Caroline Shugart column mug

Road trip — You pack your bag, gas up the car and set off. Maybe you are anticipating Aunt Martha’s pineapple pancakes on her birthday, or freshly caught Montana trout. It could be a short trip to Boise, or a much longer journey to New Orleans. In any case, you probably are going to pack some snacks for the road. That makes sense, because you want to stay hydrated, satiated and alert for the entire trip.

I recently returned from a road trip to the Yosemite area in California, to the Pacific coast, then to the Mendocino Complex Fire and back to Utah. Yes, I drove through hazy, smoky skies for many hundreds of miles. Overall, I spent about 37 hours on the road, stopping for gas and a stretch about every 3 hours. And I snacked. Mindfully.

Now, I didn’t snack every second, but I snacked a lot because it helps me stay alert while driving. Driving is a sedentary activity and, when I was driving, I wasn’t maintaining my normal schedule of exercise (walking, yoga, and running). To maintain my health, I always try to control my food and beverage environment. I ate my usual whole grain cereal, unsweetened yogurt, nut and fruit breakfast before I left.  For the road, I prepared by bringing along a cooler. My snack foods were a bag of baby carrots and sliced bell peppers, a tub of roasted red pepper hummus, a dozen apples, a chunk of white cheddar cheese, a loaf of Crumb Brothers’ sliced rye bread, a bag of nonfat microwave popped popcorn, two cans of diet soda and a container of ice water. I also brought along a bag of licorice, and six lollipops.

Distracted driving is distracted driving, whether you are using your cell phone, eating a breakfast burrito, or applying your make-up at 75 mph. Don’t do it. Before I left, I arranged my drink in the cup holder, safely positioned my snacks between the seats, buckled my seat beat and headed out.  I wasn’t depending on what I could find at the gas service stations along I-80, which was probably ultra-processed, loaded with salt and fat and expensive. Take a look at the nutrition label for that bag of chips you picked up. Yes, a serving is only 120 calories. But there are 10 servings in the bag.  As you drive mile after mile, I doubt that anyone could limit their intake to one to two servings. I just stop for gas and avoid the temptation of buying anything else.

Mindful eating means being aware of your foods, and how you eat them. Enjoy that carrot with the hummus. Choose healthy foods that you enjoy — a good rule for all your meals. Be purposeful.  If I’m going to splurge on some treat, I want to enjoy it, not wolf it down in a car.

Before I left, I made myself a cheddar cheese sandwich for lunch instead of stopping at a sub-par restaurant. Since I was visiting friends and family along the way, I brought cut-up veggies and my favorite low-calorie dip to share during happy hour and whole wheat tortillas with nonfat refried beans and salsa for an easy dinner. I brought a few cans of my favorite O’Douls, a case of carbonated flavored sugar-free water and Crystal Light beverage drops so I would have alternatives when needed. And I brought along healthy breakfast items to share.

I restocked my cooler during the trip at grocery stores, adding some biscotti and fresh pears to my other supplies and avoided all fast food outlets.

Having a road trip is not a reason to abandon your healthy eating goals. Plan ahead, be mindful, eat healthy foods you enjoy and avoid being hungry. When I returned to Utah, I got right back into my usual routine, none the worse for wear. That was important, because I ran the Top of Utah half marathon four days later. Eat Well to Be Well!

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.