Healthy Road Trip Fare

Is there such a thing as healthy road trip food? Well, I’m about to find out. Charles and I spend a good deal of our time traveling and researching destinations; and although we try to push the plate away on press trips, road trips present a unique dining challenge.

Especially these days.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, which prompted Charles to make a doctors appointment. He hit the daily double, and came back with a diagnosis of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. My issues are under control now, and Charles is working on his. In both our cases our conditions are due to heredity, not diet. We have a relatively low fat and reasonable diet at home; plus we don’t eat red meat, and we avoid fast food whenever possible. Which is good because most fast food places serve a lot of high-fat sodium laden foods – something we need to avoid right now.

Herein lies the dilemma.

What are we going to do on our upcoming three-week road trip, where fast-food joints may be our only choices?

Well, I decided to hit the internet and do a little research. Now I have a spreadsheet. Don’t laugh! I’m a journalist – research is what I do. The good news is, nutritional information for fast food restaurants is readily available on-line. The bad news? Well, our choices are pretty limited.

So now I’m armed with a list of “better” menu choices for us for all the major fast food chains. Granted, some aren’t exactly ideal, but at least we know what the best options are. Armed with this information, we can either look for specific chains, or pick the best menu items when our dining choices are limited.

So what are the best choices? Well, there were some surprises along the way.

Taco Bell rises to the top of my approved list, with their Spicy Chicken Soft Taco weighing in at just 170 calories and 580 mg of sodium. Interestingly enough this item beats out the Ranchero Chicken Soft Taco on their healthy “fresco” menu, which has the same calorie count, but an additional 110 mg. of sodium. Plus the former is pretty tasty and quite filling.

Going with an unknown (to me), Del Taco has a taco with 160 calories and 150 mg. of sodium; and a Chicken Soft Taco with 293 calories and an amazing 267 mg. of sodium. Perhaps we’ll have to try it out on our road trip.

We’ll probably also be on the lookout for Subway and Quiznos joints along the way. Subway’s Oven Roasted Chicken Breast sandwich has just 310 calories and 830 mg. of sodium; while Quiznos’ small Honey Bourbon Chicken sandwich has 320 calories and 950 mg. of sodium. The latter is pretty yummy, and both are pretty low in sodium for deli items.

Portion control can also help us have a good meal without going overboard in sodium or calories. For example, the Arby’s Market Fresh Turkey & Swiss sandwich is certainly big enough for Charles and I to split. That brings the calorie count down to 354 and the sodium down to 838 mg. each.

If we ate red meat, the best McDonalds’s choice would (amazingly) be a regular hamburger (250 calories, 520 mg. sodium) and small french fries (230 calories, 160 mg. sodium). Since we don’t, it’s probably best to opt for an order of Chicken McNuggets (4 pieces), which contains 280 calories and 600 mg. of sodium. Add an extra 50 calories and 150 mg. of sodium for the sweet & sour dipping sauce. (I don’t know if you need it – I’ve never had a McNugget before). Again, both of these choices are good picks mainly because of portion control. Come on, do we really need to super size everything?

And then there are salads. Also very deceiving. Yes, a small green salad with no dressing is an excellent choice, and can be purchased at most fast-food outlets; however, it won’t exactly satisfy my appetite. I don’t really like naked salads. OK, maybe I could do it a few times, but certainly not every day. The problem is, when you add a little chicken and some salad dressing, the calorie and sodium counts go up.

Although most of the chicken-added fast food salads have similar stats, Chic-fil-a gets my salad vote for their Fat Free Honey Mustard Dressing, which is also low in sodium and calories (60 calories, 210 mg. sodium). Plus their Southwest Chargrilled Chicken Salad (270 calories, 750 mg. sodium) sounds pretty yummy. Thanks for that tip Joy!

The bottom line is, you don’t have to throw in the towel on a road trip, if you have special dietary needs. Again, all this nutritional information is all available on-line, so you can do your own research. I encourage you do that , as it will enable you to make better food choices.

I’ll let you know how it goes for us on our April road trip! But if you have any great tips, don’t hesitate to send them my way!