Car Trip Eats: The Cheapest, Healthiest Fast Food for Your Traveling Family

Our family has been traveling on the road for more than thirty hours in the last two weeks, with ten more to go. Sound like a nightmare? Not so much. Of course, there is the occasional pinching, the whines of “are we there yet,” the squeals of boredom and hunger. All part of the package, I suppose. A package which also includes me, peeking back from the front seat and to find a minivan full of my sweet children’s sunkissed faces. It makes me smile. I feel thankful knowing that for a thirty hours this summer, these kids were all mine. For me, the worst part of roadtripping with kids isn’t being with the kids, it’s trying to feed the kids in a way that feeds them well. Would you believe it’s possible to feed your family nutritious, budget conscious meals and snacks while you travel? Whether you’re traveling two hours down the road, or two weeks across the country, here are the healthiest, cheapest, and kid-friendliest foods America has to offer travelers.

Healthy Values To Pack Before Leaving Home
The key to eating healthy on the road is to be prepared. Pack an ample amount of snacks, treats, and bottled water and have it on hand. Here are a few of healthy, kid-friendly, non-sticky travel snacks worth bringing along for the ride:

  • Bottled Water. You can’t have too much. Make sure you’ve packed at least one bottle of water per person per hour you plan to travel.
  • Pretzels or Goldfish Crackers. Cheap. Low-mess. Kid-happy. Amen.
  • String Cheese. It doesn’t hold up as well as the other snacks, but a handful of string cheese packs can be a trip-saver when you’re kids are needing a bit of protein (and a simple activity) to lift their moods and spirits.
  • Raw Almonds. Even if you’ve got a car full of finicky eaters, it’s amazing how sweet a handful of almonds will taste when you’re hungry and tired of being stuck in the backseat.
  • Carrot Sticks. For children three and older, carrot sticks are the perfect, mess-free car snack. They don’t melt in hand. They can’t be smooshed in the carpet. They offer ample amounts of fresh-food nutrition. Say yes to carrot sticks.

Healthy Values To Grab at the Gas Station
It’s not impossible to find healthy snacks when you stop to fill ‘er up. Invite your kids to stretch their legs and come on a “treasure hunt” shopping excursion with you. Have them look for the following snacks, then choose the one they’d like the most.

  • Sun Chips
  • Baked chips
  • Raw or Lightly Salted Almonds, Peanuts, or Cashews
  • Beef Jerky (steer away from highly processes Slim-Jims)
  • Kashi Granola Bars
  • Natural, Lightly salted popcorn (be sure to chec
  • Larabar Jocalat Chocolate
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit-based popscicle
  • Milk
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs
  • Tuna Kits
  • Cark Chocolate Peanut M&M’s
  • Fresh Apples, Oranges, or Banana’s
  • Veggie Tray with Broccoli, Carrot Sticks, Cauliflower

Healthy Fast-Food Values
While a homecooked meal, sans preservatives and overprocessed food is the ideal, there are times when you’ve just gotta grab something quick on the road. Here are the top, Value Menu offerings for a few family-friendly, fast-food restaurants:

  • Wendy’s: When it comes to the healthy, cheap, fast-food eats, Wendy’s offers the some of the most nutrient rich meals for just a few dollars. Order a Plain Baked Potato (270 calories, 7 grams of protein), top it with several scoops of Chili (220 calories, 18 grams of protein per small serving) serve it up with a Caesar Side Salad and you’ll fill your kids bellies, and feel good knowing you’ve also fed them a good amount of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron, too. All for less than three bucks.
  • Subway: With it’s $5-Dollar Footlong menu, and a plentitude of fresh toppings for your sandwich, Subway makes it easy to “Eat Fresh.” Beware, however of a few menu items which contain high fructose corn syrup. Subway’s Sourdough Bread, 9-Grain Wheat Bread, and Meatballs are all made with HFCS. Opt, instead for whole wheat bread or a sandwich wrap with turkey breast, ham, or oven-roasted chicken, and all the veggie-fresh toppings you can pile on your sandwich.
  • Taco Bell: The new “Fresco Style” menu at Taco Bell boasts several low-fat options, topped with fresh tomato salsa. These items rule over most of the other menu items in nutrition content, which isn’t saying much, but—hey!—you’re on the road and you’ve gotta eat. Might as well choose the best of the available options, right?
  • McDonald’s: The kids might cry for a Happy Meal, but you can save big bucks and lots of empty nutritional calories by ordering the Honey Mustard or Chipotle Grilled Chicken Snack Wraps, which arrive with 260 calories and 18 grams of protein each. Add a Fruit N’ Yogurt parfait for dessert (160 calories, 15% daily value of calcium) and a bit of time to romp on the restaurant’s Playplace, and everyone will come away well-fed and ready for your next stretch on the road.
  • Burger King: There’s not a whole lot of nutrition available on their value menu, but a 290-calorie Whopper, Jr. (nix the mayo) is just large enough to fill up most kid-sized bellies, not to mention it’s served with lettuce and a tomato. A protein-rich patty and a touch of fresh veggies to boot? It’s not an ideal meal for everyday, but the promise of some basic nutrition is certainly a plus for it’s $1 price tag.
  • Jack In The Box: If a quick stop at Jack-In-the-Box is part of your road trip, be sure to order the Grilled Chicken Pita, a tasty, 310 calorie, 17 grams of protein meal, which most kids will love to eat. If your finicky eaters aren’t willing to try something so exotic as a pita, order up 2 Regular Beef Tacos for only 99 cents.
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