9 tips for eating healthy on the road
Maybe you commute and/or spend the workday out and about in your car or public transit and need healthy breakfast/snack/lunch ideas on the run. Or perhaps you travel frequently for business (or pleasure), and want to learn how to eat healthily while traveling.
Traveling can be exciting, but it can also make it difficult to eat well. When you’re at home and in total control of your food environment, it may be easy to stay on track, but traveling can open up a whole slew of issues, from limited food availability, to time crunches, social events, problems keeping food fresh, and more. But you can make it work! It does take some planning ahead, but once you make these techniques a part of your travel experience you’ll realize it is really worth it – and it can make a difference in how you feel. We all know that travel can be draining, and eating unhealthily can only compound that feeling. Whether you’re traveling for business or fun, eating cleanly will make the experience much more enjoyable!
Here are 9 tips for eating healthy on the road:
Go for healthy snacks
Whether you’re on a commute across town or heading to the airport for an international flight to a conference, you’re likely to get hungry along the way. Your normal eating schedule will be thrown off, and you may have limited access to healthy food like you might at home. The best way to address this is to plan ahead, of course. If you’re going to be on the road for more than an hour or so, you’ll either need to take non-perishable items, or pack a small insulated bag or cooler with cold packs or ice in order to keep your snacks safe and fresh. With that in mind, a few good non-perishable options include:
- whole fresh fruit such as bananas, apples, and citrus fruit
- nuts and seeds, either roasted or raw (make sure they’re roasted in a healthy, non-hydrogenated oil, or better yet, roast your own at home)
- healthier chips alternatives, such as coconut chips, beet chips, plantain chips
- healthy, minimal ingredient snack bars, such as larabars or epic bars
One of the most important things to remember while traveling is to hydrate. Sounds simple enough, but you’ll want to make sure you hydrate correctly. And the best way to do that is making sure you have regular access to fresh water. Purchase a reusable water bottle and refill it at home, in hotels, at water fountains/water bottle filling stations. You can buy water bottles when necessary, but it’s healthier (less plastic exposure), and certainly less expensive to use reusable water bottles. When you’re in restaurants, make it a habit to order water for your beverage. Keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum – both will dehydrate you. And staying hydrated is especially important when you’re traveling by air, traveling in hot and/or dry climates, or staying at higher altitudes.
Plan ahead for hotel stays
If possible, you’ll want to get a room with a small refrigerator. If you can have access to a microwave, or a kitchenette, even better. That way, you’ll be able to purchase healthier food to have on hand when you’re in your room (or even bring some home if your travel plans allow). You can also portion off part of your (healthy) restaurant meal and bring it home and keep for another meal later. This can save you money and time, in addition to keeping your healthy eating commitment. Having simple foods ready to eat in your hotel can be especially helpful in avoiding late night vending machine snack raids, or being stuck eating sugary pastries or breakfast cereal from the hotel breakfast buffet. Think simple when stocking your hotel healthy eating stash: vegetables, fruits, nuts, yogurt, and simple proteins like canned salmon, preservative-free smoked turkey, or chicken – precook some to bring from home, or buy a rotisserie chicken from a store (check for unnecessary ingredients – stick with those with things like herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil).
Concentrate on vegetables and fruits
Look for produce everywhere on your commute or trip. You can bring some from home, stop by a grocery store en route or at your destination – even gas stations will often stock apples, bananas, and prepped salads. Eating a sit-down meal at a restaurant? Almost any restaurant will let you eat burgers or sandwich fillings on top of lettuce, or let you swap traditional sides of fries for some sautéed or steamed vegetables. Fast food restaurants will usually have salads available – go for ones with grilled chicken instead of fried. Grab a bunless burger and get a side salad. Work to fill between 1/2 to 3/4 of your plate with veggies, and let the rest be protein. This will go a long way to helping you stay healthy on the road, and help offset any treats that you’ll have along the way.
Have a strategy for restaurant eating
Find out ahead of time about restaurant offerings. If you’re going to be at a particular restaurant for a business meeting, you will probably know ahead of time, and can do research. Many restaurants have their menus online, some even with allergy and nutrition info. If you’ll be on the road at meal time, try to anticipate where you’ll be and look ahead at the restaurant choices in the area. If you Google “restaurants near me” (for your current location) or “restaurants near I-40 exit 210 in Tennessee” (for a planned location), you can easily see what is available. Once you’re there, don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions to get what you need to eat healthy. Even a fast food restaurant can serve a burger without a bun if you ask. Most sit-down restaurants, from franchises to fine dining can be accommodating of special requests. Ask nicely, but be assertive. You are the paying customer. Other things to remember when dining in a restaurant – order water, try to stay away from the bread tray or chips that come before the meal (particularly if you know it’s difficult for you to have just a small amount). Remember that restaurant portions are likely oversized. Don’t feel like you have to clean your plate. Portion off some at the beginning and have it packed to take home or back to the hotel.
Flying? Plan ahead
Airport and airline food has a reputation for being expensive and not overly tasty (or healthy). Since you’re captive on the plane or in the airport, if you don’t plan ahead, you might be stuck eating things you don’t want to eat. One of your best options will be to bring food with you. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it for a quick flight, know that the possibility of delays is always there. Throw some of those non-perishable healthy snacks in your carry-on, or if you’re going to be wanting a meal, get one to bring with you to the airport. If your flight will be long enough for meal service, check with the airline ahead of time…you can now often choose special dietary meals such as gluten-free, diabetic, vegetarian, and so on. Even if you’re not in one of those categories, they are often a bit healthier than the standard offerings. Also, remember that hydration is key on an airplane. The free miniature bottles of water they sometimes serve will generally not be enough. Bring an empty reusable bottle to fill at the airport (after security check, of course), or plan to buy some water at the gate. Try to steer clear of alcoholic drinks which will only dehydrate you further.
If your commute or travels find you on the road during breakfast time, it can be especially challenging. Your best breakfast for staying alert and satisfied until lunchtime should include protein, healthy fats, and veggies/fruits; so although a bagel with cream cheese or a cheese danish might be portable, they’re not going to help you have a good morning. So what can be healthy and portable? Think outside the box. Make your favorite omelet recipe in mini-muffin tins, and you’ve got a perfectly healthy hand-held option. Leftovers freeze well. Try some fruit along with a protein like nuts or a small portion of cheese. You can even bring a container with hard-cooked eggs or some cooked chicken with some carrot sticks or cucumber slices. What about coffee? If you don’t have digestive issues, coffee can actually be healthy for you (as long as you don’t load it down with sugar and trans fat-laden creamer). Try drinking it black, or with a splash of coconut or almond milk, and if you must sweeten, look at healthier options such as stevia, xylitol, or monkfruit. Teas can also make a good morning drink. Do yourself a favor and avoid the large, sugary seasonal coffee chain drink-of-the-moment. They’re great for an occasional treat, but should not be your regular morning drink. The sugar and calories add up very quickly, and will fill you up, leaving less room for the healthy foods you need to eat.
Make sure you’ve got the right supplies
Planning ahead is key in eating healthy while on the road. So it should go without saying that there are some tools that will be helpful. Depending on your needs, here are some things you might want to consider:
- supplies for keeping foods cold – insulated lunch or snack bags, small coolers (there are some than can even be plugged into your car’s power supply), ice packs
- reusable containers and water bottles – for packing food and beverages for your commute or your trip
- napkins, paper towels, wet wipes or hand sanitizer (especially if you’re going to be eating on your commute)
- items for helping prep food in a hotel – measuring spoons, small knife set, can opener, etc.
- basic fall-back snacks that will last for a while in your car, briefcase, suitcase or travel bag, in case you get stuck somewhere and you’re starving. Think nuts, seeds, healthy snack bars.
Don’t forget about exercise
Yeah, we’re talking about healthy eating on the road, but let’s face it, eating and exercise really go hand in hand. Doing one and not doing the other is not going to get you or keep you where you want health wise. Plus, while traveling, you’ll likely indulge a little now and then, and keeping exercise in your regimen can help to offset the effects. It’s also a great mood-booster and de-stresser. So make movement part of your day. Commuting by car? Park on the front of the parking lot from your building, do stretches at the traffic lights. Public transit? Get off a stop earlier and walk to your stop. Take advantage of the gym or pool facilities at your hotel. There are opportunities for exercise anywhere – you just need to commit seeking them.