most people stop on the road. 96% use the restroom, 95% get gasoline and 91% buy food and drinks.
On a recent drive, I took my kids inside to see what kind of healthy snacks they’d choose for the road. The teens didn’t want to be on camera (go figure). But my youngest kids were all smiles while they took me around the store to show me which road trip snacks they thought were the healthiest.
What Constitutes a Healthy Snack?
Convenience store shelves can be overwhelming. There are just so many candy bars, colorful bags of chips, and snack ideas crammed together, it’s challenging to know what to pick!
When choosing a road trip snack, aim for these general healthy guidelines:
- A snack should be around 150 to 250 calories.
- Look for snacks that contain about 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and not have more than 12 grams of fat.
- The best snacks are low in sugar, fat, and salt.
- Protein and fiber will help you feel full and satisfied between meals.
- For the best health benefits, shop for fresh, natural ingredients over pre-packaged bagged items.
Reading Snack Food Labels
If you don’t already know the best foods to choose, take a minute to look at the labels before choosing snacks.
Don’t Rely on the Packaging
The front of the packaging can be misleading. If you read the label on the back you’ll see the actual low-down on calories, fiber, protein, fat and sugar.
This small protein bar was touted as healthy but the label shares that it has 21 grams of sugar. Too much sugar for us, so it was a “pass”.
Calculate Serving Size
The label will also explain the serving size of that particular product. Some snacks are really intended for two or more people.
What to Avoid?
My family aims for choosing healthy snacks that have no trans fats and are low in sugar and sodium. Take a closer look at artificial colorings and flavorings, many of which can affect digestion and/or mood.
How About Drinks?
The slushy machine is often a road trip essential during warm weather. Some convenience stores offer a sugar-free version to look for! Many bottled beverages are extremely high in sugar so be sure to read the labels before buying.
Healthy Road Trip Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Within 10 minutes of hitting the road, our toddler was down for her usual mid-day nap. We pressed on, driving as far as we could while she slept. However once she awoke (earlier than we’d anticipated), she was hungry and ready for a snack!
These are a few healthy snack choices for toddlers and preschoolers while driving long distances:
Keep the best beverages on hand – Purchase a bag of ice from the convenience store to fill the cooler. Stock up on bottled milk and water for your little kids. When stopping for a diaper change, refill your toddler’s cup along the way.
Use a refillable sipper cup – Pack a spill proof sipper cup with you to fill with your toddler’s favorite beverage. Ensure that it will fit properly into the car seat cupholder.
Store snacks close at hand – Minimize meltdowns by keeping the car well-stocked with go-to snacks. Have toddler-friendly treats inside the car (not the trunk), so that you can refill snacks on demand.
Use a refillable snack cup – This “spill-proof” travel snack cup is a must-have for toddler snacks on the road.
I was able to fill my daughter’s snack cup with bite sized snacks, like dry cereal, chips, and the toddler favorite, Goldfish crackers!
If these items dropped onto the floor or in the car seat, these dry and mess-free snacks were easy to clean up. My kiddo happily snacked and then finished up her nap (thank goodness!)
Use a “Dropper Stopper” – Prevent toddlers from constantly dropping their cups on the floor with a Sippy Cup Leash Tether. The holder clips to the car seat (or stroller, or shopping cart) so that kids can retrieve the dropped cup themselves.
Elementary Aged Kids Healthy Road Trip Snacks
Older kids can be harder to please when it comes to finding the perfect snack. They tend to gravitate naturally to the least healthy items at the store! When faced with a long car ride ahead, aim to please the entire family with these best road trip snacks.
Crunchy, Salty Snacks
My kiddo can be very particular about his food (aka: he’s a picky eater, like I was as a child). He loves to eat chips for the salty crunch.
As a parent, I’m not thrilled by messy cheesy-coated fingers in the car or the crumbs inside the booster seat! Consider these chilled pickle chips instead.
More salty and crunchy snacks include Goldfish crackers, whole grain crackers, pretzels, kale chips, or a handful of nuts.
Sugar-Free Drink Option for Kids
When it comes to beverages, my 6-year old goes straight for the flavored drinks like Gatorade. We don’t allow him to drink energy drinks or soda. But I agree, sometimes water is boring! Purchase flavored water enhancement, like Mio. This will add flavor to plain water without adding any sugar or calories.
Protein-Packed Snacks for Kids
Cheese, crackers and deli meat is an easy grab-n’-go snack while traveling. These smaller sized Lunchables trays are great for sharing and ideal for road trips. Low in calories and fat but high in protein.
Processed meat and cheese isn’t the most perfect everyday kind of snack, but it’s appropriate as a great snack on a road trip in a pinch.
More high-protein snack items include Greek yogurt and string cheese. My kids also enjoy individual meat-wrapped cheese sticks for a protein-packed snack. Beef jerky is also a good source of protein. Deli meats are higher in sodium, so be sure to provide plenty of water.
Healthy Road Trip Snacks That Appeal to Teens & Adults
It’s not too hard to find something fun to eat on the road that won’t make teenagers and adults crash and burn with too much sugar. Keeping up energy on long trips is particularly important for the person driving the car. These are some filling snack choices for teens and adults.
Protein Snacks for Energy
Sitting for long periods of time while driving can be exhausting. Choose these healthier options to help keep up the energy. The convenience store offers wrapped hard-boiled eggs, a perfect choice for my husband.
My big kids went right to the beef jerky. There was a great variety to satisfy varying taste buds including teriyaki, jalapeno and sweet & spicy.
DIY Trail Mix
My teenagers are generally healthy eaters on a daily basis. Naturally they also like to treat themselves to something sweet when on vacation. A homemade trail mix is a great road trip snack.
Mix in your favorites, including dark chocolate chips, pretzel rods, Cheez-It, favorite nuts and yogurt-covered dried fruit bits. All of these ingredients can be found separately at the convenience store, then mixed together to create the trail mix.
Protein bars are always the first choice of my husband and me. However many of them are high in sugar as well.
I found this high protein bar that is also low in sugar (only one gram). It’s a fun treat that is also going to satisfy more than a candy bar. So much better than any of the best road trip junk food and you’ll feel a lot better after indulging!
Convenience Store Candy
While we personally avoid the candy aisle completely at the convenience store, you may want to choose something like this for the family to share.
Best Sweet Treat for a Road Trip
Licorice is a popular choice and while it does have sugar, it’s also fat-free and mess-free. Gummy bears, Swedish Fish, jelly beans, Starburst, Skittles, and Sour Patch Kids are candies that come in larger package and are also fitting to share. Gummy fruit snacks can qualify for a toddler-friendly “candy” as well.
Candy to Avoid on a Road Trip
Avoid chokeable hard candies like Jolly Ranchers, Lemonheads and lollipops. If you can’t keep your eyes on your children at all times, watch out for hard gummies and other candies that can cause choking.
Chocolate bars are tricky, because they can melt quickly and need to be eaten all at once. Even chocolate candies like M&M’s will make a mess if dropped on the floor board of the car.
Check the ingredients on your “healthy” granola bars, which often have as much sugar and fat as a candy bar!
Fruit vs. Candy
Look to dried fruit as an alternative to candy. Craisins, chocolate covered raisins and yogurt covered dried fruit is a delicious snack. Even cut fruit, like apple slices, served up into individual cups can be fun enough to serve as a sweet diversion.
Swaps for Healthy Road Trip Snacks
Road trips are a part of your vacation, so it’s okay to relax a little more than usual. The best things to do is find a balance. Packing a sweet treat like candy to serve along with sliced apples may be more ideal than relying only on junk food.
If the kids think you’re stopping for Starbucks, McDonalds and Takis at each town, reset that thinking right away. Discuss your road trip dining plans with everyone ahead of the trip so they know what to expect. Keep these favorite healthy road trip snacks on hand when cravings start.
A Balance of Sweet & Salty
Snacks that have a salty and sweet combo are what I (and my sweet tooth!) gravitate towards. Certain trail mixes can contain a high percentage of candy or sugar, negating the healthy parts, like the protein-packed nuts.
Look for a blend with a nice mix of nuts and seeds with dark chocolate for sweetness. Nuts contain the healthy fats which are good for you, so feel free to indulge!
What About Energy Drinks?
When driving the long-haul, grabbing a caffeinated energy drink may be tempting. Be sure to check the label to see how much sugar each can contains. You’ll probably be better off with black coffee or diet cola to avoid the sugar high, and the subsequent crash.
Crunchy Snack Swaps
Chips like Pringles are a popular road trip choice, but many are high in sodium and covered in artificial flavorings.
Consider multi-grain chips, low-sodium popcorn or crackers if you’re craving a crunch. If you like a chip and dip combo, nix the fatty bean dip or sour cream mix. Choose this savory hummus and pretzel combo!
Healthier Meal Options
Looking for something heartier but don’t want to go there with the convenience store hot dog or pizza slice? The corner store options will be more limited than the grocery, but there are some decent items to be found in the aisles.
Try a can of tuna packed in olive oil, stuffed into a pita pocket. This meal is a great source of protein and easy to make on the go.
Head for the open fridge area in the convenience store. Often there are “heat & eat” meal items like bean burritos and egg & cheese biscuits. These can be warmed in the microwave on site.
Drinkable yogurt or fruit & veggie smoothies are another great idea, especially for those who want to get back on the road.
Is Chewing Gum OK in the Car?
When snack time is over, everyone in our car gets a bottle of water to drink and I hand out sugar-free gum to chew. Sugar-free gum is a great after-snack choice.
Naturally, don’t give gum to toddlers or to children that can’t keep it in their mouth. For my kids, gum signals that snack time is over. It also cleanses food from the teeth and can help with ear pressure when traveling through higher elevations. It’s a road-trip must-have for us!