Your guide to healthy food on the go.
Eating healthy while traveling is definitely not easy. While we do think it is okay to splurge once and a while on vacation, there are times that our diets shouldn’t be on vacation mode just because we are. We have some smart food hacks to keep you healthy while traveling—and you’ll be surprised how easy they can be.
Healthy travel hacks
News flash: your healthy diet doesn’t have to hit the road just because you’re about to. Airports are a land of opportunity, especially when it comes to food. Between the fast food options and snack bars, it can be tricky to make healthy food choices while you’re waiting in the wings. Whether you’re looking for a quick fix before you board the plane or a few snacks to make your trek a little more enjoyable, it’s important to make sure you’re fueling your body with the right nutrients before you depart.
Certain foods, believe it or not, can make for an unpleasant flight. And nobody got time for that. We caught up with health and travel professionals to break down the do’s and don’ts of airport food and drinks.
Reduce stress as much as you can
When you arrive at an airport, what you’re going to munch on is likely the least of your worries. Traveling is straight-up stressful, no matter how much of a seasoned vet you are. The stress of delayed flights and security checks may cause you to be careless with your food choices. Prevent the urge to give in to questionable foods by planning it out ahead of time.
“Instead of caving into these cravings, know in the back of your mind that while traveling you may be more tempted by these carbohydrate heavy, high-fat foods, and come up with a healthier alternative,” says Megan Faletra, MS, MPH, RDN. “The abundance of candy, fried fast food and baked goods available at the airport feeds right into the cravings associated with exhaustion and lack of sleep, two things that are pretty common among busy travelers.” If you’re craving something sweet, go for a Greek yogurt or a fresh fruit cup. If you can’t stop thinking about the french fry smell wafting through the terminal, scout out some hummus or chopped veggies. While it may seem impossible to find healthy options in the sea of fast food chains, keep your eyes peeled for the refrigerated section at airport food kiosks—that’s where the good stuff is.
Bring a reusable water bottle
We all know the struggle of trying to drink enough H20 throughout the day, but this is especially important before you’re about to go in the air. Planes are notoriously dry. The humidity levels on an airplane are significantly lower than what we’re used to on an average day, causing travelers to feel dry and dehydrated. The best way to combat this? “Make sure to drink water on and off your flight,” says Marty Davey, MS, RD. “It takes a few hours to rehydrate, so a cup of water on a plane isn’t going to do.” If you’re going to splurge on one item at the airport, it should be a big ol’ bottle of water. Your body will thank you.
Fill up a reusable water bottle before your flight, during your flight and while on the go. Proper hydration helps you feel energized and prevents overeating. Opt for an insulated model so it can be used for both hot and cold liquids.
Meal prep for flights
Many people leave it up to the airlines to make their meal decisions, but this is a huge risk. What if the meal is only carb-based? What if there are only fast food restaurants near your gate? Instead, make a meal the night before or morning of your flight. As long as your food is properly cooked, it should be okay to bring on the flight—but don’t make soup or smoothies. Want to know for sure if what you make is safe to bring on board? The TSA website suggests you send them a picture or reach out to AskTSA via Facebook or Twitter.
Always keep emergency snacks in your carry-on
Fried food and airplanes are a dangerous combo. While the smell of french fries may entice you, try your best to steer clear of all fatty, salty foods before you hop on a plane. Salt and oil found in most fatty foods can cause heartburn, digestion issues and fluid retention. According to Davey, these types of artery clogging foods can exacerbate your circulation problems while on a long flight. Let’s be real: Your body is already struggling to maintain normal blood circulation level on the plane so why make it more difficult? Avoid anything slathered in oil and salt and instead try to find foods with color. Fruits and veggies are the best option (obviously), but nutrition bars and unsalted nuts are safe foods for air travel.
A protein bar, a pack of nuts and protein powder packets all store well in your purse and can help you get a bite of something healthy when you are hungry on the plane—so you can pass on those cookies the flight attendants pass around.
Book a hotel near a grocery store and stock your mini fridge
See if you can find a hotel walking distance to a grocery store. Before booking, ask the hotel if there is a mini fridge in the room so you can stock it with some easy meals and snacks. We’re not suggesting you have all your meals in, but let’s be honest, most “complimentary” breakfasts aren’t particularly appealing. Instead, opt for fresh fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese cups, rotisserie chicken, baked tofu and cut veggies.
Use your in-room coffee maker for more than just coffee
Want an easy-to-pack breakfast idea? Bring some instant oats or grains and use the coffee maker to add hot water. Bonus? Pack a bag of dry chia seeds or hemp seeds and protein powder too. Healthy fat, fiber and protein make it a full balanced meal.
For longer trips, book an Airbnb or a hotel suite
When staying on longer vacations or work trips, eating out even one meal a day can get old and expensive. We recommend booking an Airbnb or a hotel suite with a full kitchen. Bring all your meal prepping skills on vacation with you!
Healthy restaurant Hacks
Mix and match
Never feel like you have to stick to a restaurant’s menu; sometimes it’s better to adapt entrees to build a healthier meal. This can even mean getting a few healthy appetizers in place of an entree. For example, the ceviche that may be an appetizer can pair nicely with a side of roasted vegetables versus a large burrito or enchiladas that are typically the mains.
Do your research
One important thing to do before traveling to any new place is to research what is popular. See if you can find healthy restaurants in the area or ones that will be easy for you to build a wholesome meal. Want to do it very fast? Put a question up on Instagram or Facebook and get suggestions from your friends on places they’ve enjoyed or experienced. It is like an instant Yelp search catered to you.
Halve your portions
One of the biggest threats to healthy eating while dining out is the large portions. Restaurants want to ensure you are happy and try to cater to the need of the masses, not to you. Sometimes portion sizes may be upwards of 2-3 times more than what you need. Instead, eat to the point in which you are satisfied. Once you start to get that full feeling, ask the waitress for a box and use the leftovers as an afternoon snack or a dinner. Listen to your body and feed it what it needs.
Order a salad or side of vegetables as an appetizer
Instead of filling up on bread and chips before your meal, have some low-calorie and high-fiber vegetables. It can be hard to get your 5-7 servings while on the road, so choose them when you can. When you first get to the restaurant, immediately ask for no chips or bread, and instead ask what kind of salads they have for starters. This will prevent temptation.
Don’t feel guilty
Remember, if you don’t often get the opportunity to travel to amazing places, opt to experience it! Enjoy the good while you are there. Not having a croissant in Paris would be a travesty and skipping an amazing donut in Portland won’t derail all your hard work. It is about balance and knowing when and where it is worth it.
As you can see, with the right preparation and thought, eating while traveling can be an extension of how you do so at home. Next time you pack your bags for your next destination, remember to add your food checklist too.
How to eat healthy on vacation
You spend hours every week working out. You pass several tasty-smelling take-out joints on your way to the grocery store, where you buy ingredients for a healthy, home-cooked meal. You are never without your 20 oz. water bottle.
That is, of course, until you go on vacation. Stepping out of your routine is fantastic for your mental health, but it also means you are stepping out of your well-stocked kitchen and away from your favorite fitness studios. Splurging on a few meals and taking some time off from your workout is no big deal. But seven to 10 days of total debauchery can undo months of hard work.
Staying true to your fit lifestyle while traveling is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are eight hacks for a healthy vacation:
Eat smart at airports
Food options at many airports are limited, and you often can only choose between fast food and a bagel. To avoid this predicament, eat a healthy and full meal before you leave for the airport. Pack healthy snacks for the plane, or try this guide to make healthier choices when you need something to eat right away. Simple snacks like cheese and apple slices, clementines, or raw vegetables like celery, carrots, broccoli, asparagus and cauliflower with a nut butter, hummus or salsa dip are quick to prepare and won’t take up much space in your carry-on.
What most people think of as jet lag is actually dehydration. Once you are through airport security, your first stop should be to pick up a big bottle of water. If you are on a road trip, keep plenty of fresh water at hand during the drive. The recirculated air in a car can make you thirsty, which you might mistake for hunger. It’s a good idea to pack plenty of healthy food in a cooler in case you do get hungry. Drive-throughs and convenience stores might be a quick stop, but you don’t want to wreck your usual diet before you even get to your vacation destination.
Check out a local food market
Talk about soaking in the local culture! Food markets are a great place to experience the culture and eat delicious—and cheap—fresh food. Local food is better for the environment, too. Just remember to try new foods in moderation. Try to stay consistent with the amount of foods you eat at home. When you do eat at a restaurant, ask for a side plate so you can dish yourself an appropriate portion or share your meals with a friend. And don’t forget to order greens. They will help hydrate your cells, balance your body and keep it running optimally.
Take a new class
Getting away from your HIIT trainer or your go-to spin studio presents an opportunity to try a new way to get fit, especially if there is a local specialty. Try yoga in India, climb a mountain in Colorado, take a tango lesson in Argentina. While you are booking your trip, add activities that get you moving to your agenda. For example, if you are headed to Paris, book a biking excursion through the French countryside. ClassPass members have access to more than 5,000 studios across the U.S., London and Canada.
Take the stairs
Whether you are in a train station, a high-rise, a museum or a mega mall, walk past the elevator and take the stairs. Walking up and down stairs burns 1 calorie per 10 steps.
Create a to-go workout
Put together a bodyweight routine you can do in any hotel room, or load a fitness video to your tablet or laptop. Or, create your own splurge antidote hack. An easy to follow example would be to do 10 push ups for every alcoholic beverage consumed. For every unhealthy meal consumed, do 50 bodyweight squats. Try to do the squats before you eat the meal so at least some of those calories can be put to good use by replenishing your glycogen stores.
Follow the unhealthy-healthy rule
This one is simple and is all about balance. If you pig out at dinner, eat some fruit for breakfast the next day.
Get some sleep
Take naps. Go to bed early or stay in bed. Use your vacation as a time to catch up on sleep and relax. When you stay out late, skip the alarm and snooze until you wake up naturally.