Convenience-Store Snacks, Plus Salted-Caramel Mania!

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Dear Hungry Girl,

I travel a lot at night, and while I often plan ahead, sometimes the only food option for miles is a gas station or convenience store. I never know what to get at these places. Any suggestions that won't put a serious dent in my diet efforts?

Hittin' the Gas (Station)

Hi Hittin' the Gas,

Sometimes a quick visit to the gas station or convenience store is the only opportunity to grab some much-needed fuel... for yourself! And while there are many potential pitfalls (stay away from the hot stuff on the rotating grill), there are plenty of smart options too...

Fresh fruit - Easy, right? You can usually find a basket of apples, bananas, and oranges at quick-stop shops. If you can't find it fresh, look for freeze-dried fruit (it's becoming more common). Watch out for regular dried fruit, though -- it's often loaded with excess sugar and served up in oversized packages.

Snack bars - Steer clear of the gigantic protein bars meant for bodybuilders. Look for ones with 200 calories or less, plus a good amount of protein and fiber. Some of my favorites are made by Kashi, KIND, and Luna.

Baked chips - While the jumbo puffs coated in orange cheese dust look tempting, they're a fatty mess. (Literally -- you'll get orange smears everywhere!) Seek out Popchips, Kettle Brand Bakes, and Baked! Lay's -- they all have very reasonable nutritional stats. Look for single-serving bags -- check the "servings per container" part of the nutrition label to be sure your snack is for one! Speaking of crunchy stuff, 94% fat-free microwave popcorn is another good option. Many gas stations and convenience stores are equipped with a microwave, and with 94% fat-free popcorn, you get a great bang for your calorie buck -- have about 5 cups for 100 calories.

Refrigerated snackables - Scan the store for hard-boiled eggs (I typically ditch the yolks or give 'em to a pal), light string cheese, carrot sticks (watch out for fatty dips, though), and light yogurt. I've even spotted Mini Babybel cheeses, which I LOVE. While you're in the fridge section, grab a bottle of water or a low-calorie drink like Vitaminwater Zero or Diet Snapple. Staying hydrated is key when it comes to avoiding excessive snacking.

Jerky - Jerky often gets a bad rap, but it's a great source of protein on the go. Plus, it's typically low in calories and fat. (Just avoid the jumbo meat sticks, which are usually far fattier than jerky.) Look for beef, turkey, chicken, and even soy jerkies. Click here for some of my favorites!

So there you have it -- a bunch of smart-eating choices at gas stations and convenience stores. One more tip: Don't snack and drive! (Chew first; drive after.)

Hi HG,

I'm obsessed with salted caramel. I've already discovered your amazing recipe for salted caramel hot chocolate, and I was wondering, do you have any other ideas that can satisfy my salted-caramel cravings?

Crazy for Salted Caramel

Hi Crazy for Salted Caramel,

Ahhhh! How good is that Sweet 'n Salty Caramel Cocoa?! A lot of people love salted caramel -- the sweet 'n salty combo is hard to resist -- and it's certainly trendy these days. I definitely have some more guilt-free craving busters for you...

Market finds - My number-one pick: Nonni's Salted Caramel Biscotti. Crammed with caramel, drizzled with milk chocolate, and topped with sea salt, each ROCKIN' biscotti has just 100 calories and 3.5g fat (PointsPlus® value 3*). Bonus points for being individually wrapped! There are also plenty of caramel treats that aren't labeled as salted, yet they'll completely satisfy a craving. Fiber One's new Caramel Nut protein bars totally have that salty-sweet thing going on, as do Quaker Popped Caramel Corn rice snacks and Jolly Time Healthy Pop Caramel Apple popcorn.

HG recipes - For a decadent snack with a large portion size, whip up this Salted Caramel Popcorn Mix! For a satisfying b-fast with a salty-caramel twist, check out this Salted Caramel Cocoa Oatmeal Bowl. And even though these recipes aren't dubbed "salted caramel," they totally deliver that flavor profile -- The Chilly Chipper (a caramel-y ice-cream-sandwich swap with potato chips inside!) and Nutty Caramel-Coated Sticky Buns (the Pillsbury dough has the perfect touch of saltiness).

Just add salt - If you find yourself up a caramel creek without a salted paddle (tee-hee!), just add a dash of coarse sea salt to your favorite caramel treat. Sprinkle some sea salt on this Deconstructed Caramel-icious Candy Apple or a Gooey Caramel Coconut Brownie! Try it with supermarket finds too: Salt your sugar-free caramel pudding snacks! (Ohh, and stir in some mini chocolate chips.) In fact, you can drizzle anything with a little fat-free, low-fat, or light caramel dip (Marzetti makes GREAT fat-free and light ones!), and then top it with a bit of sea salt. Look for tubs of caramel dip in the produce section. Just be careful with the portions -- each 2-tbsp. serving has around 100 calories. (You don't need much, though, to get major caramel flavor.)

Now you have oodles of ideas for kicking a salted-caramel craving... guilt-free, of course!

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