My Favorite Places to Eat Cleanly on the Road (Plus a Travel Guide to Take With You!)

I've always been a bit of a road tripper.  Ever since I was in college, I have driven all over the place.  Once, from Maryland to Texas and back, just because I didn't want to get on a plane.  I've done a million trips between Maryland/Virginia and North Carolina since that's where my family and I lived (respectively), and have made visits to SC, GA, FL, PA, WV and DE.  

In fact, I've become a bit of a pro at it, usually getting from my starting point to my destination with only a single stop.  MAYBE two if it's a really long trip.  I time my eating and bathroom stops with my gas fill-ups and I'm good to go.  

But ever since I started eating cleanly, it's added a whole new element to my travels.  Now it's not as simple as stopping at any old McDonald's or Dairy Queen (since they seem to be located every 5 miles on the interstate).  Most times, finding somewhere to eat a healthy meal on the go is almost as easy as finding a unicorn.

But again... I'm starting to become a bit of a pro.  Except this time, it's at traveling as a healthier eater.  As I visit different destinations, I find the best places to eat cleanly and remember them so I can return on my next visit.

Since I've lived in NC for almost ten years now, I have a lot of the NC towns nailed down.  But I've also found a few scattered places in MD, VA and DE.  And as I continue my travels (possibly in a renovated vintage camper!), I plan to continue to expand my "guide," until I have a spot in every state, and maybe every town!

So stop getting off exits and roaming aimlessly and stop subjecting yourself to bad food.  Check out these gems on your next trip!

This adorable little natural food store and cafe is tucked rather unsuspectingly in the Landfall Shopping Center.  In fact, I wouldn't have even known it was there if my friend hadn't told me to go there.  Boy, am I glad she did.  

Not only do they have all the usual trappings of a natural food store... organic produce, gluten free items, supplements, natural beauty products and natural cleaning products, but they also have an AMAZING salad bar.  I'm not talking about your average salad bar.  This one has one entire side that features a bunch of different salads like chicken salad, pasta salad, potato salad, veggies, cous cous and so much more.  And the majority of them are gluten free!  There are vegetarian options, vegan options and the best thing is, everything is clearly labeled so there's no guessing required.

They also make smoothies, have grab-n-go meals and my favorite, a bunch of sweets that are gluten free.  MUST TRY:  the peanut butter balls!!

green sage cafe (asheville)

Ever since the first time I tried the Green Sage, I've daydreamed about it.  Seriously.  I had the Almond Brothers Smoothie (almond butter, almond milk, bananas, spices and carrots... yes, carrots!) and a gluten free breakfast burrito (with eggs, black beans, spinach, avocado salsa, root hash and cheese).  Annnnnd now, my mouth is watering as I type this.  But it was seriously that good.  In fact, I happen to be in Asheville right now and you get one guess where I'm going to go tomorrow!  

But the yumminess doesn't stop there.  Not even CLOSE.  They have an assortment of sandwiches, omelettes, breakfast bowls, oatmeal and even pancakes.  All that are gluten free!!  Plus, they even have refined sugar free syrup and vegan butter options.  For lunch, they have all kinds of salads, soups, sandwiches and rice bowls.  And don't forget to try the house made sweet potato chips!  And perhaps, the best thing of all... they use organic, natural, local ingredients and compost 100% of their food waste!  Seriously, can it get any better than this??

Bean vegan cuisine (charlotte)

If you weren't looking for Bean, you'd probably pass right by it.  It's located in a very non-descript looking building with a very plain white and orange sign.  The inside is pretty average too as far as furnishings go, but that's were the mediocrity ends.  The way Bean is able to turn popular dishes into vegan "alternatives" is nothing short of amazing.  They've got "pulled pork," "cheeseburgers," "chicken fingers" and my favorite, "crab cakes."  Also known as the Crabbie Patty Platter.  Plus, they have something that's very hard to find... gluten free french fries!!  And the best tasting collard greens around!

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So I stumbled upon this little gem while I was walking through the market (if you don't know what that is, it's like five open-air buildings full of vendors and artisans with all kinds of goods) in downtown Charleston.  Unfortunately, I found it about ten minutes after I had just eaten lunch at a chain restaurant... sigh.  But I DID have a Nutella frappe (O.M.G.) and fell in love with their menu while I stood in line.  You can get any of their sandwiches on gluten free bread or design your own with amazing toppings like pickled green tomatoes, sauteed broccolini and smoked cremini mushrooms.  They also have amazing salads with dressings like apple cider bacon and dill caesar.  Although I only got to sample a coffee drink so far, I can't wait to go back and try half the menu!  :)

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I've done the drive between Charlotte, NC and Manassas, VA many times since that's where my sister lives.  And after a few times of almost passing out from hunger on that trip, I learned my lesson.  I eat breakfast before I leave, bring plenty of healthy snacks and then get my lunch in Harrisonburg at Greens & Grains Cafe.  Thankgoodness I saw their sign on the highway because it's another little gem that I would've never known about otherwise.  They have all kinds of salads, wraps and homemade soups with plenty of gluten free options.  I usually get one of the "seasonal" options like the Fall Harvest Salad, but I've also tried the Turkey Club and Strawberry Sensation and everything has always been delicious!  And they source lots of ingredients like bread, eggs and milk from local farms!

I recently went on a trip to Delaware to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family, and to spread my mom's ashes at the beach.  I was driving separately and knew I'd be on the road right around lunchtime, so I was hoping I'd find something "healthy" along the way.  Of course, as I tooled along the roads to the beach, there was every kind of fast food and not much else.  I got all the way to 5 miles from the beach house and hadn't found anything so I stopped at a very random, tiny shop that sold vegan and vegetarian foods.  They didn't serve food to go, so I ended buying a random bag of frozen veggie burgers that I could heat up in a hurry before my blood sugar dropped.  Only to find out about an hour later when we ventured out to the grocery store, that there was a gluten-free HAVEN right down the street from our house.  The Birch Tree Cafe is located inside of a healthy grocery store called Good Earth Market.  They have coffee, smoothies, sandwiches, salads, soups and pizza, as well as some yummy baked goods and bread.  And they're all gluten free!  I tried the cinnamon muffin (YUM), the chickpea salad sandwich (which has almonds, dried cranberries, sliced apple, swiss cheese and red onion... YUM) and bought a loaf of GF bread.  It was seriously the best GF bread I've ever had... with such a great texture and taste that I am considering having it shipped to me in NC! 

Now, this is a place that I unfortunately haven't been yet (as of Dec 2015) but am DYING to go to.  I found it when I did an internet search a couple months ago since I was going to be in town for my high school reunion.  But I never got to check it out, so it is definitely on the list of must see's!

Not only do they have an EXTENSIVE gluten free menu with everything from appetizers (must try the deviled eggs with crumbled potato chips), salads, sandwiches, "pasta", seafood, steak and even desserts, but they also start everyone out with gluten free bread and dip.  No more sitting and watching your friends eat the bread at the beginning of the meal!  

I can't speak to the quality of the food at this one yet, but I hope to remedy that soon!

Keep an eye out for updates as I continue to travel and discover more clean eating gems!  And in the meantime, download the Clean Eating Travel Guide to take with you on your trips!

Until next time, keep your worries tiny and your dreams BIG!