Whether for work or leisure, drive far enough and eventually, there will be stretches on the road where dining options are mainly gas stations or chain fast food restaurants. Building a healthy meal may seem dismal at this point, as convenience store snacks are mostly processed foods void of nutritional value.
However, with some basic principles in place, it is still possible to build a healthy gas station meal. Find out how to build a healthy meal almost anywhere!
3 Steps to Build a Healthy Gas Station Meal
It can be possible to build a healthy meal out of gas station snacks with these three principles below. Keep in mind some gas stations may have more or fewer options within these steps, but, regardless, building a healthy meal can be done.
Following these three steps will ensure you are getting fuel that will sustain you instead of sending blood sugar up and down, leaving you hungry again at the next gas station stop.
1. Pick a Protein
A first step in building a healthy meal from the gas station is to find a protein source. Protein provides satiety at a meal and can lower the desire for looking for more snacks soon after eating.
Mayo Clinic suggests 15-25 grams of protein for healthy meal building. Protein sources available at gas stations can include:
• Hard-boiled egg (or two). These would be found in a refrigerated section of the store if the gas station carries them. One egg provides 7 grams of protein, so choose two eggs to meet the recommended protein range or pair with another protein source.
• Greek yogurt or string cheese. Also found in the refrigerated section, these two dairy options can be found at gas stations. Not only are they a good source of protein, but they are also a good source of calcium.
• Protein bars. Protein bars come in a range of calories, protein, and ingredients. For the healthiest protein option for building a meal, choose a bar that provides between 15-25 grams of protein, has minimal ingredients, less than 10 grams of added sugar, and does not have hydrogenated fats on the ingredient label.
If looking for a plant-based protein source, a plant-based bar can be a good alternative from the gas station.
• Dried meat. Dried meats are a good source of protein and may come in either beef or turkey options. Turkey options are usually lower in fat and often lower in sodium compared to beef options. If there are several dried meat options available, choose beef jerky or other meat sticks with the lowest sodium option for the healthiest alternative.
• Can or packet of tuna. A pop-top can or a packet of tuna can be lean protein sources available at gas stations. Pair with whole-grain crackers for a sandwich-like, filling combo. Gas stations may have mini packets of mustard and/or mayo to mix with tuna for added flavor.
Note: Be a considerate passenger. This unlikely road trip food may be best opened outside the car if traveling with other people!
2. Find the Fiber
Finding a fiber source at the gas station may take more than a casual peruse of the snack aisle, but, nonetheless, fiber sources can be found. Like protein, having a good source of fiber at meals can help keep blood sugar levels stable after eating and keep satiety levels high.
Ideally, pick 1-2 of these fiber sources as part of a healthy meal. Fiber sources at the gas station can include:
• Fruit. Fresh fruits - such as bananas, apples, or oranges - are found at most gas stations. Keep in mind these may not be in the aisles; they may be in a fruit bowl by the cash register or on an end cap of an aisle. Single-serve dried fruit can also be found amongst snacks and can be added to nuts or mixed in yogurt.
• Cut up vegetables. While this nutrient-dense fiber source may not be available at all gas stations, some will have a variety of cut-up vegetables, like carrots and celery, in the refrigerated section of the store. If in luck, salads or other veggie offerings may also be found!
• Legumes. We are not suggesting opening a can of beans as part of a healthy meal! However, legumes may be found in a few other places in convenience stores. For example, hummus may be found in the refrigerated section and can provide an extra source of fiber (along with protein and healthy fats).
Dried chickpeas may be found at some stores and can also serve as a part of a healthy meal from a gas station.
• Whole grains. While chips are a common gas station snack, choose a whole grain for a higher fiber carbohydrate choice. Whole-grain crackers can be paired with tuna, as mentioned above, but they can also be paired with hummus, cheese, or simply as a side with other healthy snacks.
Another way to get a whole grain is to look for plain oatmeal packets. Simply mix with hot water in a cup or bowl available at the store.
3. Choose Heart-Healthy Fats
Most gas station snacks are fried and can be high in saturated fats or vegetable oils. Most Americans tend to get too much of these pro-inflammatory oils from fast foods, chips, commercially made baked goods and other processed snacks.
Choosing foods higher in heart-healthy fats, like these listed below, is the final step toward building a healthy, balanced meal:
• Nuts: Nuts are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Nuts could also be seen as another protein source, but they can also count as a healthy fat component for a meal. Keep in mind individual nut butters can also be a healthy fat choice for a gas station meal.
Nuts or nut butter can be mixed into oatmeal, yogurt, or paired with fruit.
• Guacamole: Single-serve guacamole may be found in the refrigerated section and can be paired with whole-grain crackers or as a dip for jerky or meat sticks.
• Dark chocolate: Skip the milk chocolate candy bars and instead choose 1-2 ounces of dark chocolate for a healthier fat source and a way to end a healthy gas station meal. Dark chocolate is a healthier choice compared to milk chocolate, as it is a source of antioxidants and minerals.
Healthy Gas Station Drinks
What comes to mind when thinking of gas station drinks? Usually those high in sugar like soda, energy drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, or sweet coffee drinks. Instead of turning to these sugary drinks at the gas station, choose a healthy drink to go with a healthy gas station meal.
Examples of lower, sugar and healthier gas station drinks can include:
• Sparkling water
• Hot tea
• Unsweetened iced tea
• Low-fat milk (also a good protein source)
• Coconut water
Building a Healthy Gas Station Meal Recap
While gas stations are not known for their healthy food options, it is possible to cut through the typical unhealthy gas station snacks to put together a healthy meal. The main principles of putting together a healthy meal from a gas station are finding options for foods that provide protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats.
Lastly, do not overlook a healthy drink option. Most gas station drink options are high in sugar, but there are healthier options to choose from such as sparkling water, tea, kombucha, milk, or coconut water.