What Do You Eat On A Road Trip?

Have you noticed that a lot of renovated gas stations now have mini-marts or convenience stores with clean(er) bathrooms and coffee that comes regular or decaf but also dark velvet, hazelnut, and vanilla?

Are Gas Stations The New Convenience Stores?

Convenience stores sell about 80& of the gasoline purchased in the United States each year.

Many gas stations now view gas as a loss leader – a sale they’re willing to take a loss on or only make a very small profit.  They want to lure people into their mini-mart or full-fledged convenience store to shop.

Most stations don’t want to — or can’t — cut gas prices and there isn’t much they can do to jack up demand. In general, people are driving less gas stations need something to woo their competitors’ customers – so they use food.

Some station owners say they make more on a cup of coffee than on gas.  They advertise their convenience marts and other services – a gas station near my house has a dry cleaner drop-off — and work to build a base of customers who, although they could get gas anywhere, choose to buy it where they know there’s an open pump and clean bathrooms.

Road Trip Food Stops

If you’re planning a road trip you’ll most likely stop for a snack or a meal along the way.  With the proliferation of service stations or rest stops with incorporated mini-marts you probably don’t even need to leave the major roads to find a place to eat.  But, can you get something decent to eat?

Walk into most of the rest stop mini-marts and you’re assaulted by an array of vending machines, candy racks, franks on rotating grills and pre-wrapped sandwiches, donuts, coffee, and every bottled drink under the sun. You’re a captive consumer and after driving for some time you’re probably want something to:

  • Keep you energized and awake
  • Help with the boredom
  • Reward you for endless hours of driving (especially if you have complaining or fighting kids with you)
  • Perhaps bring back memories of summer road trip food you had when you were a kid (as a parent I can admit that you often give in and buy all kinds of stuff for your kids because they’re driving you crazy)

The Trap And The Danger

An endless stream of high carb, high fat, high calorie, and processed food is just begging you to plunk down your money so you can immediately indulge (watch how many people start eating the food they’ve bought before they even pay) or to take with you (in case there’s a famine around the next turn).

The real danger – aside from the damage to your waistline – is that high-carb processed foods spike then crash your blood sugar —making you really tired and cranky.

  • Drowsy drivers are most definitely not safe drivers.
  • Cranky drivers make life miserable for everyone in the car – not a great tone to set if you’re going on vacation.


Candy is an impulse purchase in convenience stores — 49% of shoppers say that their candy purchases were unplanned. Candy sales are steady,  generating a high margin (typically 35-40%). People will always want to treat themselves and candy is an affordable luxury.

Candy sold in convenience stores accounts for approximately 15% of all candy sold at the retail level. Chocolate bars are the winner followed by gum; bagged, repacked peg candy; candy rolls; mints and drops; non-chocolate bars; and novelties/seasonal candy.

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. It’s vividly colored wrappers reach out to you from high-traffic areas of the store: the checkout area, in the aisle that leads to the check out, and near or on the way to the cold cases holding the drinks.


According to the National Coffee Association, more than three out of four adult Americans say that they drink coffee either daily or regularly and convenience stores are one of their preferred destinations with people stopping to buy coffee more than they fill up their cars.

Industry data show that about 95% of all convenience stores sell coffee — about 78% of hot beverage sales. The second best seller is specialty coffee and cappuccino – about 13% of hot beverages.

Unlike candy, coffee isn’t an impulse purchase.  Nearly 96% of customers intend to buy a cup of coffee before they walk in. The average visit is about two minutes so it makes putting other impulse-buy merchandise — like candy, baked goods, and chips — near the coffee bar as a way for the store to get you to spend more money. Some retailers find that people who typically purchase coffee will also buy bottled water; a grab-and-go breakfast item; or a packaged snack like an energy, protein, or granola bar.

Some Ideas About What To Buy And What To Eat

Before you go into the mini-mart 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 donuts 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 pre-wrapped sandwich, that’s great, as long as the giant chocolate chip cookie and the bargain 32 ounce soda for 99 cents doesn’t grab you first. Try to decide what you’re going to buy (hopefully, a good choice) before you go in – and then stick to your decision.

Some Choices To Think About

  • Go for the nuts. Some stations have fruit (oranges and bananas come in their own wrapper and don’t have to be washed) and almost all have dried fruit — balance the sugar with the fat and protein in the nuts.
  • Sometimes you can find individual bowls of Cheerios or whole grain cereals. Grab a little container of non-fat/low-fat milk or a container of yogurt.
  • Popcorn is a great choice and some stations stock fat-free soy crisps, and Kashi products.
  • 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.
  • If you’re really hungry choose a sandwich or burrito over donuts, cookies, and pastry.
  • Beef jerky or beef sticks are good high protein snacks. So are hard boiled eggs – just make sure they’re refrigerated and haven’t been sitting around for a couple of days!
  • Crackers with cheese or peanut butter and trail mix help round out the list.  If you must go with crunchy stuff stick with pretzels.  If it absolutely must be chips, look for baked varieties.  Remember that the salty stuff will make you thirsty so stock up on water.



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2 Responses to What Do You Eat On A Road Trip?

  1. Sarah August 15, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    I like to snack on nuts & crackers during trips. But the kids associate long road trips with chips, candy and other junk food for some reason. Not easy to change their mind on that 🙂 Thanks for the suggestions !

    • Penny Klatell, PhD, RN, ACC August 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

      I like nuts, too. Especially on a long drive they can really be stretched out. My kids used to associate road trips with lots of candy — and it’s something they still do. It’s something about reward food and long boring drives and it’s a hard association to alter once it’s begun. I now notice, though, that when they are the ones driving they recognize that lots of sugary stuff makes them sleepy and they will make other choices for things like nuts and water. That makes me smile.

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