7 foods that fuel a healthy — and happy — family road trip

Whole Foods Shopping in Boston

If you think whipped cream is an unhealthy item to pack on your next family road trip, think again.

A puff of the frothy mixture topping your favorite fruit can be a healthy, natural alternative to sweet pastries or cookies on your next adventure. That’s one of the many surprising discoveries we made on a recent drive from our vacation home in the Wisconsin Dells to our cottage in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Of course, you should choose your whip carefully. We found that Land O’Lakes extra-creamy sugar-free whipped heavy cream, located in the dairy section, was naturally sweet, had only 10 calories per tablespoon, and was almost entirely made real heavy cream — no artificial stuff.

After all the food types I warned against in last week’s post, I bet you’re surprised at the whipped cream tip. And I’ll admit it, I didn’t allow for many of the most convenient and popular travel snacks.

But don’t worry. I’m not about to list off a number of recipes that require hours of preparation or add pounds to your girth. That’s not what our family travel blog is about. We talk about how real people really travel.

And believe me, I had more than one email this week asking: “Well, what food can I travel with?”

Car snacks should match your desire to stay fit and healthy, satisfy your craving, be practical to travel with, and limited the mess factor. My rule: it can be packed as long as I’m willing fix it, eat it and clean it up over and over again. If you think you’ll get upset when something you packed ends up across the back seat or in your lap, don’t serve it in the car. You don’t need the added stress. Wait until you’re at a rest area or park.

Here are 7 foods that I take with me:

Fruit. Sliced orchard fruit and fruit from the bush or vine are excellent sources of vitamins and nutrients. But let’s face it, many of them crush easily, stain and make a mess. Try eating a Georgia peach without wipes and napkins. Yikes! But some fruits, like apples and pears, aren’t keep their shape in the travel bag. Try dried fruit or fruit slices if you’re worried about a sticky mess, but watch your portion sizes. Avoid syrupy or sweetened fruits in a cup. If you have time, mix your favorite fruits in advance. Our favorite mix includes dried mango, banana, coconut, apple and currants.

Vegetables. It’s important to have something crunchy but don’t automatically pack chips or pretzels. They have too many calories and will leave you dehydrated or feeling bloated. Instead, take cucumber slices, carrot and celery sticks, endive, or edamame. The latter two are packed with vitamins and nutrients while the former three are very low in calorie, high in fiber and are an excellent source of water and satisfying crunch.

Yogurt. This is an extremely versatile food. Yogurt can be either a sweet or savory addition to your trip. Pick a plain yogurt that is high in protein and low in fat, mix in some Greek seasoning or pepper and garlic and you have a great tasting dipping sauce for your sliced veggies. On the sweeter side, add some honey, fruit and granola and you have a tasty meal for breakfast. Chobani Greek yogurt is our current favorite, since it is made near my parents in the Catskill Mountains of New York. But yogurt can be messy. If you have younger kids, wait until you’re pulled over at a picnic table before you serve. And pack plenty of wipes.

Cheese. Of my favorite cheeses, Swiss and Mozzarella are the best for the back seat. Not only are they good for you — make sure you’re picking out the low-fat variety — but you’ll feel full a little longer. They even taste better at room temperature. Both come in slices and sticks, which are easily packed and kept chilled in the cooler until you’re ready to eat. They also make a great meal wrapped up in our next food.

Deli meat. I’m sure you’ve been warned about high levels of sodium and nitrites in packaged meats, but there are a few brands that cut down the preservatives and hormones. Brands to look for are Applegate Farms, Boar’s Head Natural and Hormel 100% Natural. Choose flavorful naturally low-fat meats like chicken, turkey or ham. We like turkey pepperoni. Limit yourself to three or four slices, wrap them around a cheese stick or favorite veggie and you’ve got a great snack or meal starter. Dip in a savory yogurt dip when you’re taking a break at a rest stop.

Almonds. We like nuts and have found that almonds pack the most healthful bang for the buck. Our preference is raw almonds, but roasted almonds retain many of the benefits you want, as they are protein and fiber rich. According to research, almonds may reduce your risk of heart disease but also decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, and provide antioxidants to soak up the smaller amounts of free radicals. Watch your portion-size though, nuts are high in fat and calories. A little – about a tablespoon as a serving – goes a long way.

Water. Ditch the soda, energy drinks and juices and stick with water. You won’t regret it. If you must, flavor water by adding fruit or veggies to the bottle. My kids like raspberries and cucumber slices in their drink better than orange and lemon, but do whatever works for you. To stay well-hydrated doctors suggest you drink about a cup of water hourly when on the road, more if you’re under the weather, it’s hot outside or your activity level is up.

See, there are still a lot of car foods to choose from that make a healthy alternative to chips and cookies or stopping for fast food. I’m sure you could suggest a few more.

One last thing, no matter how old your travel mates are don’t forget to pack paper towels and wet wipes. I keep a travel-sized container in my dashboard and in the seat back pocket. You want to be prepared for anything. I also carry tissues and toilet paper for runny noses and in case there’s none at the rest stop. A plastic grocery bag or two is a good idea for trash management, too.

I’ll talk more about coolers and how to pack them next week, so if you’re worried about maintain food at the proper temperature, come back.