The Complete Guide to Eating Healthy While Traveling

Created by Rachel Raymond, Dietetic Intern

Raise your hand if you have a love-hate relationship with road trips. You know what I’m talking about: staring at what seems to be an endless road, jamming to your favorite tunes, eating out of boredom, enjoying some family bonding time, gulping down the caffeine to stay awake, appreciating some incredible scenery, getting hangry about half-way there… the list could go on. There can be a lot of ups and downs on a road trip, many of which we cannot control. One thing that we can control is the food we choose to eat. Let’s talk about food choices that will keep us feeling energized all the way to our destination.

Smart Snacks

Smart snacks are foods that will keep you feeling full, happy, and healthy. Have you ever stopped and realized half-way through your drive that you’ve eaten the whole bag of chips? It’s so easy to mindlessly eat on a long drive that we recommend pre-portioning snacks into single-serving baggies or containers before you hit the road. This will help you realize how much you’re eating. Another tip is to bring foods that have already been chilled foods to help keep them cold longer. Storing those snacks in a cooler is even better for keeping them fresh for longer. Some smart snack ideas to pre-portion include:

  • Unsalted nuts
  • Pre-washed fruits such as apples, grapes, pears, and bananas
  • Pre-washed veggies such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks*, and sugar snap peas*
  • Whole grain crackers or pretzels
  • Hummus*
  • Sliced bell peppers and cucumbers
  • Cottage cheese cups
  • Nut butter packets
  • Part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks*
  • Fruit and nut bars (with low sugar added)
  • Plain popcorn
  • Tuna fish packets (only if your fellow riders are immune to the scent)
  • Sliced fruit*
  • Low-fat Yogurt* (don’t forget spoons!)

*Make sure to keep these items cold in a cooler under 40°F to prevent spoilage.

Stay Hydrated

Another huge factor in how you feel while traveling is your hydration level. Do you ever get mid-way through your day and notice that you have a headache? When you have these moments, reflect on how much water you’ve had that day. It’s likely that filling up your water bottle during an exciting day of on-the-go sightseeing was the last thing on your list of to-dos. Below are some ideas to stay hydrated during a busy day of traveling:

  • Keep a water bottle with you at all times, and fill it up every chance you get. I prefer a thermos to keep my water cold.
  • If you’re adventuring in the wild, keep a Camelbak pack full of water for easy sipping on the trail.
  • Carry some electrolyte packets to mix into your water when you’re feeling one of those dehydration headaches. Some of my favorites include Liquid I.V. and DripDrop. These are light-weight packets that you can mix into water for quick rehydration.
  • Bring some sugar-free water flavoring packets to change up the monotony of drinking plain water. Sometimes these help me to remember to drink fluids.
  • Try adding sliced cucumber and/or lemon to your water before you head out for your trip. This provides a refreshing drink for your long drive. 

Choosing Healthy Options on the Road

Convenient Stores and Markets. Most convenient stores now offer healthier snack and meal options including salads, whole-grain sandwiches, low-fat string cheese, whole fruits, unsalted nuts, fruit cups, pre-cut veggies, Greek yogurt cups, and hard boiled eggs. Choose one of these options over salty snacks and sweet treats.

Drive-Thrus. Find items on the menu that are grilled, steamed, broiled, or baked instead of fried or sautéed. Consider a salad with a lean protein and a vinaigrette dressing, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, a wrap with lean protein and veggies, or a sandwich on whole-grain bread with mustard. If you must have a burger, choose one off of the kids’ menu to limit portion sizes.

Sandwich Shops. Choose sandwiches made on whole grain bread with lean proteins such as turkey. Have your sandwich made with lots of extra vegetables and mustard instead of mayo or oil.

Keep Food Safety in Mind

When you’re adventuring to a new place, it’s important to consider food safety, and always wash your hands before eating. Some tips to remember include:

  • Wash hands before eating. Germs are everywhere and you never know when you could have picked something up on your hands. Sometimes it can be difficult to find a place to wash up before eating, especially if you are outside of the United States. Occasionally, there are even other barriers to finding a sink with soap. For example, some restrooms in Europe require that you insert a coin to unlock the door to enter. In Japan, it’s wise to always carry hand soap with you since many of the public restrooms only have sinks… with no soap! Although hand sanitizer isn’t a replacement for washing hands, it’s wise to keep it on you anyway in case you simply cannot wash your hands.
  • Only drink safe water. In the United States, water is always regulated and tested. When outside of the US, it’s important to research local regulations to know if drinking tap water is safe. When in doubt, drink bottled water or other bottled beverages.
  • Remember the two-hour rule. Bacteria multiply fastest between 40-140°F. This is known as the “Danger Zone.” Just because someone is selling meat or other perishable items at a market without any refrigeration or heating doesn’t mean that the food is safe to eat. Eat hot food while it is hot and cold food while it is cold, or you may end up with a foodborne illness.
  • Think before eating. If you’re at a buffet and you notice that the salad bar doesn’t feel cold or that the pasta bar doesn’t feel hot, don’t dish anything up. The same thing goes for food that is delivered to you: if your food isn’t at the right temperature, you should question it. Alert an employee in these situations.

You can still make healthy choices on vacation

Balance your food choices. Food can be a major reason for traveling, and that’s okay! Just make sure to balance your choices out with healthier options throughout the day. For example, if you know you want to visit the town’s famous ice cream parlor after dinner, choose a lighter meal beforehand such as a salad or grilled salmon with vegetables.

Don’t forget food safety rules. You know when you’re at a fancy restaurant and they serve beef tartare or raw shellfish? Just remember, food safety rules are the same no matter where you are. Consider that before making a choice that might make you ill.

Choose a balanced breakfast. Sometimes continental breakfasts only offer highly sugary or refined grains such as waffles with maple syrup that will spike your blood sugar only to send you crashing soon after. To fuel your body properly before heading out for a big day, make sure to have a balanced meal including carbohydrates, protein, and fats. For example, a balanced breakfast may include a whole grain English muffin, nut butter, honey, an apple, and a glass of milk. Sometimes it’s best to simply supplement a complimentary breakfast with your own snacks. Always ask for a hotel room with a mini-fridge so that you can store fresh foods from local markets for healthy breakfasts and snacks during your trip.

These are all of our tips for now. We hope some of these ideas will help you to stay healthy and happy while you’re out on your next road trip!

Disclaimer: We are not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with Liquid I.V., DripDrop or Camelbak. The official websites of each product are linked in the position in which they are mentioned.

Adapted from Eatright.org

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