Healthy Eating While Traveling

a nutrition series by Michelle Chappel

Do you ever wonder how to keep your healthy eating habits while traveling?

This is something my clients often ask me about. When you’ve worked so hard to make progress and get to a place that feels right, how do we not mess it up while traveling? The good news is that you don’t have to give in to fast-food and convenience store snacks. There’s a healthy way to do it! All it takes is a little forethought and you can keep your health and digestion on track.

There are many factors to consider when traveling away from home. Are you driving or flying? Will you be away for a few hours or days? Will you have access to a refrigerator or stove? Are you traveling alone, with kids, or with other adults?

Each of these situations requires a different plan.

However, there are a few basic tips that apply to most of them.

The first thing I like to remind my clients to do is to make a mental list of the types of foods they like to eat and that they feel safe eating. Let’s say you’re following a vegan diet and taking an early flight. While some may just grab a cup of coffee and pick up a pastry at the airport, that won’t work for you. Ask yourself, “What do I typically eat for breakfast?” Maybe you usually eat avocado toast or oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. Avocado toast doesn’t travel well but overnight oats do! See where I’m going here? Planning ahead with travel food is key. 

 Here are a few of my favorite travel meals & snacks:

  • Overnight oats — the name says it all. All the prep is done the night before, it’s easy, healthy, delicious, and comes in its own to-go container. My favorite mix: Whole oats, chia seeds, dried fruit or fresh berries, sprinkle of cinnamon and top with milk.
  • PB & J — this doesn’t have to be a school lunch anymore. It makes an excellent breakfast, snack, or meal to go.
  • Ham & cheese rollup
  • Hummus and veggies
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Nuts/trail mix
  • Oatmeal protein balls
  • Healthy homemade cookies, muffins, or bars
  • Freeze a smoothie overnight and enjoy it thawed the next day
  • Fruit, fresh or dried
  • Jerky — a quick protein snack that fits in your pocket

You see, there’s a mix of ideas. It helps me to pretend I’m packing a school lunch box. Think of healthy snacks that don’t necessarily need to be refrigerated. Although, you could always bring a little cooler if you’re not flying. The soft ones are a great space saver, and you can always make your own ice packs with a Ziplock bag to cut down on bulk once it’s empty. 

Ok, so say you’re flying and need more than a bag of nuts while at the airport. Don’t give in to the mindset that, “If you can’t eat healthily, you might as well enjoy it” and get fried foods and greasy burgers. I mean, one time is not going to throw your whole healthy train right off its tracks, but if it’s not what you’re used to eating it may make for a very uncomfortable flight. Most likely you’ll find some options will fit your dietary needs at the airport. You can go to most restaurants and select healthier options these days. You can always get a salad with the dressing on the side. Or create your own entree out of healthy sides. One of my favorite restaurant build-a-meal is a baked potato and a green.

Now you’ve made it past the airport and checked into a hotel for a couple nights. Once again, most restaurants will have a healthy option. If you’re following a specific diet or have dietary needs, you may need to do a little preemptive research and scout out what’s nearby your hotel. If the culinary scene isn’t part of your vacation (who are you?!), then finding the closest Whole Foods can be a great option. That prepared food bar is a perfect place to feed individual tastes within a group. 

I know the struggle when you find yourself stuck in a car on the highway for hours trying to get from point A to point B and you don’t want to stop. You keep seeing the fast-food chains highlighted on the exit signs and you keep holding out for the next best one. I’ve experienced this many times on road trips down south. Well, I can tell you from experience there are a few “better” options out there. 

 Here’s another list of my go-to road trip stops:

  •  Chipotle — you can avoid the over-salted meat and make a tasty rice bowl
  • Applebee’s — they always have salads, sides, and grilled chicken
  • Sheetz — yup, if you know, you know. MTO sandwiches. I do love a gas station veggie sandwich.
  • Panera Bread — they do have a variety of salads and bowls you can choose from, just don’t get distracted by the pastries and mac & cheese.
  • Don’t forget the grocery store! — I already mentioned Whole Foods. But you can always pick up fruit, cheese, olives, canned fish, and whole-grain bread at any supermarket. 

The most important piece of advice I can give you is, don’t overthink it. It goes back to my first suggestion. What do you like to eat on a day-to-day basis? If you make a lot of home-cooked meals typically, look for options that are made fresh, and made to order. If you’re traveling by car, grab a loaf of bread, some cheese, meat, fresh fruit, and water. If you’re staying in a place with a kitchen, go to the grocery store once you get there and make a couple of meals that give you leftovers. Or, keep it simple by prepping different items you can then mix and match to make different bowls each night. 

What are your favorite travel foods?

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