Healthy Eating While Traveling

By Staci O’Connor MS, RD, CLC, CDN

Whether you are planning on traveling by plane or automobile, healthy eating can be challenging, but it is certainly not impossible. Whether you decide to purchase something along the way or pack your own food, you will find some healthy options to help guide you below.

Since you never know if there will be delays when you are traveling be sure to plan ahead so that you aren’t trapped into going to the first fast-food restaurant that you can find!

  • Try not to leave hungry or you will be much more likely to make poor food choices. Start your trip off by eating a healthy meal before you leave.
  • Once you reach your destination look for healthy food options on your way to the hotel (look for options that are in and around your hotel) this way you will be less likely to run to the closest fast-food place.
  • Don’t think of traveling as a break from your healthy eating habits—calories count if they are consumed in the air, on the road, in a different state, or in a hotel.
  • Cut calories when you can—avoid sauces or ask for them on the side (i.e. order a sandwich without the mayo to save 30 grams of fat).

Airport Advice: Finding healthy food in an airport is certainly a challenge. The best strategy is to travel with your own snacks. Here are some healthy snacks that you can bring with you to the airport (or if you are driving a long distance):

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Individual containers of unsweetened applesauce or mixed fruit packed in 100% juice or water
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Make your own trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, and unsweetened high fiber cereal
  • Baby carrots or other chopped vegetables with natural peanut butter
  • Rice cakes with natural peanut butter
  • A Clif or Luna bar
  • Natural peanut butter and whole grain crackers
  • Pouch of water-packed tuna with whole grain crackers or chopped vegetables
  • Already popped popcorn

Here are a few tips when choosing food at the airport or on the road:

  • The most important step in eating well when you travel is to take control of your food choice. Order food items with your mind in charge, not your stomach.
  • Options for breakfast: egg white omelet with vegetables, Canadian bacon, and whole grain bread (skip the home fries and the high fat breakfast meats such as sausage and instead ask for some fruit on the side), oatmeal with fruit and nuts, whole grain cereal with skim milk and fruit, low-fat or non-fat yogurt with fruit, or whole grain toast with peanut butter and fruit.
  • Be careful in terms of what you choose at a salad bar and remember a salad that is soaked in oily or creamy dressing can be more fattening than a Big Mac. So either ask for the salad dressing on the side or go with olive oil and vinegar.
  • Aim to incorporate fruit and vegetables at every meal.
  • If you are ordering a sandwich for lunch ask for whole grain bread and choose lean meats, load your sandwich with colorful vegetables, and ask for mustard, hummus or avocado slices instead of mayonnaise. Even consider asking to have an open faced sandwich.
  • Pass on “value-size” or “super-size” servings which increase the fat, sugar, sodium, and calories of the meal.
  • Avoid sugar sweetened beverages with are high in sugar and empty calories.
  • Look for the nutritional content of food items to help you identify the healthiest choices. Some restaurants post the nutrition information near the counter or even have the nutrition information in pamphlet form for you to review before placing your order.
  • Options for lunch or dinner: Lean meat or fish that is broiled, baked, or grilled, whole wheat pasta or brown rice, and steamed vegetables. Consider picking a salad for an appetizer (choose one with a variety of vegetables, dark-leafy greens and even fresh fruit).
  • Know your beef, the leanest to fattiest cuts of beef are: strip loin, flank, tenderloin, rib-eye and T-bone.
  • Choose pork that is from the leg or loin and avoid the pork belly and bacon.
  • Stay away from processed meats such as sausage or hot dogs.
  • Choose a broth based vegetable soup or salad before your main entrée.
  • Ask for substitutions and choose fruit, a baked sweet potato, or salad instead of chips, fries, and coleslaw.
  • If possible order half portions or share an entrée with a family member or friend.
  • Avoid sauces which can increase the calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium content of a meal.
  • Only eat half of your meal and then take a break, you might not need to eat the entire meal to feel satisfied.
  • Don’t order dessert right after your meal, wait a few minutes and you may find that you are not as hungry as you thought.