Although it may seem like a daunting task to choose healthy meals while traveling, eating well on the road isn’t impossible. If you are away from the comforts of home, don’t throw in the towel. With a little bit of planning, you can hold it together and find healthy solutions. For the past month, I have been away from home, tending to my daughter and husband in the hospital. My meals have been limited to the cafeteria and nearby restaurants and delis. I know I haven’t been eating nearly as well as I do at home, but it hasn’t been a complete disaster. Here are some suggestions for you, based on my experience over the course of this past month. Take a look at these tips before you travel, and have a game plan so you can continue to eat well wherever you are!
Download the free AroundMe app. As soon as you arrive at your destination, check this app to see all of the establishments in your surrounding area. In addition to listing all of the nearby banks, gas stations and parking garages, the app lists all of the local restaurants, supermarkets and coffee shops. I think it’s very important to know what resources are available before you are ravenous.
Don’t Limit Your Search! Meals and snacks aren’t only sold at restaurants. Keep your eyes open to different possibilities. I stopped into a bookstore to buy a notebook, and I was shocked to find a vast assortment of healthy snacks at the café counter—hummus, fresh fruit, nuts, sunflower butter, unsweetened iced tea and all sorts of other options that I was not expecting to find in a book store. Not only did I buy the notebook, but I also stocked up on healthy snacks for the coming days.
Always buy unsweetened drinks. In the hospital cafeteria, the walls are lined with refrigerated cases filled with bottled beverages. Most of these drinks, unfortunately, are full of sugar. My advice to you is to skip the juice, soda and lemonade altogether. Find an option without sugar. I happen to love unsweetened iced tea. If you cannot find unsweetened iced tea, go ahead and brew a cup of hot tea. Any place that sells coffee will also have tea. If it’s an option, feel free to grab a cup of ice from the soda fountain and make your own iced tea by pouring your hot tea into the cup. Because I expected to be away from home for an extended period of time, I actually carried my own tea bags (and cold brew tea bags) in my backpack. Every day, I just needed to buy a few bottles of water for my tea bags.
Look for Unprocessed Foods. The guidelines for healthy eating don’t change because you are away from home. When you are shopping for your groceries in the supermarket, you may already be in the healthy habit of buying foods in their most natural form. The same rules apply when you are away from home. Don’t look for veggie chips. Look for veggies. Don’t look for fruit juice — look for fruit.
In the hospital cafeteria, there was always a roasted vegetable of the day. Even in airport convenience stores, you can usually find whole fruits, pre-packaged hummus (which is actually quite natural for a packaged product), nuts, and even vegetable crudité.
Try to create a well-balanced meal. Set yourself up for some sort of success. Don’t go to the deli counter every day if you are inclined to get a ham sandwich on white bread with a bag of cheese curls. You can do better! Trust me, I know what it feels like to be away from home and under tremendous stress with very little time for meals. You can still do pretty well if you stop for a minute and think before buying. Try to create your own balanced meal by piecing together a variety of food groups. Will it be perfect? Probably not. That’s not the goal. The goal is just to do our best while we are away from home. Start out by looking for some vegetables. Pick up a piece of fruit for later. Include some protein and fat so you don’t get hungry—this can be in the form of nut butter or lean meat. If you have the option between white rice and brown rice, always choose the brown. If you have the choice between grilled chicken and fried chicken, go with the grilled. If you are lucky enough to find a make-your-own salad counter, ask for your dressing on the side. Add some beans, chicken or nuts to the top of your salad to make it a heartier meal. You can do this!
Avoid the Kids’ Menu. If you are traveling with your children, avoid the kids’ menus at chain restaurants. Most of the items on these menus are devoid of nutrition (pancakes with fake syrup, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese on white bread, etc.) Instead of ordering from the kids’ menu, try the regular adult menu. Ask for lunch-sized portions or look at appetizers that may have vegetables. Your kids will surprise you if you give them the chance.
Look for Chinese Restaurants. This is such a great tip, and I have been using it since I moved out of my parents’ house to go to college. I still remember heading to the mall food court to find a Chinese food counter because I knew I would be able to find vegetables. If you are craving vegetables, and all you can find in the nearby stores are sandwiches and burgers, pick up the phone and order Chinese food. It’s the one kind of take-out restaurant where you can be sure to find assorted steamed vegetables. Most places prepare your food to order, so make sure to ask for simply prepared foods with sauce on the side.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the efforts you can take to stay healthy while traveling. It’s just a place to start! With your own ideas and routines, I am sure you will be well on your way to eating well-balanced meals, whether you are away from home for a day or a month. Good luck, and please feel free to share some of your own tips in the comments section below.