Summer is the season when we are likely on the open road to a destination far away from home. We are headed on vacation or traveling to visit family and friends. Whatever the reason, it can often become an excuse to veer away from our healthy eating habits. We become out of our usual routine and don’t always have access to freshly prepared foods. Our stocked pantry is no longer at an arm’s reach and our thoughts are suddenly focused on enjoying a break from the day to day hassles of life. If you’re rather new at adopting healthier eating habits, your brain isn’t fully trained to choose the healthiest option as the default choice. This is where things can get tricky and begin to slip away from you. Say you’ve been working hard on sustaining new diet changes for 5 weeks and you’ve been feeling pretty good about it. In your usual environment, you’ve mastered your meals, your snacks and getting better at conquering cravings. However, when you suddenly outside of your usual environment with possibly several years of unhealthy habits in your recent past, 5 weeks of concentrated change is just a blip on the radar. That means you still practice in intentionally planning and choosing ahead of time what your food choices will be. This diversion from your typical surroundings and routine is a significant factor that can really throw a monkey wrench into the goal of permanent transformation into a healthy eater.
How to Master a Change in Routine Without Getting Off-Track:
Eating Healthy Away from Home
1. Make a Grocery List & Shop Before Your Trip
Yes, getting organized and planning ahead is a must before you depart on your away from home adventure. It’s not rocket science, but you do need some organization to pull this off. Make time before your trip to devise a list of foods you need to buy and items you need to prepare before you hit the road.
2. Bring containers with lids (glass jars or reusable/disposable plastic containers)
I prefer to travel with those small plastic containers you get from some take out restaurants. I don’t care if I lose them, and they seem to build up in my cupboards anyway. You can also take the environmentally sound route and choose reusable glass jars with lids, such as pickle jars or jelly jars. These add some bulk, but they are sturdy and are more secure, less likely to create a spill during transit. Bring extra empty containers for when you stop and need to divide up food for everyone. It’s nice to have a clean container available.
3. Get a small insulated cooler or lunch bag
Keeping all your cold items together and allows for a more interesting variety of choices when travelling. Whether you pack ice packs or bag up ice, it’s nice to be able to grab a chilled sandwich or cold beverage without stopping at the store. Think: boiled eggs, hummus, yogurt, cold drinks.
4. Pack snacks that aren’t messy
Avoid creating crumbs in the back seat or items that require a plate. Finger foods are the way to go, unless you are able to eat outside of the car. Think single serve items and pre-made, bite sized or mini sandwiches and wraps (try deli meat rolled with lettuce and hummus).
5. Choose lower sugar and higher protein options
There is nothing worse than the sleepy blood sugar swing and upset stomach you get from eating a can of Pringles, bag of Sunchips or handfuls of cookies that seemed like a good snack idea at the time. Avoid the sugar blues by choosing higher protein, lower carb snacks such as nuts, boiled eggs, greek yogurt or trail mix and stay alert at the wheel.
6. Bring utensils & napkins
Just in case you can’t get to the store or the rest stop is not fully equipped, having your own plastic ware and napkins will make it easier to stop whenever and wherever you need to grab a bite to eat.
7. Bottled water
Save yourself some money by getting your own bottled water ahead of time and chilling it. Better yet, get a reusable bottle to reduce waste and refill as needed. The sturdy ones don’t have to take up room in the cooler if you aren’t fussy about what temperature your hydration needs to be.
8. Small condiment packets
It’s great to be able to carry a little peanut or almond butter, ketchup, hummus and hot sauce without having to create multiple mini snack containers or having to buy it on the go, where the prices are jacked up. You may consider a 1-3 ounce reusable container that will pass through airport security, if needed.
9. Wet-naps/hand sanitizer
Being able to wipe off fruit or your hand is a nice feature when you can’t get to a nearby or decently cleaned restroom. Using pre-moistened paper towels also work in a pinch.
10. Identify acceptable eateries before stopping
Is there a place the entire family can agree on that offers healthy options? For example, “Subway” may become the go-to choice when traveling long distances, and you can seek it out as you make your way to your destination. It helps to have a predetermined choice to help you avoid stopping at the next exit and settling for whatever happens to be there.
11. Bring your own pre-cooked proteins
This works well for enhancing any meal you get on the go. Say you pick up a fast food salad or to-go salad bar but aren’t impressed with the offerings. You can jazz it up by adding canned salmon or sardines, grilled chicken breast or diced deli meat, or canned beans and make it more nourishing.
12. Bring fruit that travels well
A squished brown banana in the bottom a bag happens to me frequently. Select fruit that can tolerate temperature extremes, banging around and doesn’t necessarily need a cooler. Think citrus, apples or even dried fruit.
13. Road trips = Excuse to make those healthy cookies or trail nut bars
Make a nourishing treat that could work for a sweet treat but also substitute as an emergency breakfast. A granola-type bar, cookie or muffin that has lots of fiber and nuts would fit the bill here. Here’s a quick recipe that works in a pinch!
14. Avoid fast food chains by using apps like Yelp or Urban Spoon
If you’re attached to your smart phone, make it work for you by researching places to eat in your stop-over city. You may be surprised to find great reviews on many mom & pop eateries in small towns that will help keep you out of KFC and Mickey D’s.
15. Hit up a grocery store for grub instead of a gas station or chain restaurant
Think outside of the chain restaurant and fast food box by picking up an assortment of food at a grocery store. Even a super Wal-mart will have more fruit and vegetable choices in addition to a selection of salads and sandwiches at the deli than a drive through window.
16. Offer to cook breakfast/buy groceries at your guest’s house
If your travel out of town lands you as a guest in another’s home and you are unsure if the menu will offer healthy options, make a suggestion to help out with the cooking. Perhaps you make a trip to the grocery store and purchase a few items that fit your diet or specialty needs and give the gift of an extra pair of hands.
17. Have plenty of non calorie beverage choices on hand
It’s tempting to let the drain of travelling be an excuse to choose a drink that you don’t normally drink, such as soda, juice beverages or fancy coffees. There are so many to choose from that promise an energy boost or even relaxation! If you carry few of your stand-by’s such as citrus flavored seltzer or herbal teas, you’ll be self reliant here.
18. Pack snacks that travel well on a plane
It’s nice to have more options than peanuts or pretzels. I find that I enjoy something fresh like baby carrots or fruit when in the airport, since fresh foods seem hard to find in many areas. I also like to keep a little protein, such as beef jerky or smoked salmon (which don’t require refrigeration) on hand to tide me over to the next meal if there are significant delays.
19. Stay mindful about your progress so far
Remind yourself that up until this vacation or travel requirement that you’ve been very consistent in your healthy eating routine. Decide ahead what you are willing to splurge on (if it’s a vacation that you’re looking forward to enjoying some celebratory foods). If it’s business travel, it’s great to have a game plan and back up plan. If your travel is recurring to the same location, create a new routine where you make the same healthy choices in this alternate environment.
20. Have a rest stop picnic instead of driving to a restaurant or gas station
There can be a little fun in having an impromptu picnic at a rest area with the prepared foods that you packed for your trip. This works well for shorter trips where the food stay fresh and is not in the cooler for several days. When you pull out your own veggie wraps and fruit & nuts, you’ll be glad you aren’t having to choose the among the hot dogs rolling under the hot lamp in the service station at Exit 118.
How do you roll? What are some of your tried and true travel tricks for eating well on the road? Leave a comment below to share your best tips.