Aug. 1. 2014
Eat Well
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

50 healthy travel snacks and recipe ideas from a dietitian nutritionist for your next car or plane trip.

Food is an integral part of life. Not just for sustenance or fuel, but for whole body nourishment on all levels. Food is social, emotional, enjoyable, and ultimately food is culture. If there’s one theme that runs through my philosophy about food and evidenced in my recipes, it’s global.

I’m constantly on the quest to experience the globe and other cultures through foods and revisiting what said culture does so beautifully by interpreting into my own plant-based and whole foods type of way.

Some of my best memories involve traveling in our cars and on planes to and from vacations. The one downside to traveling is the lack of healthy food. Whether you’re in transit via car stopping at a gas station, it’s a rarity to find something whole foods and if you do you can bet it’s poor quality.

In the same regard, when in airports you’re surrounded by tourist gift shops selling candies, processed snacks, and franchised restaurants all over. Again, another conundrum if you’re seeking healthy food, but especially for those of us following a specific lifestyle (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.). So what do you do? You prepare.

How to Prepare for a Long Day of Travel

One thing you can always count on to supply your body with energy, hydration, and food that’s going to keep you feeling awesome for when you arrive at your destination is your snack bag.

Seriously, I never leave my house before traveling without a filled water bottle and some of my other favorite travel snacks below. Being prepared is the key to eating healthy and feeling great while traveling.

Whether it’s preparing meals ahead of time on your batch cooking day for the week ahead or simply packing lunch for yourself and the family the day of, it all requires a level of preparedness.

I recommend planning ahead as much as possible. If you know you’re going to be en route for 8 hours, be sure to pack 8 hours worth of your normal food and plenty of snacks!

For example, let’s say your flight leaves around 3:00 pm and your arrival time is 10:00 pm. This is about 7-8 hours of travel time to account for. Pack whatever you would normally eat in that time frame including a dinner and a couple of snacks.

Also, remember that flights rarely go as planned without delays or layovers, so plan an extra meal or snack to make sure you’re still prepared in the case you’re stranded.

Another tip: Avoid eating out of boredom when traveling. Make yourself a rule or boundary time where you cut off food and snacking. I get it, traveling can lead to boredom, especially if you’re just sitting for hours.

Often I see people just mindlessly accepting the passed peanuts and snacking on them when, most likely, they’re not even hungry. Don’t eat just to eat or pass time but instead eat for energy and fuel.

What kind of snacks are best for traveling?

There are a couple of key things I look for when packing my travel snack bag including foods that are going to keep me hydrated with ease, keep digestion going smooth, are portable and require no refrigeration, and are loaded with antioxidants. When traveling, many of our digestive systems take a hit due to the change in scenery, routine, and diet. This can look like suffering from diarrhea or constipation.

To ensure you’re staying on track and feeling great, hydration is key along with good quality fiber-rich foods. Also, eating snacks with antioxidants will help fight any free radical damage that goes along with being in close quarters with others on a plane or in a car.

Simple Snacks for Traveling That Require No Prep

These snacks are a great option for when you don’t have a ton of time to prep before traveling. They’re also great options for everyday snacks to keep in your bag for all-day energy.

1. Fresh fruit: It’s convenient, travels well, requires no packaging package (i.e. skin), and can be found in many places. I’ve seen more fresh fruit in gas stations which is a great option for traveling on long stretches of highway.

2. Raw vegetables: Think carrots, sliced peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Raw veggies are great for the same reasons as fresh fruit but have the added benefit of less fructose content to avoid a blood sugar spike.

3. Avocado: I’ll pack these in my carry-on or travel tote for a filling snack that’s loaded with fiber and nutrition. I literally eat avocados with a spoon! It sounds crazy, but don’t knock it till you try it.

4. Lemons: Bring along lemons to flavor water, to add to hot tea or water, and of course to add a bit of vitamin C to keep your immune system healthy while traveling. A squeeze of lemon juice is also delicious on an avocado.

5. Raw cacao nibs: Cacao nibs are loaded with magnesium and a great crunchy snack for when you have a sweet tooth because we all know that’s bound to happen.

6. Walnuts: Walnuts are amazing sources of healthy fats, fiber, omega-3, and protein all in one.

7. Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are loaded with healthy fats, protein, and selenium.

8. Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc which is important in healthy immune function.

9. Almonds: Almonds are a great source of healthy fats and added protein.

10. Dried fruit: I love figs for their fiber content, but any dried fruit from mango, apples, or coconut will do.

Healthy Make-Ahead Snacks for Traveling

If you have time to prep a bit before traveling, these recipes are all delicious snacks that are loaded with nutrients to keep you fueled while you’re in the car or on the plane. Pro tip: Keep them in a sealed glass container to keep them fresh and avoid them getting crushed in your bag.

11. Energy Almond Butter Balls: You can make a large batch ahead of time to last you for snacks, a breakfast, or even dessert on the fly.

12. Chia Pudding: Make ahead in a jar to carry along while traveling. Try Simple Mango Chia Pudding or experiment with different flavors and milk like in this post.

13. Simple Protein Cookies: Easy to make cookies that pack a protein punch thanks to plant-based protein powder. Take this along if you want a non-perishable, easy to store protein source.

14. Beet Hummus: A delicious hummus to dip raw veggies or gluten-free crackers into. Beets are a great source of antioxidants that are helpful for detoxing while traveling.

15. Sunny Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins: Poppy seeds are loaded with calcium and manganese especially followed by magnesium and phosphorus. Add them to these lemon muffins for a delicious snack to hold you over.

16. Maple Banana Nut Granola:  Making your own granola ahead of time means that you avoid added sugars in store-bought granola. This recipe includes rolled oats, almond, and tons of seeds for a boost of healthy fats and plant-based protein.

17. Nourishing Nut & Seed Bread:  Another option for a boost of healthy fats and protein from nuts and seeds. One loaf is 10 servings, so Nourishing Nut and Seed Bread is a great option for traveling with a family.

18. Bubble Water (a.k.a. Chia Fresca):  Bubble Water is chia seeds mixed with water to create a satisfying drink that’s loaded with fiber and will keep you hydrated with ease.

19. Cinnamon Sweet Potato Truffles:  A variation of energy balls that adds fiber and beta-carotene from sweet potatoes.

20. Chewy Superfood Hemp Protein Bars:  Hemp seeds in this recipe give you an added source of protein for a healthy travel snack.

21. Nutrition Stripped Energy Mix: A made ahead version of trail mix with raw whole foods guaranteed to keep you energized.

22. Nourishing Muesli: Another nut and seed packed recipe that can double as a healthy breakfast if you add plant milk.

23. Raw Chocolate Malt Brownie Bites:  A healthy snack for those of us with a sweet tooth while traveling.

24. Raw Zucchini Bread Truffles: Another energy ball alternative with the delicious flavor of zucchini bread.

25. Spirulina Energy Globes: These energy balls pack the added protein and antioxidant benefits of superfood spirulina.

26. Almond Coconut Date Globes: Class almond energy balls plus coconut for more variety.

27. Fruit Leather | Apple Cinnamon, Strawberry, and Pear: Fruit Leather can be made in bulk and stored for several weeks, so it’s a perfect option for a healthy travel snack.

28. Blueberry Chocolate Bars: Delicious chocolate bars with extra antioxidants from blueberries.

29. Chewy Coconut and Fruit Bars: A homemade alternative to granola bars without the unnecessary added sugar and processed ingredients.

30.The Best Healthy “Donut” Holes: An on-the-go snack for when you want to indulge in a sweet treat.

Healthy Recipes for Lunch and Dinner While Traveling

Make ahead meals that will keep in a glass container so you can avoid fast food restaurants on the road or in the airport. 

31. Kale Hemp Tabbouleh  – Nutrient-packed kale greens plus plant-based protein hemp seeds make for a delicious healthy on the go meal.

32. Herb Falafel and Tzatziki Sauce – Eat these tasty falafels on their own or add them to a gluten-free pita pocket for a simple meal.

33. Veggie “Sushi” Rolls – These require a bit of prep work beforehand, but are simple rolls that require no utensils and easy cleanup.

33. Thai Spring Rolls – Another simple roll for eating on the goal. These can be customized to include your protein of choice.

34. Healthy Garden Pasta Salad – A versatile pasta salad that doesn’t require a reheat and packs in veggies.

35. Two Bean and Herb Pasta Salad – Pinto beans and chickpeas pack in plant-based protein and extra fiber to keep your digestion on track while traveling.

36. Curry Quinoa Salad – A simple meal bursting with flavor that keeps for a few days in the refrigerator for those seeking some variety in taste.

37. Massaged Kale Salad – My go-to salad that is a perfect made ahead meal. Kale is loaded with nutrients to keep you energized and healthy on the go.

38. Nourish Bowl – A customizable option that’s full of healthy fats, greens, veggies, and protein. Make it with whatever you have in your refrigerator.

39. Simple Sundried Tomato Pasta – An easy to make pasta that travels well and will keep you full while traveling.

40. Protein Packed Pea and Mint Pasta – Another pasta option if you’re seeking variety.

Smoothies and Juice for Traveling

Make a smoothie before you hit the road and store it in a glass jar. Smoothies will keep for a few hours, but give the jar a good shake before enjoying. 

41. Green Tart Smoothie – Greens and citrus are a great way to get in your nutrients and vitamins before a big trip.

42. Vitamin C Surge Smoothie – This smoothie offers a large serving of Vitamin C to keep your immune system healthy while in crowded public places.

43. Carrot Apple Blended Juice – A delicious juice for an added dose of nutrients and Vitamin C without the bulk of a smoothie.

44. Stripped Green Smoothie – The NS favorite green smoothie with loads of vitamins and nutrients to get your travels started off on a healthy foot.

45. Matcha Mango Smoothie – This smoothie has added benefits of antioxidants and caffeine to keep you going on a long travel day.

46. Creamy Ginger Green Smoothie – An NS favorite that’s delicious and includes ginger for aiding in digestion.

47. Triple Berry Smoothie – Three different berries pack the antioxidants to help fight free radicals.

48. 5 Minute Spinach Smoothie – A simple spinach smoothie that includes healthy fats from avocado.

49. Cashew Lime Green Smoothie – A creamy, citrusy update to a green smoothie.

50. Green Fiesta Juice – A green juice that packs the nutrients and vitamins of greens without the bulk of fiber.