Mission Possible: My Top Choices For “Healthy” Rest Stop Food


nationallampoonroadtrip

It’s that time of year again, when you pack up the car and hit the road!  Hurray!

You’re off for a long weekend!  You’re picking up the kids from college, or visiting relatives, or finally visiting the beach after the long winter.  In an ideal world, you’ll pre-pack a cooler with fresh salads, veggies, fruit, hummus, nuts, protein bars, and water.  And your kids will be in the back seat, making polite conversation with each other, saying, “Mother, may I please have another carrot?”  We’ll all play the license plate game and sing “99 Bottles Of Beer On the Wall” joyously.

I can dream, can’t I?

Maybe this sounds more familiar to you:  You rush out the front door, cram your whining, fighting kids into the back seat, and figure you’ll just pick up something to eat at the rest stop when you get gas (gas for both the car and you, that is!).  Your choices will range from bad to worse, and of course, you’ll just want to get back into the car and get on the road again as quickly as possible.

But after all that healthy eating you’ve done during the week, you really hate to blow it on lousy rest-stop food.  All that effort would go down the drain.  Plus, you won’t have time to exercise today, since you’re in the car for the long haul.

So let’s head down I-95 together, stop at a typical rest stop, and decide what  the healthiest choices are on their menus.   Keep in mind that I use the term “healthy” loosely.  The food isn’t going to be organic or GMO-free.  We’re lucky if the food is even fresh.  In fact, even referring to it as “food” is generous.  But let’s do the best we can to minimize the damage, shall we?

As I step out of the car, my radar will be up to find the best nutritional bargain possible.  I am looking to maximize protein while limiting calories, sugars and starches.

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At any location, the beverages will be either tea, coffee or sparkling water – no crappucinos or liquid candy (aka soda).  Usually, the choices for food are gas stations, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, or Starbucks.  (If you see a sign for a nearby Panera’s or Chipotle, go there instead – it’s worth the extra miles.)

Okay, here we go:

Option #1:  Gas Station or Convenience Store

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First, see if there’s any fresh food in a refrigerator.  If there is, grab a hard-boiled egg, an apple or banana, or a pre-made turkey sandwich if it isn’t too soggy (check the date). Other good choices are cheese sticks, cottage cheese, or yogurt.  If there’s no refrigerator, find a single-serving bag of nuts (not trail mix), or a protein bar (not an “energy” or “power” bar – those are code words for sugar.)  If you like turkey or beef jerky, go for it.   Grab a bottle of water and you’re back on the road!

Option #2:  Subway

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Subway can be confusingly upfront about the nutrition facts; there’s pressure to order fast, and I have to get my glasses on to read the fine print.  I’ll save you the time here!  If they’re still serving breakfast, have the egg white sandwich on flatbread.   They also sell a number of salads: either top it with guacamole or the honey mustard dressing.   Sandwiches:  the 6″ roasted chicken, roast beef, or Subway club, served on 9-grain wheat bread, and pile on as many veggies as you can.  If you’d like a spread, opt for guacamole rather than the suspicious-looking dressing. You can check out their menu here:  Subway Fresh Fit Menu

Option #3:  Dunkin’ Donuts

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Danger, Danger, Danger!!!!  Know what you’re doing before you walk in here.  If you know you can’t resist the donuts, go to another spot.  If you dare to stay,  choose the bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin or the egg white veggie sandwich on flatbread.  I don’t see anything else worth ordering that won’t send you into a sugar-induced coma behind the wheel. To see what they call the “DD Smart Menu,” click here:   DD Smart Menu

Option #4: McDonald’s

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I always laugh when I see people staring at the McDonald’s menu, because – hasn’t it been the same for the past 25 years?  Actually, no!  McDonald’s is attempting to make their food healthier.  Once again, this is not ideal food, but we’re trying to make the best of the given situation.  If they’re still serving breakfast, go for the Egg McMuffin or the Egg White McMuffin.  Their Premium Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken (not Crispy Chicken) is also a good option.  If you want to know more, check out McDonald’s Nutrition Facts here:  McDonald’s Nutrition Facts

Option #5:  Starbuck’s

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Step one:  AVERT YOUR EYES!  They put all the tempting treats at eye level with you as you wait in line.  It’s similar to the way grocery stores put candy at the register so you or your kids will fall for the easy grab food.  Stick it to the man and look away. Stay away from the crappucino with two shots of s**t.   You’ll be okay with either the low-fat turkey bacon sandwich or the spinach feta breakfast wrap.   Yes, it’s all pre-fab food, but you’ll know what you’re getting if you look here first:  Starbuck’s 35 Under 350

Sbarro’s – Don’t bother.  I checked the menu.  The salads are so woefully small, you’ll be hungry before you get to the next exit.  Keep going.  You won’t get out of there for less than 600 calories.

Pinkberry – Do not stop here.  Yes, yogurt is good for you, and maybe the recipe starts with yogurt, but by the time it gets here, it’s not yogurt anymore.

Cinnabon – If you go here, you know exactly what you’re about to do.  Don’t play dumb.

That’s my take on rest stop food.  Look for protein, and limit the starch, sugar, and processing as much as possible.

What do you think?  Did I miss any healthy options that you see at rest stops?