Like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, in my heart I believe ‘there’s no place like home.’ Especially when it comes to getting your hands on good food.
But when you’re traveling, it seems your only options are greasy gas station bites, airport fast-food chains, and hotel buffets. If you’re watching your weight, dealing with a sensitive stomach, or just trying to eat the most wholesome and nutritious diet possible, travel can be challenging. (As a nutritionist, trust me, I know the struggle.)
Whether you’re taking a plane, train, or automobile, I’m here to help you tackle healthy eating on-the-go. Here’s a taste of how I keep my nutrition on-point when I’m away from home.
Before You Leave
Just as important as packing clothing, packing snacks is key! I usually fill a zippered bag with baggies of nuts and dried fruits and stash a few KIND bars in my suitcase and purse. Because these bars contain a balanced medley of protein and healthy fat (from nuts), and contain minimal sugar, they help me squash hunger when faced with flight delays. Plus, they keep me from grabbing yet another mid-day gelato in Italy or pastry in Paris—especially when an indulgent dinner meal is to come later.
At The Airport
Grabbing a snack or meal is how so many of us kill waiting time at the airport. Though there aren’t always tons of healthy options, you can usually grab a wrap, salad or bistro box. I’ll often get Starbucks’ Bistro Box, which includes a combo of cheese, crackers, and fruit, to eat before boarding or to bring with me on the plane.
Once you’re on the plane, your food options are pretty limited, so don’t rely on being served anything nutritious. For short flights, I usually stash individual packets of almond butter in my carry-on to pair with that little bag of pretzels you’re often offered.
When it comes to longer flights, I usually pass on the carb-y bread roll and skip dessert because they’re generally not worth breaking into the calorie bank for! I’d rather save myself for desserts I can choose and savor. Planning ahead and packing your own grub is your only way of guaranteeing a healthy in-flight meal.
At Gas Stations
When I think ‘gas station’ I think of beef jerky, candy bars, and soda. Three things that would never be on my shopping list. I would, however, pick up a KIND bar, a bag of baked chips, pretzels, or popcorn if I didn’t prepare a snack ahead of time when hitting the road. If I can find a mozzarella string-cheese or hard-boiled egg, at least I’ll grab those for a protein fix and pair them with a carb-y snack (like pretzels) for steadier, longer-lasting energy.
Instead of treating a buffet like an all-you-can-eat opportunity, treat it as if you’re ordering in a restaurant—where even if you enjoyed your meal, you wouldn’t ask the server to bring you another full course of it! Survey all of your options before filling up your plate, then take what you want the first time and don’t feel like you have to go back for seconds.
Breakfast buffets are the most challenging for me since I’m a sucker for waffles, pancakes, muffins, and omelet stations. So if I’ll be there a few days, I try to choose one of the above on each day—and not all at once. For lunch and dinner, I go for salads, grilled veggies and a protein, like chicken or fish. Some sweet pastries look a lot better than they actually taste, so I generally take a pass on dessert. A few spoons of ice cream, however, might find its way to my plate.
At The Pool Bar, Winery, Etc.
We tend to overlook ‘liquid calories’—particularly those that come from alcoholic beverages. When we don’t chew, the calories don’t count, right? Sadly, that’s not the case.
You probably think a swimming pool-sized frozen margarita packs tons of calories, but did you know that even a nice, clear, colorless gin and tonic packs over 250 calories?
Regardless, beverages are very much a part of every vacation I take. Who doesn’t love a trip to a winery? But instead of making it a rule that you have a drink every time you sit down to eat, pick a time of day that a drink will give you the most pleasure—whether it’s lunch at a bistro or at dinner after a long day.
Find Yourself A Street Market
When I travel, I probably spend more time at markets than in museums. I love the excitement of open-air markets, with vendors speaking different languages and a bounty of fruits and veggies on display. These markets are great for picking up produce, cheese, and wine for a picnic or for stocking up on fresh foods you can stash for later. Fresh fruits and veggies make a refreshing late afternoon pick-me-up when you’re on-the-go.
About That Mini-Bar…
We’ve all been there—you get back to the hotel at the end of the day and the goodie-filled mini-bar practically calls your name. But those stocked snacks often cost major calories—and dollars.
This is where those snacks you packed earlier come in handy. Otherwise, hit a nearby supermarket to stock up on bottled water and snacks like energy bars, unsalted nuts, and produce to keep your wallet and waistline in check.
The bottom line is this: No matter where you’re traveling—be it at a beach resort, a national park, or a foreign country—be prepared to modify your eating habits. A trip or vacation is probably not the time to go on a strict diet, but by eating mindfully, you can still keep your nutrition on track while enjoying the food and experience of wherever you’re traveling.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award.