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Eating Healthfully while Traveling

Kris, I just returned from a fabulous vacation with my husband.  We always joke that we just go from table to table when we are on vacation because food is such an important part of how we experience the places we are visiting.  Whether I’m traveling for work or pleasure, I always like to enjoy the regional cuisine and try local specialties of the places I’m visiting—that meant jamon in Spain and gelato in Italy on my most recent vacation.  And I was thinking that since so many listeners will be traveling over the upcoming holidays, it would be helpful to hear some of my strategies for eating healthfully while traveling. 

First, I want to make the distinction between different purposes of traveling, because in my mind, your approach should be different depending on the type of travel you are doing.  In my mind, I divide this topic into two categories:

1: Vacation travel

2. Traveling for work or similar purposes when it’s not a vacation.

Overall though, one important thing to keep in mind is that if you have an eating pattern that really works for you in your day-to-day life, then you know how good you can feel when you eat right.  When you have a good eating plan in place, you don’t ever want to deviate from it too much because you don’t want to feel terrible while you’re traveling, especially if you’re on vacation!  So my approach is to stick with my core healthy framework and give myself some extra flexibility.

When I’m on vacation, I like to relax my typical style of eating a bit.  I don’t go crazy, but I do eat dessert more often, dip into the bread basket, and drink wine with more meals.

I like to sleep later whenever I can, so we typically end up sleeping through breakfast and going straight to lunch, so our calorie allotment in divided between two meals instead of among three meals, which can help to compensate for the little extra, bread, dessert, and wine.  We are also a lot more active on vacation; we walk more if we are sightseeing and we swim more if we are just having a relaxing vacation with the kids.  Being more active also helps compensate for some of the extra calories we consume.

I want listeners to understand that vacation eating doesn’t mean that all bets are off, it really means loosening up the structure and routine of your daily life to allow for more foods while maintaining your core eating structure.

When traveling for non-vacation purposes, it’s important to have a plan and lots of strategies for eating healthful meals and snacks.  Although airport food is improving, you don’t want to find yourself stuck as a captive audience in an airport, or even worse an airplane and having to choose from mostly poor quality processed foods.  I have some helpful strategies that will hopefully help you avoid that trap.

Try these strategies for all of your travels to help you eat your best so you can feel your best when you’re away from home.

1.    Look for supermarkets so you can stock your hotel room with good foods.  On day one of a vacation, I go to a local market and buy granola, soy milk, apples, nuts and some bottled water, plus some paper bowls and plastic spoons.  That way we can eat a good breakfast in the hotel room and start the day right, plus you save time and money by not eating breakfast out.  As for apples and nuts, it is so important to have healthy snacks that travel well at your fingertips.  When you control your appetite with heathy snacks you are better able to make good choices at your next meal because you’re not starving.  Having supplies for breakfast and snacks is especially important if you’re traveling with kids! 

2.     Try some new foods.  When we’re away from home and out of our comfort zone, I think it’s normal to look for familiar restaurants and familiar foods.  Resist the temptation to go to fast food restaurants and instead try something new and local.  As I mentioned, I love to eat the regional foods of the areas I’m visiting as part of my travel experience.  Get restaurant recommendations from travel websites and the hotel concierge if there is one at the hotel you are staying at.

3.    Plan, plan, plan.  Eating healthfully on a daily basis requires planning ahead, so it stands to reason that if you’re going to do it while traveling, you also need to plan ahead.  If you have food intolerances or special dietary needs, this tactic is imperative.  Use the internet, ask a friend who lives in the area, or call a hotel concierge for restaurant and market recommendations.  In my experience, the restaurant theme doesn’t need to be healthy as much as it needs to be good quality: look for fresh, local food that is freshly prepared and has a good selection of vegetable side dishes.

4.    If you are flying to your destination, plan to pack food so you’re not eating airport food or even worse, buying airplane food.  I like to go to Gelson’s either the night before or the day of a flight and purchase Sandwiches from the service deli --they have the best sandwich deal in town, where you can get a  made-to order gourmet sandwich with two side salads for $9.99.  You can also consider visiting the salad bar and making a big salad with a small cup of dressing on the side or put the dressing on the bottom and shake it up when you’re ready to eat.  I look for similar supermarket or deli options for my return flight.  I also pack some raw nuts, like almonds or walnuts, as well as some fresh fruit or dried fruit, or even a trail mix made with raw nuts and dried fruit.  Keep in mind that if you pack yogurt, hummus, or salad dressings, they have to be in 3.4 ounce containers when they go through security or else they will get confiscated.   

A lot of listeners are probably thinking that you can make your own brown bag lunches at home to take on the plane, which is totally true if you are organized enough and have enough time to do it for your whole family yourself.  I’m not that organized. 

Another alternative is to do some research into the best food options for the airports you are using.  There are tons of websites and articles online that provide this information.

I always buy a big bottle of water at the airport so I can drink throughout my flight.  It’s really important to prevent dehydration, which can happen really easily on planes and I don’t want to have to wait for the beverage cart to get a tiny cup of water.  By the way, it’s best to stick with water as your main beverage while flying, and while on the ground, most other beverages are too sugary, which isn’t great for your immune system, and alcohol is very dehydrating.  If you get dehydrated, you’ll feel pretty bad by the time you get to your destination and it could set you up for constipation during your trip. 

5.    If you are driving to your destination, you can pack a cooler with the types of foods I recommend for airplanes: sandwiches, salads, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, hummus, cut up vegetables, and dried edamame are all smart options.  Or you can research healthy options along your driving route so you’re not stuck hitting fast food joints along the way.  That can be a really fun part of your trip planning. 

I know that many listeners will be traveling over the holidays.  That means you’ll probably be having at least one holiday feast in addition to eating most of your meals at restaurants while you’re away.  Planning ahead will be your best bet for eating healthfully and feeling your best on your holidays. 

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, try to incorporate the strategies I discussed here so you can stay healthy and feel great when you’re away from home.


Q: What do you eat if you are stuck with only airport food options?

A: I look for simple foods that I can combine to make a satisfying meal.  Fresh fruit and nuts are always available.  Starbucks oatmeal is what I eat most often because it means I’m at the airport early in the morning and haven’t had a chance to eat breakfast beforehand.  You can add nuts, cinnamon and milk so it ends up being similar to what you would make at home and it’s a really satisfying way to kick off your travels.  I will also buy a salad if it looks pretty fresh.  Sandwiches are not my first choice, but if I do buy one, I try to only eat half of the bread to help control some of the sodium to prevent bloating.  Choosing lower sodium foods is a priority for me since they can make you feel pretty awful when combined with a dehydrating plane flight.  As I mentioned, I also buy a big bottle of water to drink throughout my flight to help prevent bloating, dehydration, and constipation.  Doing some research on healthy dining choices at your airport terminals beforehand will help you make the best choices.



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