Do Your Road Trips Mean Dashboard Dining?

person eating in car

How many ketchup drips, chocolate smears, coffee stains, and greasy crumbs do you have in your car (or on your clothes)?

Is your road trip an endless food-fest of fast food, junk food, and all kinds of snacks — with your dashboard or vacant passenger seat acting as your table?

If you’re nodding your head, you’re a dashboard diner. What is it about mini-mart and rest stop food that seems to touch that primal urge to eat sweet and/or salty stuff that’s probably loaded with calories and lacking in nutrition?

The Trap And The Danger

When you walk through rest stop or gas station doors, there’s an endless stream of high carb, high fat, high calorie, and processed food just begging you to plunk down your money so you can immediately indulge (watch how many people start eating the food they’ve bought before they even pay).

The real danger – aside from the damage to your waistline and poor nutrition — is that high-carb processed foods spike then crash your blood sugar — making you really tired and cranky.

  • Drowsy drivers are most definitely not safe drivers.
  • Cranky drivers make life miserable for everyone in the car – not a great tone to set if you’re going on vacation.

 Some Mini-Mart And Rest-Stop “Gotchas”

Candy is an impulse purchase; 49 percent of shoppers admit to unplanned purchases of candy. It seems that we want to treat ourselves and candy is an affordable luxury.

Check out the placement of candy the next time you’re in a mini-mart or rest stop — it’s positioned to grab your attention. Vividly colored wrappers reach out to you from high-traffic areas of the store: the checkout area, the aisle that leads to the check out, and on the way to the restrooms.

Visually, you’re going to be assaulted by the unending display of colorful packages, so have a plan for what you will and will not buy. If you’ve decided you want M&Ms go straight to them and don’t get sidetracked by the large display of new kinds of chips, seasonal displays, or the latest and greatest deal on a king-sized package of some kind of candy.

Coffee, unlike candy, coffee isn’t an impulse purchase. Nearly 96% of customers intend to buy a cup of coffee before they walk in. Here’s the impulse buy: stores put candy, baked goods, and chips — near the coffee to entice you to buy them. As a man standing in line at a gas station mini-mart muttered, “I stop here for coffee every morning and I’ve gained 20 pounds since they put in the Krispy Kreme donut display between the door and the cash register.”

Helpful Tips

Nuts have protein and crunch, won’t cause swings in your blood sugar, and are almost always stocked. Tread a little gently — nuts aren’t low in calories. For a one-ounce serving of nuts you might find at rest stops:

  • 49 shelled pistachios, 162 calories
  • 23 almonds, 169 calories
  • 18 cashews, 163 calories
  • 19 pecans, 201 calories
  • 10-12 macadamias, 203 calories
  • 39 peanuts (technically a legume), dry roasted, 170 calories

Some mini-marts have fruit (bonus: oranges and bananas come in their own natural wrapper and don’t have to be washed) and almost all have dried fruit — but balance the higher sugar content of the dried fruit with the fat and protein in the nuts.

Sometimes you can find individual bowls of Cheerios or whole grain cereals, although check labels because some cereals are loaded with sugar. Grab a small container of low-fat milk or a container of yogurt to go with it.

Protein bars can be good, better, and best. Check the labels for higher protein and lower sugar. Some can be the equivalent of a candy bar and are so large (with so many calories) that they are made to be meal replacements. A protein bar for a snack should be around 150 calories. Meal replacement bars have around 300 calories or more. Look for at least 15 grams of protein.

If you’re really hungry, choose a sandwich or burrito over donuts, pastry, and cookies. Check out how fresh it is, though. What’s appealing early in the morning when the shelves are first stocked might not be so appealing at 10PM when it’s been sitting around all day and lots of people have picked up the sandwich, squeezed it, and put it back again.

Beef jerky or beef sticks (or nuggets) are good, portable protein snacks. A one-ounce serving usually has around 80 calories and 5 grams of fat or less.

A hard-boiled egg is a good choice, too. Just make sure it’s been refrigerated and hasn’t been sitting around for a couple of days!

If you really want crunchy stuff, stick with popcorn, pretzels, soy crisps, or baked or popped chips in single-serve bags to keep portions in check. Sometimes bags might look small, but contain multiple servings. Remember that the salty stuff will make you thirsty so stock up on water. There’s something to be said for snacks that take time to eat one by one when you’re driving.

Remember to drink water. It’s easy to confuse thirst with hunger so you can end up eating extra calories when a glass of water is really all you need. If plain water doesn’t cut it, try drinking flavored still or sparkling water. Dehydration can cause fatigue and there’s some evidence that even mild dehydration can slow metabolism and drain your energy.

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