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The art of eating well on a road trip

In high school, we’d stop on marching band trips or after soccer games at McDonald’s for a big post-performance meal. But on my most recent road trip, my fiancé and I packed a cooler and stocked up on veggies, crackers, waters, sandwich items and other smarter snacks to avoid the greasy fast food.

While I can’t take any of the credit, I can say the tactic worked: By eating wise on the trip, I felt much better on the drive and felt less of the post-vacation guilt when we got back — and we saved at least a little money.

I siphoned off the ideas for our road trip meals and snacks from my own Austin Living story, but I’ll admit the story idea was never self-serving.

Actually, it took much longer than I’d like to admit for the lightbulb to go off.

At work, I was writing an Austin Living piece compiling tips for eating healthy when on the go during the spring and summer or when traveling. After all, Minnesotans like to pride themselves on being active and making the most of our warm weather.

Outside work, I was planning a trip to visit family friends in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with my fiancé. At first, we planned to fly, but driving was much cheaper — and a road trip sounded like a fun adventure.

As we made the driving plans, it dawned on me that I already had all this work done on the food front.

Now, I can’t take any credit because I sought out some area health experts — dietitian Courtney Kremer, Mower County Public Health nurse Jane Knutson and Mayo Clinic Health System dietitian Emily Schmidt, and Grace Heimsness, who traveled with Trek Travel last summer — for tips on eating while busy and on the go. They offered up tips and suggestions for good foods to work into the plan.

Here are a few:

—Eat every three to four hours to sustain energy, but don’t overeat.

—Pack meals in a cooler

—Time meals to avoid grazing and mindless eating.

—Don’t drink your calories.

A few of the suggested foods:

—String cheese, fruits and veggies, lean lunch meat, pretzels, beef jerky, protein bars, crackers.

The suggestions are ones we’ve often heard before, but it was helpful to have an easy guide at my fingertips as we planned the trip.

After our first light meal on the road — a flatbread turkey and cheese sandwich — I felt eager to keep driving, while I likely would have craved a nap after a super-sized fast food meal.

We were far from perfect foodie angels on our journey. We stopped for an unhealthy Bojangles breakfast on the way back and ate a loaded pizza. Yet, it was much easier to appreciate the few bigger vacation meals after eating healthy for the bulk of them.

The May-June issue of Austin Living will arrive at the Austin Daily Herald and be available the last week of April. You can check out the full story on healthy eating tips in that issue.