Dietitian top-picks for healthy snacks that travel well
- 4 Minutes Read
Are you looking for healthy travel snacks for plane, train, or car? Check out our dietitian's favorites to keep them as healthy as possible.
Need ideas for healthy snack foods convenient for all types of travel, even when there are no coolers, liquids, and gels allowed? Some of these snacks are slightly processed, but they fare pretty well in calories and sodium content compared to what you find in service stations, vending machines, or train or plane service.
I am not talking about your father's beef jerky. There are many healthier choices among all surf and turf types. Jerky is chiefly dried meat or fish with seasoning but not necessarily high in salt, depending on the brand and flavor. My current favorite is Krave Black Cherry BBQ Pork. My other favorite is any brand of salmon jerky. Most jerky will contain about 90 calories, 11-15 grams protein, and anywhere between 300 and 700 mg of sodium per ounce.
Snack to-go packs are easy, portable, nonperishable until opened, and offer satisfying protein in tuna, salmon, chicken, or turkey. These can be a bit high in sodium. For the "salad" snack packs with crackers, most will contain about 150-200 calories, 10-14 grams protein, and 15 grams total carbs. Containers with plain fish or poultry will be lower in calories and higher in protein.
Common in children's lunchboxes, cheese sticks or little bricks are perishable, but they travel well unrefrigerated for about four hours or more. If you freeze them ahead, they will easily last an entire day of travel. You don't have to "stick" with only mozzarella sticks (a.k.a. string cheese). Many aged and reduced-fat cheeses fill your favorite market's dairy or deli case these days. My favorite is Tillamook's Cheddar Tilla-Moos. Most cheese snacks contain 60 (reduced fat) to 90 calories and five to six grams of protein.
Protein bars come in handy when you are super hungry and do not have access to other foods. Most high protein/lower carb bars contain about 200 calories and 15 grams or more of protein. When not flying, consider high-protein/low-carb prepackaged shakes which are nonperishable until opened. My favorite is light or regular Muscle Milk Vanilla Creme or Banana Creme (minimal aftertaste).
Whole apples travel well, do not need refrigeration, do not bruise easily, and can even be eaten without washing your hands if they are held carefully at the ends. They are not messy fruits. Toss the leftover core into a small plastic bag. One medium-sized apple contains about 72 calories and 19 grams of total carbs.
Seedless grapes travel well in plastic zipper bags. They are less likely to burst than berries, and you can eat the entire seedless grape without dealing with seeds or pits. If you hold the bag while pushing out the grapes, you can eat these without having to wash your hands. Twelve grapes contain about 60 calories and 15 grams of total carbs.
Forget candy. Pack lightweight dried fruit instead, but use portion control to limit both excess calories and carbs. The dried fruits below are usually made without any added oil or sugar. They contain about 60 calories and 15 grams total carbs:
Nuts and seeds make healthy travel snacks since they are nonperishable, lightweight, satisfying, and nutritious. Use portion control to limit calories and choose unflavored varieties (e.g., avoid BBQ, chocolate-covered, etc.) to limit added sodium and sugar. There is no single type of nut or seed best for health, so mix it up according to taste. One ounce (1/4 cup) on average will contain 150-170 calories, 4-6 grams of protein, and 2-3 grams of fiber.
Squeeze packets are extremely easy to use. They do not require utensils, take up less space, and are lighter and less messy than packing a whole jar. Out of the many brands you can choose, include any natural and organic nut butter. Most packets (usually one ounce) contain about 170-180 calories, 7-8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.
Fresh veggies are good for a day unrefrigerated at room temperature if you consume them the same day you pack them. The trick with veggies is to clean and slice them at home and refrigerate until time to go. Cut-up sweet peppers, zucchini, and carrot sticks make perfect healthy travel snacks. They do not bruise or brown quickly and have a refreshing, thirst-quenching taste. Buy bagged baby carrots to save time.
Some of us want to indulge a bit during travel. Instead of blowing tons of calories on junk food, look to the indulgent treats below instead. Warning: These treats do NOT travel well in high heat but do fine at room temperature.
My favorite is Sunsweet Dried Plums- four plums contain 80 calories, 21 grams of total carbohydrate, and 2 grams of fiber. Caution: Overeating these will not only give you a lot of calories but will likely cause loose stools or diarrhea.
Great for a little pick-me-up and less calorie-dense than chocolate-covered nuts or plain chocolate, one ounce of espresso beans contains about 130-150 calories and 15 grams total carbs. Larger beans will have a lower-calorie density than small beans since there is more espresso bean than chocolate by weight. They are usually not a high risk for overeating unless you are impervious to caffeine.
Choose 70% cacao or higher-content chocolate for more antioxidants and limit to one ounce (about 1/3 of a standard high-quality chocolate bar). One ounce is about 170 calories and 15 grams total carbs.
It is easy to forget to hydrate while traveling. If you are traveling by plane, pack a collapsible plastic bottle. Fill it at a water fountain after passing airport security. My favorite reusable bottle for plane travel and sightseeing is the Vapur brand 0.5-liter collapsible container. It fits perfectly in my travel purse, is not too heavy when full, and it NEVER LEAKS!
If you have a little extra room on a road trip, an ice chest or cooler will expand your healthy travel foods and drinks menu. Have a safe and enjoyable trip!
This blog was reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES on May 31, 2021.
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