wellness — By chris mohr
Over the summer my family and I hopped in the car for a 3000-mile road trip across the northeast: Toronto, the Adirondacks, Connecticut, NJ, Pittsburgh and back home to Louisville KY. With 2 kids, 10 and 7, my wife and I wanted to enjoy each destination and not stop every hour to feed hungry kids (and us) meaning we had an entire separate backpack full of a variety of goodies – nuts, nut butters, jerky, apples – you name it, we had it. As we like to say with our kids, stay ahead of the curve and out of the red zone.
This preparation was simply attempting to avoid what we all so often fall prey too: the oh so dangerous “snacksident” AKA the act of overeating snack foods mindlessly when you’re not even hungry.
Snacking has become a major industry for food companies with about 25% of our calories each day now coming from snacks alone. While it would be great if those were all coming from fruits and veggies, clearly that’s not the case and more often than not high sugar, fat and calorie-laden snacks are the norm.
I’m not saying I’m immune to these snacking temptations, but I’ve made enough mistakes to learn and prepare and now have strategies and snack ideas to help you avoid the same mistakes.
My “aha moment” came several years ago. I was flying across the country and hadn’t planned ahead in terms of food. At the time, airports didn’t quite offer the same types of snacks they do now, so I grabbed what I felt was the best of the options – trail mix.
My choice wasn’t far off, but the portion size was and I plowed through the entire bag on that nearly 6-hour flight only to find myself full, bloated and uninterested in meeting my friend for dinner as I had planned. I dug in a bit further and looked at the calories in the total bag – not per serving, but per bag – and realized it actually contained 9 servings and nearly 2000 calories, about 60 from fat.
Maybe that seems obvious, but it didn’t to me at the time and, let’s face it, a 6-hour flight isn’t the most exciting thing in the world and food partially filled that void.
Lesson learned. Portions matter. From then on, I made sure to always pack my own snacks so that I’m in control—long flights and travel delays be damned!
The key to making smart choices is to have a system in place; plan ahead, pack ahead or know what to look for if you’re caught in a situation and don’t have your own. And I’m here to help you out with some simple, everyday foods that you can find in most grocery stores, airports and often even convenience stores.
From a nutrition perspective, smart travel snacks offer protein, fiber, and/or fat. From a practical standpoint, if those snacks are also durable and non-perishable, even better. If you can find something – or a combination of foods – with all three ingredients, that are also durable, hunger won’t get the best of you (nor will overeating an entire bag of trail mix like I did). Plan ahead and you’ll be ready for the gym, the presentation, the hike – really anything where you’ll need full focus and energy.
Nothing fancy here, but they meet at least a few of those criteria I mentioned. They offer a few grams of gut filling fiber, they’re durable, portable, and hold up well when I toss them in my backpack for the airplane or on a hike. They’re also very clean (e.g., no peel and not overly juicy) to eat, making them an even better choice. Depending on your needs, an apple may not fill all your needs; this is when combining it with a little protein or fat can help, which brings me to my next choice.
Nuts provide a good source of protein and fiber. They’re also loaded with super-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are good for the ‘ol ticker as well as your overall health. They’re uber durable, so you can forget them for 6 months in your desk drawer, discover them one day and they’ll still taste great. Of course, portion is key, so either consider the single-serve packs a lot of companies now sell or portion some out yourself in individual cups or baggies. Just a heads up, the amount that fits in a cupped hand is about 1 portion.
Huge fan of a new product that’s out there by Chicken of the Sea called Tuna Infusions. When it comes to snacks, I’m all about immediate gratification and that’s what this product provides. With a built-in fork and a convenient cup that serves as a bowl and four different flavors, it’s a great choice. With at least 20 grams of protein per serving, it’s also a snack that will fill you up and give your muscles the tools they need to recover and repair. I prefer these over the individual tuna packets as they’re easier (and cleaner) to eat and don’t leave your fingers covered in tuna. An added benefit: each offers a solid lid so it also doesn’t smell up your office garbage.
Whole eggs (yes, eat the whole egg, please—do I still need to say this?) are one of the highest-quality, economical sources of high-quality protein available. Now, these don’t quite fit the portable part of the ideal snacking equation – meaning don’t shove ‘em in your bag - but I’ve started seeing them pop up in airports and even at convenience stores. You can, of course, make your own, which isn’t tremendously challenging, but it can be time-consuming. If that’s the case for you, check out some of the done for you hard-cooked egg options in most grocery stores. Just stash them in your cooler or lunch bag and you’re ready to go.
Portable protein is the phrase of the day and jerky offers exactly that. There are tons of options and brands these days, from beef and turkey jerky to salmon, venison and even wagyu beef. Heck, after recently spending some time in Norway, they even offered moose, elk, whale and reindeer jerky; just don’t tell the kids about that last one. This is great as a quick protein burst between meals, in the pack for a hike or maybe paired with fruit if you’ve got some time before your next meal or on a long flight. Pick what you like and enjoy.
Alright, there you have it – a few simple ideas to fuel you for your next adventure when you’re on the go. When you have a plan in place, for whatever it is, success will follow.
Chris Mohr has a Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Nutrition from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Massachusetts, respectively. He earned his PhD in exercise physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and is a Registered Dietitian. To get more nutritional tips for Chris, follow him on Instagram: @mohrresults