Feed Your Mind for Motoring
Top tips for what to eat on the road
By Azmina Govindji RD MBDA, Consultant Nutritionist
and Registered Dietitian
Making insurance straightforward
What you eat and drink is directly related to your energy levels and ability
to keep alert.
Fast food and fizzy drinks are usually the most convenient way to satisfy
your hunger while on a long car journey, but how do they affect your
attentiveness while driving? Are these foods going to help you focus or are
they just a quick and easy option? If you’re travelling with children, you may
find that it’s these fast foods that will keep them happy and quiet. But once
the effect wears off, you’ll soon be looking out for the next service
Believe it or not, sugar – or, to be precise, glucose - is the main
source of energy for your brain. Give your brain less glucose
and you get a decline in mental function. This doesn’t mean
you should go wild on sweets and chocolates. Indeed, quite
the contrary. The key is to choose foods that will help
your blood glucose go up slowly and steadily and certain
foods, called low glycaemic carbohydrates, can help you
keep your blood glucose more stable. Low glycaemic
foods include porridge, muesli, nuts, beans, lentils,
wholegrain breads, pasta, fruit and vegetables.
Where to have your pit stop
Choosing where to stop on a motorway is a bit like
choosing a diet. When you go on a diet, your goal
may be that you just want to lose weight, quickly.
But what happens when you go for this type of quick-fix
diet? It does the trick, but only in the short term.
And as soon as you start back on your usual habits, the
weight creeps back on again.
Similarly, you may have a favourite type of place that you
stop at for refuelling your car and your stomach.
Think about whether the food on offer is going to last a
good length of the journey ahead, or just be a short
term fix. Fast food may be tasty, quick, and keep the kids
quiet but for how long? Instead, consider more filling
options like jacket potatoes with baked beans, a pasta dish,
or a wholegrain sandwich and soup.
Healthy tips for eating on the road
Variety is the spice of life
The more varied your foods, the more likely you are to get a
good range of nutrients meaning your brain and body will
have a better chance of working at their optimum.
So, regardless of how many times you stop on the road,
how many snacks you have, and what your favourite
foods are, just keep in mind that it’s best to
When it comes to fruit and veg, the colours are
especially important. Coloured fruit and vegetables will give
you different nutrients – you get beta carotene from yellow and
orange fruit and vegetables like carrots, red peppers, apricots
and peaches. The powerful anti-oxidant in blueberries is also found in other purple coloured foods like
plums, purple grapes and beetroot. And the vibrant red you get from tomatoes gives you lycopene,
On a limited budget? Then plan ahead
How frustrating is it when you stop at a service station and notice the inflated
prices of snack foods? Perhaps you’ve recently been to the supermarket and
are kicking yourself for not stocking up in advance of your journey.
So, here’s your chance to plan ahead and buy your car-time snacks in
advance. It won’t only save you money; it could also help you focus whilst
driving if you make healthier choices.
• Fruit such as a banana or an apple generally costs around half the price of a
chocolate bar or packet of crisps. They also give you fibre and essential nutrients.
• Stringy cheese can keep kids occupied and is also a protein and calcium provider.
• Cereal bars come in different guises but, in general, they offer a good burst of energy while
those based on oats and nuts offer extra goodness.
• Research published in 2009 reported that alertness was increased after a cereal bar was
consumed as a mid-morning snack.
• Try oatcake biscuits instead of sweet biscuits and wholegrain crisps in place of regular crisps.
• Remember to ‘eat a rainbow’ – choose different coloured fruit and vegetables that you can
pack in a cool box. Try carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, seedless grapes and satsumas.
• You don’t need to go fresh: even dried fruits count towards your 5-a-day and
most offer a slow steady release of blood glucose. Pack a variety: sultanas,
raisins, apricots, mangoes, dates, apple rings, pineapple, and papaya.
You might be surprised how tasty the different
types are – and since many are sweet-tasting,
children usually enjoy them too.
Most supermarkets sell handy individual packets
that are easy to store.
• Nuts and seeds give you crunch - and munching can help keep you awake!
Unless you have a nut allergy, packing some unsalted nuts
in a jar can make a convenient healthy snack. Nuts and
seeds have a low glycaemic index, so they are slowly
digested and can make your blood sugar rise slowly
• Popcorn can be a fun snack. It’s best if you can
make your own using popping corn so you can
control the amount of salt or sugar you add.
• For an unusual sweet-tasting snack, pack some
raw cubes of sugar-free jelly – a bit sticky but great fun.
• Some breakfast cereals make an handy energiser for long journeys. Choose from mini wheat biscuits,
granola, and any cereal that you can pick up and eat with your fingers. Breakfast cereals are fortified
with essential nutrients and many will give you fibre too. They are likely to be more filling than a
packet of crisps and they have varied textures and tastes. Read the label and compare brands so you
choose those with less sugar and salt and more fibre.
You might be tempted to cut down on drinks in the car so
that you can stop less frequently, but think again. If you’re
dehydrated, your mind isn’t getting a chance to work at its
peak – and your passengers will get grumpier by the minute.
Even mild dehydration can cause irritability and headaches.
So, drink regularly and if you need to stop to offload that extra
fluid, factor that in to your journey time. Having frequent stops
will help you to re-focus on the drive and the change of
environment could help to keep the kids entertained.
• Sugary drinks can make you feel energised as soon as you
drink them, as they make your blood sugar go up quickly and
this can give you an energy boost. But this effect is short
term and you could feel worse afterwards.
• Fruit smoothies are best taken with a meal. They are generally
made from crushed fruits and fruit juice only, so they can be a
filling and nutritious choice.
• Coffee can be a temporary pick-me-up but intersperse
coffee with water and other drinks.
• Sipping fruit juice or sugar-rich fizzy drinks throughout the
journey isn’t the best choice. If you do want to drink fruit
juice, best to have it with a meal. Even sugar-free fizzy
drinks can damage your teeth if they are drunk in
• Water is the best hydrator, and it won’t rot your teeth.
Keep it cool so it is more refreshing.
• Some vending machines have flavoured milks which can
be filling, cooling and quenching.
Time for lunch
Typical fast foods such as pastries, burgers, chips, fizzy
drinks and sweets are often the easiest foods to get your
hands on. Ideally, think about choosing small frequent
meals and snacks rather than a huge meal half way
through the journey. Choose lighter foods that will
keep you alert and perky.
If you wait till you are ravenous, it’s likely you will be
lured by the smells of fried chicken and chips. So,
break your journey earlier and be conscious of
• Sometimes there is only the typical fast food
available. So think about how you can make your
choice healthier. If going for a pizza, choose one with
lots of vegetables and less cheese. If going for a burger or
fried chicken, forget the fries and choose a salad or corn on
the cob instead.
• “Comfort foods” are often widely available and can be nutritious. A bowl of warming soup and a
crusty granary roll helps to take the edge of your appetite and fill you up. It’s unlikely you will be
y a gr
easy burger after that.
• Slowly digested carbs like pasta are filling and nutritious. Go for tomato-based sauces rather than
creamy or cheesy sauces which are heavier and fattier and watch your portion size!
• When you look at the meal you have chosen, consider the natural colours. If you don’t see variety, add
some steamed vegetables or a salad accompaniment. It’s good to get the kids into the habit of doing
this from a young age.
• If you fancy taking a packed lunch, try wholegrain breads and bagels filled with lower fat fillings like
lean roast beef with mustard, low fat soft cheese with olives, hummus and veg, tuna and sweetcorn,
roast chicken and salad.
Top three tips
1 Eat small amounts often and make sure you have a filling high fibre breakfast before you set off.
2 Keep healthy snacks accessible.
3 Drink enough water - even mild dehydration can result in reduced alertness.
Note: People with diabetes should speak to their diabetes specialist team if they have any concerns about long distance driving.
About the Author:
Azmina Govindji ( www.govindjinutrition.com ) is a consultant nutritionist and
award-winning dietitian and broadcaster. She is known for her vibrant personality and is
currently a media spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association and NHS Choices.
She was ITV This Morning’s nutritionist from 2006 to 2007 and appears on The One
Show, The Wright Stuff, Watchdog and news channels, as well as on radio.