Summer is finally approaching and, like you, I’m dreaming of quick weekend getaways, family trips, long drives to favorite spots, and running through the airport to catch a flight into a different world for a few days. Whatever your destination or mode of travel, it’s challenging to eat well while on the road. Inhibitions go down, routines are broken, the schedule is out the window, food options are limited, and then there are those wait times that make us eat mindlessly. Think of what would happen if I put a bag of chips in your hands while you were waiting to board a flight. Exactly.
So how do we stay on course with a nutritious diet while hitting the road?
Have a strategy so that wholesome food choices won’t be hard to come by and you won’t have to surrender to the pitfalls of travel, at least without putting up a good fight.
Plan ahead and pack.
One way to lessen the temptation is to prep the food yourself and pack it up.
- Pack both meals and snacks.
- Use a small or large cooler with ice for any perishables, if this is an option.
- Choose easily transportable foods.
- Think balance and satiety by choosing foods with protein and fiber that provide lasting power.
Here are some of my favorites.
(Notice the suggestions are for smaller meals in order to avoid that sluggish, heavy feeling.)
- Greek yogurt
- Hard boiled eggs (a totally easy grab n’ go option)
- Single-packed servings of cheese (such as mozzarella string cheese)
- Whole grain bread or crackers with peanut butter (an easy and popular option for most kids)
- For veggie snack ideas, carrots, snap peas, celery, and edamame are all fun foods to nibble on that provide fiber and that crunch appeal we all crave.
- Fresh fruit (maybe even with some nut butter on the side). Apples, bananas, and oranges are easy ones to transport, but feel free to mix it up with seasonal fruit.
- I am a big fan of smoothies because you can prep them ahead of time and easily keep them chilled, and they are an easy way to get in some vitamins and minerals, as well as protein and fiber. You can use anything you have left in house that you need to use up before it spoils like: avocado, kale, spinach, cucumber, kiwi, apples, bananas, and pears. Add some milk or Greek yogurt with your favorite add-ins (chia seeds, cacao nibs, almonds, cinnamon, etc.), and you’re ready to go.
- Nuts and seeds (You can make your own trail mix with some raisins, popcorn, almond slivers, walnut pieces, and some dark chocolate chips.)
- Pack a favorite sandwich in the cooler with lean proteins like meat, bean spreads, or nut butters, along with your favorite veggies on whole grain bread. Be creative. Sandwiches are a convenient way to get a balance of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) in a meal and provide a good source of fiber too. My latest favorite is blending garbanzo beans with an avocado and adding some lemon juice for a delish spread on my whole grain bread along with some crunchy veggies. It’s so easy and light, not to mention packed with nutrients.
Eating out smart
Yep, this is a tough one; however, look a little closer to options available. Dining establishments are increasingly more aware of the consumers’ desire for healthier food items, and they are fulfilling that demand more and more. However, choosing wisely is an effort if you are relying on vending machines, coffee shops, and rest stops. When I’m on vacation, I stop at a local grocery store to pick up a few good items rather than running into the gas station. This way, I’m proactively reducing my junk food cravings and exploring the types of foods available at grocery stores outside of my hometown.
Of course, a vacation isn’t a vacation without one or two fun meals in restaurants. Good options when dining out include: whole grain sandwiches and salads with grilled lean meats or vegetables. The more color the salad, the more nutritious. Focus on items that are baked, roasted, grilled, broiled, and steamed. Choose lean proteins, including fish. Avoid fried and breaded foods as much as you can. When an option, request healthier sides or substitutes to your meal.
Keep in mind.
This is not just about calories, but how we feel. Choosing the wrong types of foods, especially during travel time, can cause sluggishness, bloating, constipation, and other things that make for a less pleasant experience. So don’t ruin the getaway you have been daydreaming of while sitting at your workdesk all winter. Ensure that it’s the vacation you and your family deserve. For instance, ditch low nutrient dense foods like pretzels, chips, and cookies at convenience stops. Focus on nutrition rather than empty calories.
Make sure you are drinking water. It’s fun to infuse it with your favorite fruits to give it a little flavor and avoid some of the empty calorie options out there. Some suggestions are lemon, mint, blueberries, cucumber, strawberries, and oranges. Tea is also a refreshing and calorie-free option. Stay away from the sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and sweetened teas.
Perhaps you don’t have the 6:00 p.m. hour with the trainer booked like you do at home to rely on, but living an active lifestyle while on your journey can make a world of difference, especially if you are stuck sitting for long periods of time during your travels. Staying active can not only burn calories, but also boosts energy levels so you can truly enjoy your travel experience. If you are driving, make frequent pit stops to stretch your legs, and then when you arrive, no matter how you got there, walk everywhere you can at your destination. Take a hike, a bike ride, swim, golf, or choose any activity you enjoy and get moving.
Lastly – Eat the Treat
As much as we talk about eating good nutrition, we should occasionally enjoy a meal or dessert that is unique to the area we are visiting or one that is part of a special celebration. It will make your overall effort of eating well maintainable long-term and worth it in the end.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information