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HOW TO EAT HEALTHY AT GAS STATIONS

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People sometimes look at me like I’m crazy when I say that I spent one month eating at gas stations.

But I understand why. While convenience stores have evolved and expanded their product offerings to include healthier options, the public perception seems to lag behind. Many consumers still believe that a meal or snack at a gas station automatically means indulgent and less healthy options.

This is why friends and family, after hearing my story, have suddenly noticed healthier options at their favorite stores. It’s not that the products weren’t there before, but rather that they’ve failed to notice them.

That’s why it’s important to show people how to purchase healthy food at gas stations. Here are five tips that will help whether you’re grabbing a quick lunch at the office or heading out on the road for a few hours.

 

Pilot’s PJ Fresh stores offer large coolers and many healthful choices.

 

#1 Find the Cooler

Open-air coolers are the go-to location for many healthier options in convenience stores.

This is where you’ll find salads, yogurts, fruit and vegetable trays, hard-boiled eggs, freshly packaged sandwiches and other similar products. Not everything will be healthy—which is totally fine—but it’s a good place to start.

Coolers are becoming a standard feature at stores nationwide. Whether I visit an independent store in a small town or a state-of-the-art Sheetz or Wawa, it’s reasonable to expect an open-air cooler. You can find numerous examples on my Instagram account.

Examples of stores and products include:

  • QuikTrip sells a variety of snack packs one that contains carrots, cheddar cheese, pretzels and grapes
  • Love’s Travel Stops sells 12oz to-go containers with an assortment of fruit and vegetables that vary from store to store
  • Pilot’s PJ Fresh locations sell fruit and hard-boiled eggs
  • 7-Eleven often has fresh salads and fruit
  • Buc-ee’s sells large salads and beef jerky
  • 7-Eleven frequently offers a large variety of fruit, veggies and salads
  • CEFCO sells fruit and salads
  • KCI Car Care next to the Kansas City Airport has single-serving cheeses, healthful snack bars and various snack packs

 

Sheetz often places fresh fruit near the registers.

 

#2 Look for fresh fruit

Many convenience stores sell whole fruit near the front doors and registers.

At QuikTrip locations, bananas are frequently located within an arm’s reach as you check out. The new GetGo Café + Market locations also have bananas, apples and oranges displayed about ten feet away from the registers. And let’s not forget truck stops. Popular brands like Love’s Travel Stops and Pilot Flying J often have numerous options.

And if you’re in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Northern Iowa, Kwik Trip—or Kwik Star, as they’re called in Iowa—sometimes have more than twenty types of fresh produce. Not just apples and oranges, but vegetables and less common options too: avocadoes, potatoes, onions, tangerines and other products that you normally find in grocery stores. It’s a convenient option for customers who need a few items but don’t want to walk through a large grocery store.

It’s been common in my travels to find at least apples or bananas at most locations, even the small independent stores that have more limited options. And let’s be honest, that’s still great!

 

Almonds are always a great on-the-go snack. I purchased these at Kwik Trip.

 

#3 Stick to the basics

What about those situations when stores don’t offer much?

That’s when it makes sense to stick to the basic items. There are certain products that are found in most convenience stores and many of them are quite reasonable.

  • Nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts and mixed varieties)
  • Beef jerky (many are low in calories and sugar)
  • Low-sugar snack bars (stores frequently sell snack bars from Quest, KIND and Bear Naked)

Trail mixes and other snack products are sometimes packaged in larger quantities that include multiple servings, so keep that in mind. I become bored during long drives and am prone to constant snacking, and I often purchase single-serving products to avoid that temptation.

 

Topo Chico offers many high-quality sparkling waters.

 

#4: Choose sparkling water instead of soda

Sugary sodas are delicious but, let’s face it, they’re not the healthiest option available.

And I’m speaking from experience. When I gained a lot of weight in my late-teens to mid-twenties, I drank a tremendous amount of soda. In fact, I was one of those guys who eagerly refreshed the screen on Amazon.com when they rereleased Surge in limited quantities. For fans of Surge, however, it’s now sold in many convenience stores nationwide.

But health-conscious customers have other choices too. That’s why sparkling water is so great: it offers carbonation and similar mouthfeel, and it’s often calorie-free.

Or at least many of them are.

Always check the label to be sure. Look for sparkling water with no sugar—products like Perrier and Topo Chico. Most sparkling water has a light, subtle flavor, but some use artificial sweeteners and produce a much more vibrant taste. It’s up to you how you feel about artificial sweeteners—I don’t mind them—but it’s just one more option.

 

Kum & Go has lower-calorie options for breakfast–including this egg-white and turkey sausage sandwich.

 

#5 If you choose an indulgent product, choose a lower calorie version

Sometimes the healthful options may be limited.

Last year, I visited a large gas station about an hour outside of Detroit where the only healthy option was mixed nuts. But I wanted a hot meal. I’d had a long day at work, I was tired, and I missed the opportunity to get dinner.

Between pizza and other fried food, however, there wasn’t a lot to choose from.

I eventually settled on popcorn shrimp. Although it was fried and probably not the healthiest option, it was the better choice for me than the pizza or burgers. It was also a reasonable portion and I didn’t have to worry about overeating.

In situations like that, you must be strategic.

Conclusion: Shop with a strategy

Convenience stores are like grocery stores: it pays to have a strategy. If you walk inside without a plan, then you may not make the best choices. Do what you came there to do and be intentional.

Analyst, Convenience Store and Retail Trends

Frank Beard is a passionate advocate for convenience stores who brings a wide range of experience to the GasBuddy team. His "30 Days of Gas Station Food" experiment has raised awareness of the fact that most — if not all — convenience stores have healthful options available. He's spoken at events like the 2016 NACS Show and the Partnership for a Healthier America's 2017 Summit, and he's a contributor to NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. Having visited more than 1,000 convenience stores in 24 states, Frank helps communicate the fact that convenience stores truly are the perfect pit stop.

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