Is it Possible to Eat Healthy While Traveling?
As we go into the biggest traveling time of the year, the question for many is, how can I eat healthy while traveling. Perhaps the most trying part of traveling is finding a healthy meal? It isn’t always easy and it can be stressful when you are traveling with others who are hungry and just want to eat NOW! I’ve found 4 steps to help me succeed.
If you have read my About page you’ll know that I don’t tolerate soy. It’s an intolerance not an allergy, but nonetheless eating something with a soy based ingredient will make my stomach cramped, bloated, and gassy. It is uncomfortable at any time, but when traveling it is even worse. Along with soy there are some food additives that can trigger a headache or create stomach discomfort. Nitrates in processed meats and artificial sweeteners are two of those additives. In addition I have a goal, for myself and my family, to eat for optimal health. When you take into consideration convenience, time constraints and sticking to a budget you can see how the goal to eat healthy while traveling can be illusive.
There are two major roadblocks to eating well on the road or in the air. Number one is time. Taking time out to sit down and order a meal when you are on a long drive, and you just want to get to your destination isn’t ideal. Most of the time when we are on a long road trip, we want to refuel our stomachs and gas tanks in one stop. For the most part fast food restaurants and gas stations will have little to no soy-free options and don’t meet the goal of eating for optimal health. Number two is the lack of availability of healthy real foods. If you struggle with similar issues when you travel I hope that my 4 steps on how to eat healthy while traveling is helpful.
4 Steps on how to Eat Healthy While Traveling
Below are the steps that I use to find a healthy meal or snack when traveling.
1. Be Committed
Make sure you are clear on your eating goals before you embark on your trip. It could be to not eat any fried foods, include a fresh vegetable with each meal, or drink only water until you reach your destination. You might have, like me, certain ingredients that wreak havoc on your digestive system. In that case, your goal will be to avoid foods containing the culprit ingredients. It is also important that your travel partners are aware of your goals and willing to make some accommodations so that you are successful.
Last spring Rob, Keaton and I were on a ski/college visitation road trip to Utah and Montana. We arrived in Eden, Utah, hungry and tired after a long day on the road, and found a family owned Mexican restaurant. As is typical in Mexican restaurants, they set chips and salsa on the table as soon as we sat down. I always ask what oil is used for frying the tortilla chips. If I’m lucky it’s corn or canola. However, soybean oil is cheap and is often the oil of choice for frying.
I wasn’t lucky this time because as I was questioning the waiter he let me know that soybean oil is added to their salsa and every dish on the menu. There was one exception; guacamole. Now, I love guacamole, and they let me bring in the bag of tortilla chips we had in the car, but the hot meals that Rob and Keaton ate looked and smelled delicious. Then again, who wouldn’t want free liberty to eat an entire order of guacamole by themselves?
2. Be Prepared
Prepare ahead of time if you want to eat healthy while traveling and avoid feeling poorly. I always carry raw nuts and seeds, dried sulfate-free fruits and a couple limited ingredient protein bars like RxBars and Lara Bars. These bars can always replace a meal when I can’t find something suitable. They are great on an airplane in place of the salty & oily snack packs of nuts, pretzels etc… the flight attendants give out. They are also more favorable than the expensive pre-packed “meals” you can purchase.
You will have greater options when traveling by car especially if you will be staying in a hotel with a small refrigerator. I like to pack an insulated bag with some hummus, carrot & celery sticks, hard boiled eggs, fresh fruit, my Pre-Run Energy Cookies, or homemade muffins like the Super Hero Muffins from Run Fast Eat Slow. In addition to the cooler bag, I’ll have a bag with an assortment of the same food items that I take on flights along with a bag of granola as a breakfast option. I love this particular granola because it is gluten and soy-free, and it doesn’t have added sugar. I can only find it in store at our local Market of Choice, but it is available to order on Amazon. Being prepared means I won’t starve, and I can supplement a meal if necessary.
Finally, I also prepare for the just in case situation where I inadvertently eat something that causes stomach pains. I have found that Traditional Medicinals makes a line of organic digestive teas. The Belly Comfort (formerly Eater’s Digest), Gas Relief and Ginger Aid teas are all in my arsenal. They are soothing and helpful. I feel much better sipping on tea than I do about popping an OTC medication like Tums, Rolaids or Prilosec into my mouth. Those come with side effects that I don’t want to deal with. I prefer to first follow the Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
3. Know How to Hunt
When we have time to sit down and order at the table we have learned to search Google for “healthy restaurants in(city name)” or “vegetarian restaurants in (city name).” Both of these searches will usually generate a top 10 list through Yelp or TripAdvisor. We have had a lot of luck with this method. This is how we were able to enjoy fabulous meals at:
- Market on Front in Missoula, MT
- Mizuna in Spokane, WA
- Simple Food Group in Lake Geneva, WI
- Shine in Boulder, CO
I just discovered eatwellguide.org. This is a website where you can input a city and it will generate a list of recommended restaurants. “The Eat Well Guide® is a curated directory of over 25,000 hand-picked restaurants, farms, markets and other sources of local, sustainable food throughout the US”. The next time we are looking for a restaurant, grocery store or farmer’s market in an unfamiliar place I will remember to use this website. It could even help find new options in your home town.
Grocery stores can offer a hunting ground when nothing else works. There have been times when my guys will grab a fast burger with fries, and I’ll walk through a grocery store and come out with a tub of hummus, a box of acceptable crackers and some fresh fruit.
Sometimes you have to be patient and hunt a little harder. One night, intent on a pizza dinner, four of us went into three Italian restaurants before finding one that made their pizza crust and sauce without soybean oil.
It’s exciting to discover a gem. My idea of a gem is a restaurant that is allergen savvy. It will use fresh locally sourced ingredients when possible and have a menu full of healthy options. These are safe havens for me. Bushel & Peck’s in Beloit, Wisconsin is such a place. With Rikley attending College in Beloit we visited 1-2 times a year to watch him play soccer and lacrosse. Bushel & Pecks’ was the place I knew I could get a breakfast, lunch or dinner and not only would it be soy-free, but it also checked the box next to “eat healthy while traveling”. We would eat here two times a day if needed. This is what I will miss most about Beloit now that Rikley has graduated and we won’t be visiting again.
4. Stay Calm and Make the Best of It
Occasionally things just don’t workout the way you hope. While traveling across country last September with my sister, we stopped at an Amish restaurant in rural Minnesota. We were hungry and ready for a break, however the choices were slim. I ordered a grilled tomato-basil and cheese sandwich. I waited in hungry anticipation for a golden-grilled sandwich, cheese melting out from the sides and a stack of tomatoes and basil in-between. Imagine my disappointment when a slightly browned sandwich with two square pieces of Kraft cheese, that hadn’t melted, a slice of tomato and a basil leaf was set down in front of me. This was one of those times when my stash of nuts and a protein bar came in handy.
A couple of weeks ago we had time to get dinner in Chicago before our flight home. We chose an Italian restaurant where we hoped to get a deep dish pizza. Unfortunately for me, the pizza dough had soybean oil in it. I opted for a dinner size salad with olive oil and vinegar on the side. My salad didn’t smell or look as good as the deep dish pizza my sister and husband were eating. However, it was a healthier choice and I didn’t have a belly ache on the flight home!
Let your waiter know your food or diet restrictions. Most of the time they are very accommodating and can help you find something on the menu you can eat. Look for options that aren’t fried, are made without creamy sauces and come with fresh vegetables. Thank them for their help. Last Friday with the help of my server at Immersion Brewery I had a delicious roasted sweet potato and beet salad with quinoa. They switched out the dressing for me and left off the cheese.
Food For Thought
It is possible to eat healthy while traveling. However it takes some forethought, dedication, patience and sometimes a sense of humor. Finally, there’s the time when we arrived in Chicago well past our dinner time. There was a TGIF’s at our hotel. The menu had icons to indicate the allergens in each dish. While this was very helpful, after searching the extensive menu, I found only two options; clam chowder and steamed broccoli. I ordered both, put the broccoli in the chowder, and had a meal that filled me.
As more and more of you follow these steps and ask for more real food options, I hope companies will make it easier to live a healthful lifestyle while we travel. I love the mission statement from Bushel & Peck’s and would like to see more places like this.
Do you try to eat healthy while traveling? What experiences have you had trying to eat healthy while traveling?