On-the-Go Snacking: Strategies for Work Days, Road Trips, and Keeping Carbs at Bay
By Catherine Newman
Catherine shares her favorite low-carb, high-protein snacks that you can buy at a convenience store, make at home, or keep in your pantry
If you’re reducing the carbs you eat, then you already understand why snacks are so uniquely challenging. Because, for so many of us, snacking has always been about the chips and the muffins, the cookies and crackers and donuts. Or at least, it used to be. But we’re changing our ways so that a sudden pang of hunger doesn’t mean we end up crashing just when we need our energy and stable blood sugar the most. High-protein, low-carb snacks. It’s got a holy grail kind of feeling to it, I know. But we’re on it.
Our advice here is divided into three components, all of them focused on savory snacks that have less than 10 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Click to jump to a section:
How to snack on the road and/or from a convenience store, because stopping to refill your tank doesn’t mean you can’t get a reasonable bite to eat.
Our recommendations for snacks to stock up on – plan-ahead stuff you can buy at the store or order online and tuck into your desk drawer, briefcase, or glove compartment for daily, occasional, or emergency snacking situations.
Our own Zucchini Chip recipe for at-home cravings. You didn’t know you needed a zucchini chip recipe? Ah! You were wrong.
More recipes for make-at-home snacks.
For airport/airplane snacking after the pandemic, please see Adam Brown’s article.
We typically recommend whole foods versus processed foods, but we’re not doing that here. Or not exclusively, because many packaged snacks have been processed. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just do your best to get some nutrients into your body, and to minimize your carb load. You’ll feel so much better – we’re almost sure of it.
Ideally, if we’ve got to be in the car for a while, we would all plan ahead and pack up deviled eggs and cut-up veggies. But so often we don’t, and we’re pulling into the snackmart hungry and scanning the aisles for our best bets. Plus, with many of us trying to minimize time in grocery stores during COVID-19, here are three parts of the store to focus on:
The refrigerated case. Specifically, the cheese sticks and discs, and the shrink-wrapped hardboiled eggs—all high-protein, no-carb options. You might think you don’t want a shrink-wrapped hardboiled egg, but I’m here to tell you that if you keep salt and a bottle of hot sauce in your car, it’s really a pretty good snack.
The jerky/sausage aisle or endcap. Is jerky an ideal food? Well, not exactly – I mean, it’s processed and salty, and the meat might strike you as sketchy. But also? It tends to be very high in protein and very low in carbs, making it a very good choice in a pinch. Read the ingredients to make sure there’s no (or barely any) added sugar. This photo is from a run-of-the-mill middle-of-nowhere gas station, and it shows three of my favorite processed meat items: Duke’s Shorty Sausages (these come in a bunch of flavors, and offer 7 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbs per serving), Tillamook Zero Sugar Beef Jerky (14 grams of protein and 0 grams of carbs per serving), and Vermont Smoke & Cure meat sticks (these also come in many flavors, and have 8 grams of protein and 2 grams of carbs per 1-ounce stick).
The place where the nuts and seeds are, which might be kind of spread out around the candy. Look for products with no added sugar: sunflower seeds in and out of the shell, peanuts, smokehouse almonds, and pumpkin seeds are all good options. These tend to be high in protein and relatively low in carbs, plus they give you the crunchy-salty-filling trifecta you might be looking for in a snack.
If you’re thirsty, grab a bottle of water, unsweetened iced tea, or unsweetened flavored seltzer from the fridge!
Once you’re planning ahead, snacking gets a lot easier, and you might already have plenty of good, snackable, packable food at home: nuts and seeds; cheese sticks; cut-up veggies and dip; cottage cheese; hard-boiled eggs; avocados; pickles, olives, and the like. Invest in some reusable small containers, and consider prepackaging what you’ll need for the week.
But I also like to have more grab-and-go style snacks on hand, with a few especially delicious items in the mix so that I don’t succumb to the temptation of the vending machine Cheez-Its. These are all low-carb, some are high-protein, and most of them are fairly expensive. I try to think about these a little differently to offset my concern about the cost: unlike most junk food, these are actually made from whole, high-quality ingredients. In other words, they’re more like food than like snacks, which makes them worth investing in (at least for me). All of these snacks have the added advantage of being gluten free.
Trader Joe’s Norwegian Crispbread
These have answered my cracker-lover’s prayer. They seem a little. . . seedy at first. A little excessively wholesome. But the more I eat these, the more I love them: they’re nutty-tasting and crunchy, and one cracker slathered with mustard and piled with cheese makes a pretty perfect mid-afternoon meal (my daughter spreads hers with peanut butter).
Per serving: 4 grams protein; 3 grams fiber; 6 grams carbs
$4.29 per (7.55-ounce) package at Trader Joe’s
We’re pretty much crazy about all the single-ingredient cheese crisps out there (can you guess the single ingredient?) but these are our current favorite. They are SO CHEESY! They’re like the part that leaks out of a grilled cheese sandwich and crisps on the grill. And we can’t keep them in the house, whatever flavor we get, because everybody loves them so much. Other brands we like include Moon Cheese and Just the Cheese.
Per serving: 6 grams protein; 0 grams fiber; 1 gram carbs
$15 for 12 (.63-ounce) packages on Amazon
Epic Pork Rinds
I grew up seeing pork rinds in the bodegas of my childhood, but I’d never tried them until recently. And they’re really good—or at least these are. They’re like popcorn, but if popcorn were meat flavored and crunchier than anything you had ever bitten into in your life. Not crumbly-crunchy, but hard-crunchy, which is strange and nice. They’re also very filling. We like the Pink Himalayan + Sea Salt flavor, which have a happy two ingredients: antibiotic-free pork and salt. (Or three ingredients, if you count the two types of salt.)
Per serving: 11 grams protein; 0 grams fiber; 0 grams carbs
$4-4.50 per (2.5-ounce) bag at Whole Foods or epicprovisions.com
Flock Chicken Chips
These are basically the pork rinds of the chicken world. If you’re a person who volunteers to carve a roast chicken so that you can pull off its crispy skin and stuff it into your mouth before anyone else even knows it existed, then this is the snack for you. The chicken flavor is shockingly fresh and good. Be warned, though, that these are almost eerily filling. They come in different flavors, but we’ve only tried the original ones.
Per serving: 14 grams protein; 0 grams fiber; 0 grams carbs
$24 for 8 (1-ounce) bags from flockfoods.com
Roasted Seaweed Snacks
These are those papery little sheets of seaweed that are a little fishy, a little salty, and strangely satisfying, if you like seaweed. Seaweed has lots of micronutrients (it’s especially rich in minerals) but it doesn’t have a lot of protein, so these won’t satisfy actual hunger. But if you’re just feeling a little snacky, seaweed snacks can really hit the spot. Our favorite flavors include the Seasnax lime flavor and the gimMe Organic sesame or teriyaki.
Per serving: 1 gram protein, 0 grams fiber; 1 gram carbs
Around $1 to $2 per (.35 ounce) package at many stores and online
And! The recipe.
Nobody ever says this about zucchini, but bigger is actually better here, since these are like Shrinky Dinks in the oven. You can season them however you like once they’re baked: a sprinkle of curry powder, a shake of cheese powder, a dash of smoked paprika. But we love them plain, too. There’s something about the shrinking process that concentrates all of their sweetness. Maybe you didn’t even know that zucchini had any sweetness to begin with! Now you will.
View the recipe.
More make-at-home snack recipes:
- Salami jerky
- Rosemary-roasted pecans
- Cheater deviled eggs
- Smoky feta dip
- Basic Edamame
- Parmesan-Crusted Zucchini Wheels
- Lemony Hummus
Catherine loves to write about food and feeding people. In addition to her recipe and parenting blog Ben & Birdy (which has about 15,000 weekly readers), she edits the ChopChop series of mission-driven cooking magazines. This kids’ cooking magazine won the James Beard Publication of the Year award in 2013 – the first non-profit ever to win it – and a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Her book "How to Be A Person" was published in 2020. She also helped develop Sprout, a WIC version of the magazine for families enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), as well as Seasoned, their senior version. They distribute over a million magazines annually, through paid subscriptions, doctor’s offices, schools, and hospitals. Their mission started with obesity as its explicit focus – and has shifted, over the years, to a more holistic one, with health, happiness, and real food at its core. That’s the same vibe Catherine brings to the diaTribe column.
[Photo Credit: Catherine Newman]