Dashboard Diner: What Is It And Are You One?


How many ketchup drips, chocolate smears, coffee stains, and random crumbs do you have in your car (or on your clothes)?

Is your road trip to the shore or mountains or the big game an endless fest of fast food, junk food, and all kinds of snacks with your dashboard or vacant passenger seat as your table?

If you’re nodding your head, you’re a dashboard diner.

It’s way too easy to indulge your dashboard dining gremlin when doughnut shops and fast food restaurants have drive-thruus and gas stations come equipped with mini-marts that serve that comes regular,, decaf, dark velvet and hazelnut coffee and baked goods so your coffee doesn’t get lonely.

Mini-Mart And Rest-Stop “Gotchas”


Candy is an impulse purchase; 49 percent of shoppers admit to unplanned purchases of candy. We want to treat ourselves and candy is an affordable luxury. Chocolate bars are the main choice — followed by gum; bagged, repacked peg candy; candy rolls; mints and drops; non-chocolate bars; seasonal candy and novelties.

Check out the placement of candy the next time you’re in a mini-mart or convenience store. It’s positioned to grab your attention. Its vividly colored wrappers reach out to you from high-traffic areas of the store: the checkout area, the aisle that leads to the check out, and on the way to the restrooms. Know that your senses are going to be assaulted and have a plan for what you will and will not buy. If you’ve decided you want M&Ms go straight to them and don’t get sidetracked by a new kind of chips, or seasonal displays, or the latest and greatest deal on a king sized package of some kind of candy.


Unlike candy, coffee isn’t an impulse purchase. Nearly 96% of customers intend to buy a cup of coffee before they walk in. That’s why the stores put impulse-buy merchandise candy, baked goods, and chips near the coffee to entice you to buy them. As a man standing in line at a popular gas station mini-mart muttered, “I stop here for coffee every morning and I’ve gained 20 pounds since they put in the Krispy Kreme donut display between the door and the cash register.”

Some Helpful Tips:

  • Go for the nuts got protein and crunch, won’t cause swings in your blood sugar and are almost always stocked. Tread a little gently — nuts are not low in fat or calories.
  • Some mini-marts have fruit (oranges and bananas come in their own natural wrapper and don’t have to be washed) and almost all have dried fruit but balance the higher sugar content of the dried fruit with the fat and protein in the nuts.
  • Sometimes you can find individual bowls of Cheerios or whole grain cereals. Grab a small container of non or low-fat milk or a container of yogurt.
  • Popcorn is a great choice and some stations stock fat-free soy crisps or pop chips. Be aware of portion sizes. Sometimes a bag has more than one serving.
  • Protein bars can be good, better, and best. Check the labels for higher protein and lower sugar. Some can be the equivalent of a candy bar and are so large (with so many calories) that they are made to be meal replacements.
  • If you’re really hungry choose a sandwich or burrito over donuts, pastry, and cookies. Check out how fresh it is, though. What’s appealing early in the morning when the shelves are first stocked might not be so appealing at 10PM if it has sat around all day and lots of people have picked up the sandwich, squeezed it, and put it back again.
  •  Beef jerky or beef sticks (or nuggets) are good, portable protein snacks. A  1-ounce serving can have around 80 calories and 3 grams of fat or less. A hard boiled egg is a good choice, too. Just make sure they’re refrigerated and haven’t been sitting around for a couple of days!
  • If you must go with crunchy stuff, stick with pretzels or look for baked or popped chips. Look for single-serve bags to keep portions in check. Remember that the salty stuff will make you thirsty so stock up on water. There’s something to be said for snacks that take time to eat one by one when you’re driving.
  • It may take away some of the road trip spontaneity, but when you pack up your car you can pack some food, too. Fill a cooler with water, fruit, yogurt, sandwiches — hatever you think you will eat and that will keep you alert and energized (aim for some complex carbs and protein). Why not throw in someportion bags of nuts and popcorn, too? Planning ahead means you’re not at the mercy of the vending machines and racks and racks of candy, chips, and baked goods.
  • Use an app or your GPS to find nearby restaurants as you drive through various communities. A little searching can help you find places with healthier options than you might find at a rest stop. This can be really helpful for anyone with allergies or special dietary requirements.
  • If you just want to leave your rest stop purchases to chance at least have your own mental list of some good, better, and best choices of food to buy. The danger is that the candy, chips, fries, and doughnuts call your name the minute you walk in the door. If you know that you’re going to head straight for the nuts, or popcorn, or even a burger, that’s great, as long as the giant chocolate chip cookie and the bargain 32ounce soda for 99 cents doesn’t grab you first. Try to decide what you’re going to buy before you go in and then stick to your decision.
  • Remember that too much sugar causes a spike and then nose dive of your blood sugar levels.  The consequence is that you’re initially energized and then can get very drowsy and unfocused as your blood sugar plummets.  Not exactly what you want when you’re driving.


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