I grew up in a truck. My father owned and operated a self-loader my entire life. He has always been my hero, and I’d jump in the truck any chance I got. The early mornings, and less than picturesque bathroom facilities, were worth it. We would listen to music, see amazing things, and of course, we would eat! Burgers, milkshakes, beef jerky, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were favorites that I didn’t get at home. When I was 18 years old my dad suffered a major heart attack, and subsequently 6 more, ultimately ending his commercial driving career. I am lucky that he is still around; this experience inspired me to get my education in integrative health and wellness. And hope this information keeps a few more drivers on the road a bit longer.
Early mornings, late nights, and long stretches of solitude- trucking requires both strength and resilience. A job that takes a toll both physically and mentally, trucks make the world go round. Unfortunately, nutrition to feed the demands and replenish the body is often scarce on the road.
How do you navigate nutrition on the road? The first hurdle is the availability of truck parking. This includes truck stops, fuel stations, and occasionally a well-placed grocery store. On the road time is money, there isn’t time to search out Whole Foods (although it’s a great option if you stumble upon it). So, what are the best options?
Nuts and seeds offer protein and iron. They are easy to snack on and can replace snacks like chips that are much higher in saturated fat.
At the deli choose cold sandwiches over options in the hot case. Opt for choices that offer vegetables and try to minimize mayonnaise bases like chicken/tuna/egg salads, not only are they higher in fat; they are more likely to spoil quickly. Most delis offer some sort of produce, try to include at least one fruit or vegetable.
Curb your sweet tooth with chocolate that is high in cacao content. Cacao offers antioxidants to prevent and reverse cell damage and curb aging and disease. They are also lower in sugar than conventional chocolate. These are generally dark chocolate and have a percentage of 70% cacao or higher. Avoid sweets with high fructose corn syrup, PGPR (a low-cost replacement for cacao, the main health component in chocolate), and hydrogenated oils.
Often the truck stop cafes and restaurants offer a chance to rest, eat, and socialize. The options are rarely healthy, and when they are, let’s be honest- they aren’t that good. A few better options would be a veggie burger in place of a regular burger, or a baked potato instead of mashed. It’s a great time to chat over a cup of coffee and a side of toast, keeping it to a snack break instead of a meal.
Once in a while, there is a well-placed grocery store that has ample parking. This can be a great time to stock up on fruits, vegetables, and other healthy options. Many have better-equipped delis than a fuel station for both hot and cold options. Try to choose veggies over meats, and avoid added fat from frying, cheese, or thick sauces and gravy. Satsumas are small, easy to eat, store well, and pack plenty of Vitamin C. Hummus is a great option for adding flavor, iron, and protein to carrot sticks, crackers, and sandwiches.
What to make on the go?
Greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, avocados, seeds/nuts (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds) dressing. In a pinch? Most fuel stations have a premade salad or veggie tray, try to up the satisfaction by adding nuts, seeds, avocado, etc. The healthy fats make a salad with more staying power to keep you full longer.
Bread, hummus, zucchini, thinly cut carrots, etc. Have a grill available? Grill your veggies first for a hot sandwich.
Order an extra baked potato or two from the cafe next stop. Keep it in the fridge or a cooler and use it as a base for a loaded baked potato later. Great add on options include arugula, beans, nuts, seeds, hummus, salsa.
The Best Swaps:
Some things are just favorites, and they are hard to walk past. This is a list of my favorite healthier swaps, they can be ordered in bulk on Amazon, Thrive Market, or directly from the company and kept in the truck, better for your health and wallet!
Cheetos —> Barbara’s Cheese Puffs
Why? Barbara’s has a real cheese flavor and amazing crunch with no artificial colors, no MSG, and fewer ingredients.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups —> Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups
Why? Justin’s has a satisfying combination of chocolate and peanut butter without partially hydrogenated oils, no corn syrup, no PGPR.
Ritz Crackers, Peanut Butter/Cheese filled Crackers—> Late July Crackers
Why? Late July Crackers are buttery smooth with cheese or peanut butter filling. They have no hydrogenated oils, no corn syrup.
Gatorade/Lemonade —> Coconut Water
Why? Coconut Water has no artificial colors, no added sugars, and it has naturally occurring electrolytes.
Soda —> Olipop
Why? Olipop contains no high fructose corn syrup, it has 2-3 g of sugar plus prebiotics, and fiber to support healthy digestion.
Why? Avocado can be a truck stable no refrigeration needed, good source of heart healthy fat, plus adds depth and flavor to sandwiches, salads, and dips.
Changing the way we eat can feel overwhelming, especially on the road. Start by changing one thing, the swaps above can be a great way to be prepared and successful one step at a time.
- Eating nutrient-rich foods supports cardiovascular health, healthy blood sugar, and fights inflammatory disease. Try to keep calories around 2000 (or whatever is right for you) per day. Be aware of the amount of protein and fat that is consumed.
- Try to sneak in those vitamins everywhere you can: beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are all great sources.
- Watch out for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, PGPR, high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, and artificial color/dyes. All of these contribute to illnesses like congestive heart failure, diabetes, cancer, and more.
Enjoy more energy, better digestion, improved cardiovascular health, and more stable blood sugars by implementing these changes. Navigating nutrition on the road is a journey, not a destination.