Road trips on major highways with two grade-school boys always mean that we’ll be stopping at a rest stop at least once along the way. I hate rest stops. I hate how the minute we walk in the doors we’re inundated with handbags and sunglasses and wallets to buy. Who buys a handbag at a rest stop? I hate how my guys are in and out of the men’s room in two minutes while I’m waiting in a line that takes me 10 minutes even to get into the ladies room. And I really hate the food choices at rest stops.

There’s usually a fast food burger restaurant, a pizza place, a $6 hot dog option, an ice cream stand and a coffee place. None of those choices are ones that I particularly want to make for my children – especially when I’m going to be loading them back in the car and telling them to sit still for a few hours more.

One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that many rest stops have also added mini-marts as options, too. Yesterday, I took a few minutes to poke around the mini-mart in one of our stops, and realized that was where the best options could be found.

Here’s what I found — all better choices than what the restaurants had to offer.

  1. Kashi Go Lean Crunchy Bars – These Kashi bars are full of whole grains and natural ingredients.
  2. Nuts and trail mixes – Nuts are full of protein and good fats. While they may be high in calories, a small packet will keep you satisfied (once your body has the time to process it) and give you energy. If you choose a trail mix with mixed nuts, dried fruits and perhaps a little chocolate, you’ll get the same results.
  3. Yogurt – The kids’ yogurts at the mini-mart were full of artificial colors and flavors but there were a couple of plain or vanilla options.
  4. Cheese sticks – Kids love string cheese.
  5. Fresh fruit – There was a bowl of apples by the cash register. If you do buy apples at the mini-mart, take them into the bathroom for a wash first.
  6. Fruit cups – In the refrigerated section, there were fruit cups with sliced apples, strawberries and grapes. I don’t know what is used to preserve the fruit inside the cups (the apples weren’t brown so something must be used), but I’m guessing I’d still rather have my kids eat that than a fast food cheesburger.
  7. Triscuits – Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a box of Triscuits? Whole wheat, soybean and/or palm oil, salt. That’s it. While the choices of oils in the crackers might not be the most desirable, compared to most other packaged crackers out there, these aren’t a bad choice.
  8. Hard boiled eggs – If they are only a day or two old, hard boiled eggs are full of nutrition and will help stop the hunger. Inspect hard boiled eggs for sell by dates before purchasing them, though.
  9. 100% fruit juice – Skip the sodas and the fruity drinks and grab some 100% apple or orange juice.
  10. Milk – Even laced with a little chocolate, milk is a better choice than soda.
  11. Bottled water – If you don’t have reusable water bottles that are full in the car, bottled water is a healthier choice than sodas and fruity drinks. Just please, please, please, make sure that the bottles end up getting recycled (that goes for the juice and milk bottles, too). If you have to hold on to the empty bottles until you get home to do so, it’s not going to kill you. 

It’s always better (and much more economical) to plan ahead and have healthy snacks and beverages in the car with you. If you do find yourself stopping at rest stop for more than just a bathroom break, consider checking out the mini-mart for healthier options before standing in line for a burger and fries. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.