These days we try our best our best to eat better while on the road however I’ll be the first to admit that our road trip snacks used to look like we let our unsupervised kids loose in a candy store with a $50 bill.
Over our years of travel, those bad eating habits have started to take a toll, so now we’re trying to eat well on our trips.
Eating healthy while on the road can be a real challenge. When you travel, your routine is uprooted, you eat out more, and you have less time to plan healthy meals. There’s also less time to ensure you get proper nutrition, and avoid junk foods.
Of course, eating healthy means something different for everyone. When you’re following these tips, decide what healthy means for you, and focus your eating plan to your individual needs. For you, eating healthy may mean keeping on your keto diet, eating vegan or vegetarian, or simply avoiding overeating or indulging in high calorie or sugary or fatty foods.
How to Eat Healthy on Vacation
Eating healthy on vacation essentially comes down to planning and a little will power. It’s also a heck of a lot easier to stick to a healthy diet when you make food choices, or at least narrow down food options, before you leave.
Planning ahead with healthy travel tips makes it easier to make healthier food choices at restaurants, when you’re at your accommodation, or even during a road trip.
Make a meal plan before you leave
Before you leave on your trip, make an eating plan. Think about where you’ll be staying, what meals and snacks you’ll need, how long you’ll be there, and the types of foods you’ll have available.
Will you have access to a fridge or microwave, or even a full kitchen? Will you have a lot of restaurants nearby, or is the selection really limited? Will you need food for an airplane ride, or perhaps a lengthy road trip?
Your eating plan doesn’t necessarily need to be a minute-by-minute menu (though you could make one), but having a rough idea of the types of food, and where you’ll get them, goes a long way to healthier eating.
How to Eat Healthy While Traveling: At your Accommodation
Your choice of accommodation has a huge impact on your eating habits. For example, you’ll have a hard time eating well if you’re stuck in a small hotel room without a microwave or fridge, or if you’re far from restaurants and food stores with healthy options.
Ideally, we love to get an Airbnb or hotel with a kitchen. Having a kitchen to prepare food lets us control what we eat, and it also saves us a lot of money on eating out.
I like to cook, and I absolutely love to wander through local grocery stores when we travel. It’s a fun way to find local fruits and veggies, and see local ingredients first hand. I choose the healthiest options I can find, and often pick some locally-inspired recipes to cook.
If you’re a little short of time, and don’t want to bother shopping or planning a menu, order a meal delivery service like HelloFresh to your rental condo. It’s a fantastic way to balance convenience, and healthy eating.
Even if you don’t have a full kitchen at your disposal, a microwave and/or fridge can make eating healthier a lot easier. Just stop by a supermarket or well stocked convenience store, and load up your fridge with healthy goodies.
Breakfasts are especially easy, as you can grab fruits, yogurts, and oatmeal almost anywhere in the world. To make life even easier and depending on where you are in the world, you could even order Amazon Fresh or another grocery delivery to your hotel room or condo.
Cooking and preparing meals while on vacation may not be your cup of tea. I get it! In that case, maybe keep a few healthy snacks on hand for late night nibbles, and focus more on how to find healthier food in restaurants rather than just hitting all the fast food chains.
Eating at restaurants can be a real challenge when you’re trying to figure out how to eat healthy on the go. Restaurant portions are usually large, and dishes are often packed with salt, fats, sugar, and calories.
The first step to eating healthier at restaurants is to pre-plan what restaurants you visit, and try to choose restaurants with a range of healthy options.
Once you’ve picked out the restaurants, take a look at the menu (online if possible), and then choose the healthier options ahead of your visit. If you read the menu before you go, and pick out your food ahead of time, you’re less likely to impulsively order a less healthy dish.
If you’re already out and about, lots of restaurants around the world have large placards out front or just in the lobby with their menu. If they don’t, ask to see a menu before they sit you down and see if healthier options exist. If there’s nothing healthy for you there, it’s probably best to keep searching for a restaurant that does.
By pre-selecting what you want to eat, or having a few options pre-selected before you even sit down, it will help avoid those impulse orders which are often the bane of healthy eating.
Tips for eating healthier at a restaurant:
Having a healthy snack before you dine out can reduce the chance that you’ll impulsively order something unhealthy out of hunger.
Start your meal with a glass of water to make yourself a bit more full, which may reduce the amount you eat.
Don’t be afraid to (politely) ask your server for substitutions. Most restaurants will gladly swap out French fries for a salad, or put dressing on the side.
You can also split dessert to cut calories, avoid supersizing your portions, ask for a half portion, and skip sweet drinks and alcohol.
Road trip snacks
Some healthy foods are better suited to road trips than others. We try to avoid anything overly stinky or messy, and focus on foods that are easy to eat by hand. Unfortunately, that means sloppy burritos are out, unless you can stop and eat them at a picnic table somewhere.
Tip! You can bring a much bigger selection of healthy foods if you take along a cooler filled with ice. We like to use ice packs rather than ice cubes in our cooler, since it cuts down on mess and hassle. Frozen water bottles work well too, but make sure they’re not totally full when you freeze them, or they may burst in the freezer.
A soft sided cooler is easier to fit in the car, and it’s also more comfortable when you’re sitting beside it. It also folds down when empty, so it’s a snap to store out of the way.
Snacks for a road trip generally fall into two categories: snacks you can prepare at home, and snacks that you pick up at convenience stores, or gas stations along the way.
Prep at home road trip snacks
If your road trip is short enough, and you have some time before you leave, preparing snacks, and even meals, ahead of time can mean for much healthier choices. Here are some of our top picks from our summer road trip packing list:
Bottles of water
Juice boxes (great for kids!)
Washed and pre-cut fruit and veggies like snap peas, carrots, celery, watermelon, and blueberries.
Apples and oranges. We keep these whole and in the cooler.
Cheese sticks (in the cooler)
Nuts or trail mix
Dried fruit or fruit roll ups
Granola or protein bars
Hummus. You can buy fresh hummus in the deli section, or get long shelf-life hummus in the pantry section of the supermarket.
One thing we never do is take bananas on a road trip. Let’s just say that once you’ve driven 1,000 miles in a hot car that stinks like overripe banana peel, you’ll never, ever, do it again.
Healthy convenience store snacks
The average convenience store or gas station is packed with salty, sugary, caffeine-infused concoctions. It can be a challenge to find something to eat in a gas station that isn’t packed with calories and bad fats.
Whole fruit (usually limited to apples, oranges, and bananas)
Turkey Jerky (watch out for high salt content)
Frozen fruit popsicles (watch out for added sugar)
No sugar added juice
Healthy airline snack foods
In regards to airline travel, the truth is we often bring our own snacks, and even small meals, on our flights.
With pandemic protocols, on top of cost saving measures, there’s no guarantee your flight will serve snacks, or even offer meal service during the flight, so it’s a good idea to carry some snacks to get you through.
Generally, our airplane snacks are almost identical to our road trip snacks (see the list above). I’m especially careful not to pack anything with a strong smell for airline flights. Tuna sandwiches and airplanes do not mix well, at least if you want to stay on speaking terms with the crew and other passengers.
Here’s one important tip: Gel based or creamy snacks like applesauce count as liquids or gels when you go through airport security. Make sure you pack them in containers under 100 ml (or 3.4 ounces) in size, or leave them at home. They also count towards your 1 quart bag limit. See the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule here. See Canada’s liquid and gel rules here.
You may also want to be careful when traveling with fresh veggies and fruit, as many countries have import restrictions on bringing in outside vegetables, fruit and even dairy.
Eating healthy while traveling is definitely within your power
Eating healthy while you travel for work, business or play doesn’t have to leave you dreading stepping on the scale when you get back home or feeling that you missed out on something amazing to keep to a healthier diet.
The truth is, that while each country has their own take on healthier food, usually the most authentic local cuisine also happens to be the healthiest for you. If you stay away from the overly processed foods you find in fast food joints and don’t overindulge your quantities, eating fresh locally grown meals will not only keep you healthier and give you more energy to explore, but you will also have the opportunity to taste some of the best authentic foods that country has to offer.
In our mind, that’s a win-win situation that anyone should be able to get behind.
So, how do you eat healthy when you travel? Let us know in the comments!