A little planning goes a long way in saving money, saving time and feeling more energized on a long drive.
Chickpea Salad Sandwich
Credit: Photography / Caitlin Bensel, Food Styling / Ruth Blackburn

Pictured Recipe: Chickpea Salad Sandwich

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make Earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life. 

Summer vacations can mean a lot of things, and one thing they've always meant for me are road trips. I live in Vermont while the rest of my family is in Michigan, so every summer I pack up my car and head back to the Great Lakes State for a sun-filled weekend at the lake. Though I don't look forward to the length of the drive, I always look forward to the road-trip snacks

That said, buying all of your snacks and meals on the road can leave a little to be desired. Options are limited and the quality of the food might not be as high as what you're used to eating (which might leave you feeling less-energized while driving). Plus, stopping to pick up food can be time-consuming and lead to last-minute impulse purchases. Instead, I plan ahead and pack a cooler of delicious, healthy, budget-friendly foods that I can nosh on all the way to my destination. Here are my top five go-to snacks when I have a long drive ahead (note: all snacks are packed in a cooler with ice packs so they stay at a safe temp for the duration of my drive).

Veggies & Hummus 

One thing that is notoriously hard to get while traveling (whether it's by air or on land) is fresh produce. That's why the first thing on my list is a big bag of mixed vegetables alongside our recipe for Classic Hummus. This might include sliced bell peppers, carrots, cucumbers, radishes, celery or whatever I have in my fridge that won't last while I'm out of town. It's a great way to cut down on food that would be wasted while having a healthy, hydrating snack on the road. Plus, hummus adds protein and fiber to up the satiety factor. 


Similar to vegetables, fresh fruit can be hard to come by when you're on the road. I always pack some apple slices, a pint of berries or a few bananas in the cooler for a refreshing snack that satisfies any sweet craving. To make the fruit into a more filling snack, I'll pair it with a pouch of nut butter (or a single serving of nut butter in a reusable container). 

Homemade Trail Mix 

Sure, fruits and veggies are great and all, but sometimes I just need something crunchy to munch on while I count down the miles. Instead of buying pre-made trail mix at a rest stop, I make my own at home before I leave. It helps me use up the pantry goods I have on hand, like nuts, cereal, dried fruit and chips (and maybe some chocolate). Plus, homemade trail mix can be made sweet or savory (or a bag of each) to suit your preferences or any dietary restrictions you have. I'll usually make this in a reusable food-storage container to keep it from getting smashed in the car. As an added bonus, it can be kept safely at room temperature, so you can save cooler space for other snacks.  

Veggie-Packed Sandwich 

Here at EatingWell, we love a good veggie sandwich, but it can be hard to find one that checks all the boxes while you're on the road. And you can make your own sandwich at home that is healthier and more affordable. Before I leave, I make sure the bread I'm using is well-toasted (read: lightly browned on both sides) to help keep it from getting soggy as it sits. Then I'll layer on a nutritious and flavorful spread like hummus, mashed avocado or tzatziki, add some cheese and pile on as many thinly sliced veggies and leafy greens as I can. It's also a great way to use up any leftovers you have in the fridge, because anything can be a sandwich ingredient if you're creative enough. Wrap it up tightly in plastic wrap or reusable food wrap and stow it away in the cooler until hunger strikes. After the first time I did this, I vowed to never skip making a homemade sandwich for a road trip again. 

Coconut Water

Whether you're flying, boating or driving, one of the biggest challenges while traveling is staying hydrated. Trust me, it's worth the extra bathroom stops to meet your water intake needs and avoid the nasty side effects of dehydration, like mental fog and headaches. To prevent dehydration, I'll stash some coconut water at the top of my cooler for easy access. It delivers potassium, phosphorus and magnesium to help me get plenty of electrolytes, along with the water. Plus, it can come in some fun flavors like pineapple and mango, but be sure to choose unsweetened and watch the added sugar content to avoid an energy crash down the line.