It’s an easy habit to start. You’re leaving work and itching for a snack to nosh on as you sit in traffic. But what you grab makes a difference if you’re on a weight-loss journey. Do you pop by the vending machine before heading to the car? Do you roll through a fast food drive-thru for a quick bite?
“On long commutes home, it is always helpful to keep healthy snacks in your bag,” says Dr. Nancy Steely, naturopath and holistic health expert. “They can also be a lifesaver if an unexpected delay pops up.” Another piece of advice? Plan ahead and stay hydrated with water. “Thirst is often confused with hunger. If we are even mildly dehydrated, we may have low energy and reach for a quick sugar or caffeine rush to help us feel better,” says Gina Hill, Director and Associate Professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Texas Christian University.
We consulted with a range of health experts in the field and came up with healthier snack options than the bag of Cheetos you may be tempted to buy.
For the names alone, LaraBar sits high on our list on nutrition bars. Gingerbread, Lemon Bar, Peanut Butter & Jelly, Banana Chocolate Chip? First you buy them out of curiosity — will it really taste like that? Then you take a bite and realize, well, yeah it kinda does! Only these bars are made of unsweetened fruits, nuts and spices and run around 200 calories. Also consider: Arbonne Protein Snack Bars or Health Warrior Chia Bars
A super-easy snack to enjoy in the car is handful of nuts, raw and unsalted ideally. Pick one of your favorites or mix it up with almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. (Drop in a bit of raisins or cranberries if you want sweetness.) We dig this option because you’re getting in some healthy fats, protein and fiber. But do watch your portion size! A little goes a long way. Too lazy to assemble this at home? Pick up those 100 calorie per portion bags of nuts from the grocery store. Blue Diamond sells on-the-go options that you can toss into your glove compartment for later.
This doesn’t have to be just a movie treat. We’re about to tell you how you can make it healthier and waaay less expensive. Place about 1/3 cup of uncooked kernels in a plain, brown paper bag. Microwave for about 2 minutes or until more than 3 seconds lag between pops. “Popcorn is a whole grain food that provides fiber and with a little bit of salt can help meet the craving for a salty, yet healthy snack,” Hill says. Air-popped popcorn also only has about 30 calories per cup.
“Baby carrots, celery or cut up jicama in a baggie can give you that crunch that the brain associates with “snacking” but in a much healthier form than potato chips, while also providing fiber and a solid dose of antioxidant vitamins,” Steely says. Try also strips of colorful peppers, snap peas or grape tomatoes for a juicy treat. Rather buy something? Grab a bag of crunchy kale chips. We know what you’re thinking: Kale, really? But check out the variety of flavors out today, like those from Electrifying Bodies. The Apple Cinnamon and Chocolate options can satisfy your crunchy-sweet cravings.
There are a zillion on the market, and plenty are filled with junk you can’t pronounce and a heap of sugar you don’t need. That’s why options like the RXBar get our vote. The ingredients are right on the front of the label. No confusion. Many have at least 12 grams of protein, and are hearty, healthy and tasty enough to keep you satisfied all the way home. Also consider: ALOHA Protein Bars
“You can make homemade roasted chickpeas and choose a healthy source of fat, like olive oil, to roast them,” Hill says. Keep them in a sealed container and portion out enough for the commute. Chickpeas are a good source of protein, fiber, Vitamin B6 and folate. Ok, so you’re not about roasting anything. Pop to the store and pick up the ready-made varieties. Try Saffron Road’s Crunchy Chickpeas with Sea Salt or find unsalted chickpeas in bulk.
Whole grain cereal (minus the milk) can also be a good commuter finger food snack. Pour it in a snack bag and go! Easy. Hill suggests going for cereals that have at least 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving. “This combo of fiber and protein can help provide satiety until dinner is ready.” You have a lot of nutritious cereal options to choose from. One to try: Kashi Whole Wheat Biscuits. For 28 biscuits, you get 5 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and only 9 grams of sugar.
Last on our list: Seeds! This superpower food can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure – all on your ride home. “Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or the less commonly known but equally delicious sacha inchi seed can give you fiber, healthy fats, and a bit of protein – making them great snacks to reach for in a pinch,” Steely says. Buying them in bulk is your best option, but you can find them at most health and grocery stores. All you need is 1/2 cup in a snack bag, and you’re good to go.
“As with any snack, minding the portion size is important especially when driving and bored. If you’ve got a large bag of chips, popcorn, cookies, trail mix or crackers, it’s too easy to finish the whole thing,” Hill says.
Stacy Julien is editor in-chief of CRUSH magazine and wishes chocolate chip cookies were on this list.