Road Trip Dining

Don't let fast-food joints and minimarts knock you off track on your next road trip.
Road Trip Dining

Picture this: You're driving on a dark highway somewhere between the Grand Canyon and St. Louis, watching sign after sign for fast-food go by. You're starving and tired, and that's a dangerous time to pull over and try to resist a Big Mac.

With a little careful planning, however, you can eat smart on the road and not succumb to temptation.

At the road stop
Most stops offer the typical fast-food options: burgers, fried chicken, maybe Mexican. If you're lucky, you'll happen upon a diner or a fast food chain that offers a wider range of foods. No matter where you end up, here's a basic rule of thumb: Keep portion sizes, unhealthy fats and sugar levels in check.

These guidelines not only help keep your weight loss on track, but they'll also make for a safer trip. Eating large meals on the road may leave you sluggish, even groggy—not exactly how you want to feel behind the wheel. A lighter, well-balanced meal is the ideal mix for staying alert at the wheel.

Here are a few food-specific tips to help keep your diet in check:

Stick with a plain, small burger. Forget the quarter-pounders, and don't even think about the Big Macs.

Chicken and Fish Sandwiches
Avoid fish sandwiches; they sound leaner, but in the hands of fast-food restaurants, they get drenched in unhealthy fat. Chicken sandwiches are all over the map calorie-wise; the grilled ones are usually a good bet, but only if you skip the mayo, dressing and cheese.

Tacos and Burritos
The smaller and simpler, the better; avoid the big ones ("Supremes"), and request no sour cream. Chicken or bean varieties are usually leaner than beef.

Vegetable toppings are best, the more the better. Stick to one to two slices, depending on their size; and avoid the personal or six-inch pizzas, which are often higher in fat and calories than two regular slices. Sometimes you can order the pizza without cheese as well.

French fries, onion rings, chicken nuggets. Save these for special occasions as they are high in fat and empty calories. The exception: sides of diner vegetables, often packaged together as an entrée. Anything steamed or boiled is fine. Baked beans are a good choice. But avoid the creamed corn and spinach, and only opt for mashed potatoes or mashed butternut squash if they're not laden with butter. A baked potato, dry rice or small side of pasta with marinara are good options, too. Quiz the server about their preparation method before ordering.

Pack your bags
Even though you'll end up eating most of your meals by the side of the road, you'll still need some snacks and beverages to keep you hydrated and to stave off excessive hunger and bingeing. You'll make better choices if you keep these in the car to tide you over:

A Water Bottle
It should contain at least one cup of water per person at all times. Staying hydrated is especially critical for the driver, since dehydration causes confusion, dizziness and fatigue.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Given the choices out there, this may be your only fresh produce for the day. Pre-slice them for convenience, so you're not biting into a peach with juice running down the steering wheel. Best bets: sliced apples (drizzle them with lemon juice to prevent browning), seedless grapes, pre-washed baby carrots or celery sticks.

Fat-free or Reduced-fat Crackers
You're better off with a whole-grain variety. Whole-grain foods supply you with a nice, steady source of energy as opposed to white, processed, flour-based foods, which send blood sugar (and energy) levels up and down quickly. Good choices: Hain fat-free whole-wheat crackers or Wasa multigrain crackers.