Tips for Eating Healthy and Cooking Travel Meals on the Road

Currently on a seven-month trip to visit all 59 U.S. National Parks, travel photographer Renee Hahnel and her husband Matthew have perfected the art of living on the road.

The photo/blogging duo was sent on this epic road trip by plant-based, vegan protein company EVOLVE to form an extensive guide to the scenery, views, activity, hikes, and (duh) best photo ops. And hats off to the Hahnels, because if you’ve ever driven cross-country or been away from home traveling for a prolonged time, you know how difficult it is to normalize your lifestyle — and, most of all, your travel meals.

EVOLVE’s Trish Griffin, a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist, tells The Manual, “Traveling can put extra demands on your body. By taking in the right foods at the right time, you will be better equipped to stay alert and energized to drive, hike, and explore, wherever the road may take you.”

Matt and Renee Evolve Protein
Matthew and Renee Hahnel

Griffin adds that if you’re on the road for outdoor exploration, changing altitudes, and exerting effort, upping your fluid intake and staying hydrated is key. You should also decrease salt intake; eat high-carbohydrate, moderate protein, low-fat meals; and consider smaller meals with more snack options. “Happy gut, happy traveler,” Griffin says. “And stick to the foods you’re familiar with!’

For examples of what those foods, snacks, and meals could look like, we sat down in the Hahnel’s cozy van over a post-hike EVOLVE protein mocha to talk van-burners and easy dinner recipes. Plan your next cross-country adventure with these nuggets of food wisdom and never rely on fast-food again (and read up on our guide to living in a van while you’re at it).

Travel eating almost always sucks. How do you avoid gut-turning fast-food?

Having a van with a kitchen definitely allows us to living more “normally” on the road and eat healthy when restaurant/grocery choices are limited. Plus, being able to sit down together for a meal, at a (small) table with home-cooked food is a massive perk.

Matt and Renee Eating

What are your travel snack essentials?

Fruit, cheese and crackers, nut butter, or a protein shake. We love the EVOLVE mocha shake for a super quick refuel pre- or post-hike.

How about meals? Is it possible to cook hearty, healthy dishes from a van?

We eat a lot of meals that have a fresh component to it (e.g. vegetables, salad, fish), plus a pre-made/packaged ingredient (e.g. rice, pasta, sauces) for ease of preparation and to save time. Plus, we couldn’t live without our hot drinks like tea, coffee, and hot cocoa.

coffee on the road

What three easy meals can any traveler make on the road (in a van)?

For a filling and yummy breakfast, we love throwing some potatoes, spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, and eggs in a pan and frying them up. We’ll add cheese, salt, and pepper for seasoning. Protein pancakes are also fun to make on slower, meandering mornings — using EVOLVE protein powder and fresh berries.

For lunch, we don’t have a toaster in the van, but will use a frying pan to toast — topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Cous cous, vegetables, and tuna is another “throw-it-together” type of lunch for us.

Then a healthy and easy dinner option is pan-cooked fish fillets and salad or cooked vegetables.

What cooking equipment do you have?

We mostly use our two burner propane stoves, medium fry-pan/pot, kettle, chopping board, and pot drainer. We also frequently use insulated tumblers so our drinks stay hot or cold. Plus, we have an electric fridge in the van and a pantry. The fridge increases the variety of foods we can store and it’s always nice having a cold drink after a long hike!

Why are nutritious meals important while you’re on the road?

We do a lot of hiking and exploring, so staying fueled and healthy is a must. We also have some long driving days and need to stay alert and focused.

What other “accessories” do you suggest bringing to enhance the travel dining experience?

Mood lighting and music always make a pleasant dining experience. We have some fairy lights, candles, and portable speakers in the van.

Travel

Traveling Alone Can Be an Unforgettable Adventure with Contiki

Ever wanted to climb a volcano and make chocolate in the same trip? Check out Contiki and their curated trip to Ecuador.
Travel

Sprint Through Airport Security with These TSA-Approved Men’s Travel Kits

Don't board your next flight without these travel sized grooming kits. You'll thank us after that red-eye.
Travel

How to Find the Best Black Friday Travel Deals of 2018

We've also included some of the best travel deals we've seen so far in 2018.
Travel

Ecuador Travel Guide: What to Know Before You Go

We've got tips for everything from navigating your way around the country to what kinds of food to expect.
Travel

The Best Places to Explore and Things to Do in Ecuador

There are a lot of beautiful places, great outdoor activities, and delicious (and adventurous) food to try in Ecuador.
Travel

Witness the Northern Lights at Eye-Level from a Private Charter Plane

Experience the Northern Lights aboard "the only flight in the world to take off within the Aurora Oval."
Travel

Best Black Friday Deals on Travel Accessories

Don't waste time scouring the web for the right brand or the right price — we’ve done that for you, searching for everything you might need for the adventures we know you’re already planning for 2019.
Travel

The Best Lightweight Travel Laptops for 2018

Apple used to be the only game in town. Not anymore.
Travel

The Best Carry-On Luggage: Travel Smart, Light, and In Style

Carry-on luggage is getting lighter, better, stronger — even smarter. Which suitcase is right for you?
Food & Drink

The Best Portable Coffee Options for Making Joe on the Go

From cowboy coffee to handheld espresso makers, you can have a decent cup of joe anywhere, anytime.