I try my best to eat a plant-based diet, but I’m not 100% vegan (or even vegetarian) most days. But I recognize the benefits of a diet that is minimally-processed, whole foods, and low in animal products (read more on why I’m not committed to 100% vegan in this blog post).
But tell me this doesn’t happen to you: you’re three days into your whole foods diet, and then you go on a weekend trip, find yourself starving a few hours into the drive, and your only option for food is either stopping at a fast food restaurant or a gas station. What are you supposed to eat??
Eating processed foods is all too easy, but it’s important to stick it out and continue to eat as cleanly as you can (for the many benefits of eating whole, unprocessed foods, check out this article).
This winter, I’ve taken more weekend trips than I usually do at this time of year (usually, the snow keeps me in). I’ve found myself at gas stations, running in and out of grocery stores, or passing through the fast food line—starving, but scrambling to find something healthy. Here’s what I’ve learned from leaving the house unprepared.
Changing your mind about mealtime
Before I get into this list, I have to make a disclaimer: one of the mind-shifts that helps me most in my health journey is shattering the idea that certain foods only belong in certain meals.
I used to think, eggs and pancakes are breakfast foods and salads are only for lunch and dinner. If you’re committed to a plant-based lifestyle, shake these thoughts as fast as you can!
I ate a veggie-packed stew for breakfast this morning, and it was incredibly satisfying.
This attitude helps you break through the cereal boundary to get more fresh, nutritional foods in your breakfasts (including veggies). This mindset will also come in handy when you’re traveling—you may not have many options, but keep your mind open to options that may be healthy and plant-based (even if they’re not specific to what mealtime it is).
With that out of the way, here are my top picks for healthy, travel-friendly meals on-the-go.
8 Plant-Based Travel-Friendly Food Options
1. A Banana
This is hands-down my favorite. Bananas are so easy, filling, and dirt cheap! You can’t beat a fifty-cent snack. I’ve been hard-pressed to find a gas station that doesn’t have at least a few bananas somewhere on the premises (if you don’t see them, try the ice cream counter).
2. A Cup of Fruit
Many rest stops and gas stations are now serving fruit cups with berries, citrus, and all sorts of other goodies! If you’re on a diet that allows yogurt, this is also usually an option at on-the-go shops.
3. Chopped Veggies
Similar to the cup of fruit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find to-go cups of carrots and celery at certain quick stops. Don’t give in to the potato chips…it’s possible to eat healthy on the go!
4. A Wendy’s or McDonald’s Salad
Although fast food is not ideal, it is possible to get something healthy and filling. I haven’t kept up on the latest Wendy’s or McD’s salads, but when I do go, they are usually able to accommodate custom orders. So, don’t be afraid to ask them to hold the cheese or the fried chicken! Be mindful of the dressing you choose as well – many salad dressings contain highly-processed soybean or vegetable oils (which really don’t fit into a high-nutrient, whole foods diet).
5. Naked Juices
I love the Green Machine and Berry versions of this juice brand. I like that the Naked juices contain enough calories and vitamins to give you some energy on the go (more like a small meal than just a drink).
6. Sunflower Seeds (or Other Nuts and Seeds)
Sunflower seeds seem to be readily available at most gas stations, and they make a great protein-packed snack! Other options that your rest stop may or may not have: pistachios, almonds, peanuts, or hemp seed snacks.
7. A Clif or Lara Bar
There’s some debate about whether these bars (particularly Clif) should be consumed on a plant-based, whole foods diet. However, my thinking is this: if it’s a choice between something sugary with little nutrients, a Clif or Lara bar, or eating nothing, I think the best choice is the bar. Maybe I’m biased, but I love both of these brands! So much so that I need to cut myself off from time to time. My favorite flavors are the Coconut Cream Pie Lara Bar and the Blueberry Crisp Clif Bar.
8. A Chia Cup
This is not the most common rest stop snack, but it’s so worth it if you can find one! These chia “puddings” are pre-packaged and usually made with coconut milk. Hello, healthy fats!
Planning ahead is your friend when you’re plant-based
I live in the United States, and our food culture is basically the opposite of whole foods and plant-based. Although the tides are turning, the mainstream culture still relies on meat to take center-stage, with processed starch coming in as a close second.
If it’s at all possible to prep a meal (or even a few snacks) ahead of time, you’ll thank yourself later. Not only will you avoid a situation where you may not be able to find something to eat on the go, but you’ll also have a little extra something on-hand in case you get hungry between meals. After all, if you’re truly cutting out processed foods, you’re also cutting out a massive amount of calories, which can leave you hungry!
A few of my favorite in-the-car or public-transportation-safe snacks are:
- Apples and nut butter. The nut butter can be a little messy on-the-go, but if you pack it in a cup or tupperware ahead of time, this can help.
- Chopped veggies. Let’s face it: eating a salad while driving is a hazard. There’s no way you can hold the bowl, a fork, and the wheel with the same amount of precision. Skip the lettuce and pre-cut a few carrot and pepper sticks for your drive.
- Figs or dates. These high-fiber goodies are delicious, and packed with fiber to help keep you full while you travel!
- A smoothie. I will admit, smoothies are one of my favorite snacks to bring on a trip, but they are not always the most convenient. Make sure yours has a top to contain the mess if you can’t wash the cup right away. Smoothies are great because you can load them up with protein, fruits veggies, and carbs!
Traveling can certainly put a strain on your diet plans–but it doesn’t have to! Know that you have options while you’re out and stick to your goals!
Do you have other go-to travel snacks or meals? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!