Driving 18 hours from Minnesota to Georgia, Krista and Tim Wignall passed the time talking, listening to music — and, of course, eating.
Cruising through Iowa, then St. Louis, crossing over into Kentucky, meandering through Nashville, then Chattanooga, the couple finally arrived in the Atlanta area on a springtime afternoon in March.
That’s a lot of potential munching time from point A to B, filling up on food, particularly as boredom sets in.
With summer upon us, many will hit the road to head to the beach or the mountains, go out west or stay closer to home. Wherever we go, we’ll drive — and eat — until we reach our final destination.
But rather than letting their healthy eating habits slide, the Wignalls stayed on track. Ever since losing about 40 pounds about four years ago, Krista Wignall has become more mindful about eating on the road.
They didn’t tear open bags of chips, order fries or sip on sugary soft drinks. Instead, Krista Wignall, 30, carefully planned snacks and meals, packing individual bags of almonds along with apples and plenty of water. She stopped at Subway, where she ordered her favorite on-the-road meal: a 6-inch roast beef sandwich with light mayo, extra pickles, one square of cheese (and no chips).
Experts say small, simple steps and planning ahead of time can go a long way in helping us avoid filling up on the first thing we see when we make a stop. Fast-food restaurants and gas stations also are offering a growing number of healthy options to keep calories and fat in check.
“I try to eat the same typical diet as if I were home,” said Krista Wignall, a publicist who recently moved to Newnan. “It also makes me feel good. What’s the point of arriving on your vacation or your destination feeling lousy?”
Felicia Stoler, a dietitian and co-host of the TLC reality series “Honey, We’re Killing the Kids,” believes healthy options abound. It’s just a matter of making good choices. Fast-food restaurants, such as Wendy’s, have salads. (But watch out for those extra calories in the high-fat dressing, cheese and crunchy toppings.) Chick-fil-A has grilled chicken, and parents can swap out fries for apple sauce for the kids meals. A grilled chicken sandwich or a simple, one-patty burger also can be a decent choice, especially when paired with fruit instead of fries.
Even gas stations, famous for frozen drinks, hot dogs and candy, are offering everything from apples to yogurts and cheese sticks.
Still, packing the food yourself is the best way to ensure healthy eating on the road. Stoler suggested fruit (washed and ready to go) — such as a bag of grapes and cut-up melon. Apple sauce in squeeze tubes is another of her favorite snacks. If you have a cooler, yogurt, hummus and baby carrots also make good options. It’s OK, she said, to mix in some treats like pretzels and tortilla chips. She likes packing Corazonas low-fat tortilla chips, and keeping Corazonas chocolate chip oatmeal bars handy, too.
Wendy Palmer, a registered dietitian at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, said packing your own healthy food is good for you and easier on the wallet. When she and her family recently drove from Atlanta to New York, she estimates the family spent $20 for enough food and snacks (which included turkey sandwiches, apples, bananas and crackers) for the entire trip. On the return, the family spent $30 on one stop (and just one meal) at Wendy’s.
In the end, the damage from one — or maybe two — days of overeating on the road may be limited. But experts say what we do on this trip can influence what we eat on the next trip or the next time we get in the car. In other words, it’s about establishing good habits and not associating traveling with poor eating.
And Stoler asks, do you really want to splurge on soda or fries during a quick stop while traveling, or do you want to save it?
“It’s those discretionary calories … I would rather save it and use them on ice cream when we are on vacation,” said Stoler, also author of the book “Living Skinny in Fat Genes.”
And one more thing, experts recommend. Don’t forget to seek out opportunities to move around and get exercise. Take a walk, do 25 jumping jacks, race a family member to the tree and back. Even after just five or 10 minutes, getting back in the car doesn’t seem so bad.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY EATING
Rethink your drink
Skipping just one 12-ounce soda saves 10 teaspoons of sugar. Choose water or low-fat milk instead of sugary sodas, sports drinks or juices. Can’t give up soda altogether? Replace at least one with water or order smaller sizes.
Swap your side
Healthy sides provide vitamins and minerals missing from most fast food. Skip the french fries.
Choose fruit, salad, yogurt, beans or a broth-based soup instead. If french fries are a must, order a small and share.
Keep it clean
These extras (mayo, tartar sauce, sour cream and special sauces) add calories without nutrients. Top salads with reduced or low-fat dressing; skip the bacon and croutons. Use ketchup, mustard, vinegar and pepper to flavor foods.
Pack healthy snacks such as fresh or dried fruit, nuts or peanut butter crackers. If you have a cooler, other great options include hummus, string cheese, veggies and yogurt. At rest stop vending machines, choose healthier options — nuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, granola bars, whole-grain crackers or pretzels.
(And don’t forget to pack water!)
Source: Strong4life.com, a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta website