Healthy eating for hungry travelers

Ah summertime.  You know what that means – outings, vacations……healthy eating?  Of course.  Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean healthy eating goes on vacation too.  Traveling does mean more reliance on restaurants, convenience stores, airport food or other modes of eating.  We may think our only eating options are burgers, hot dogs, fries and soft drinks.  Surprisingly, this is not the case. 

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Even when you’re away from home, eating healthy is still possible with a little pre-planning and thinking outside the box.  In addition, eating healthy, nutritious food while traveling gives you the satisfaction of doing what’s good for your body and can help prevent extra weight gain.  Here are some ways to make it happen:

Traveling by car

Packing nutritious food for a road trip is easier than you may realize.  Think protein and fiber-rich foods.  Protein’s satiety power and fiber’s ability to slow digestion is a dynamic duo in curbing your appetite making you feel full, preventing indulging in less nutritious food.  Bring along an insulated cooler packed with ice for perishables or a bag/purse for nonperishables and chose from the following ideas:

*fresh fruit/veggies       *hummus      *string cheese     *hard-boiled eggs       *Greek yogurt

*nuts or seeds                *trail mix      *tuna packs         *whole grain crackers    *dried fruit

*dark chocolate (at least 70% cacoa content)   *low-sodium beef jerky     *popcorn

At a restaurant

About 1/3 of all Americans eat and drink their calories away from home.  Fortunately, slowly but surely many restaurants are beginning to offer healthier, lower calorie menu items, making it easier to eat nutritious while traveling.  Another thing that will help is by the end of 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require calorie and other nutrition labeling for standard menu items in all restaurant chains with 20 or more locations.  Many of these restaurants have already complied with this ruling. 

However, educate yourself on knowing what to look for while browsing the menu.  Here are suggestions to focus on from www.choosemyplate.gov:

Think about:

     *What you are eating

·         Check posted calorie amounts either on the restaurant menu (if available), pamphlets, website or download a smartphone app that can guide you on lower calorie, healthier choices.  Some apps to consider for choosing healthier foods include: 

-Restaurant Nutrition, free, compatible with all apple devices and android

-Healthyout , free compatible with all apple devices and android

-Eatoutwell, free, compatible with all apple devices and android

·         Choose healthy salads that include several vegetables, whole grains like quinoa, fruits, nuts, grilled chicken or fish, beans and ask for the dressing on the side

·         Water should be your first beverage choice followed by unsweetened tea, coffee, or fat-free or low-fat milk.  Sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages should be limited as calories from them add up quickly.

*How much you are eating

·         Portion size does matter.  The biggest challenge is avoiding large portions sizes often served at restaurants.  To avoid this either choose a smaller size (choose 6 ounces or less of meat, poultry or fish) share your meal or take home half of it.

·         Avoid all you-can-eat buffet restaurants.  Unless you have tremendous self-control, it’s just too tempting to want to fill your plate full of food.

     *How your meal is prepared

·         When reading the description of a menu item,  if your read the words “crispy,” “crunchy,” “breaded, buttered or battered,” “fried,” “creamy,” or “tempura,” they’ll be higher in calories and fat.  Choose instead menu items that say “grilled,” “broiled” or “steamed” and there will be fewer calories and fat.

At a convenience store

You may not consider convenience stores a mecca of healthy food options, but nowadays many do have at least some nutritious foods if you know what to look for.  Keep your eyes open for these healthier options:

*energy bars     *whole grain cereal cups     *string cheese     *low-fat yogurt

*single servings of baby carrots and celery   *peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios

*trail mixes    *fresh fruit or fresh fruit cups   *fat-free or low-fat milk   *sunflower seeds

At the airport

Whether you fly frequently or just on occasion choosing healthy food at an airport can be done.  Here’s how:

·         Fly on by foods with too many calories.  This includes foods like cookies, chips (unless baked), tuna or chicken salads, hot dogs, greasy hamburgers, ice cream, doughnuts or anything fried.

·         Pack your own food.  Many airlines no longer offer a meal unless it’s a long flight and even snacks may not be offered.  “Packable” foods such as energy bars, dried fruit, unsalted nuts or a trail mix can keep hunger in check.  Liquids can only be purchased once you are through security.   Water is the best beverage choice as it has no calories and will keep you hydrated.

·         Make wise dining choices at airport restaurants:

*Looking for Mexican – Good choices are chicken or bean burritos, cheese quesadillas, soft tacos (chicken or fish), salsa and chips but skip the sour cream.

*Looking for a sandwich/salad – Good choices are a veggie burger or a smaller size regular burger topped with veggies like tomatoes, onions or lettuce, skip the fries and choose baked chips, chicken or turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread without mayo, any green salad with raw veggies and/or grilled chicken, beef or fish with a light or reduced-fat salad dressing. 

*Looking for Chinese – Good choices are entrees with lots of vegetables and lean meat. Look for steamed shrimp or chicken with vegetables, brown rice or spring rolls.  Stay away from fried or battered dishes and noodle based dishes as they are often high in calories and fat.

*Looking for breakfast/coffee shops – Good choices are egg dishes with vegetables but without sausage or fried potatoes, whole-wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit, and pancakes or waffles topped with fruit instead of syrup or butter.  Avoid coffee cakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls or pastries. 

*Looking for a healthy dessert – Good choices include smoothies made with real fruit and low-fat dairy, yogurt parfait topped with fruit and walnuts or any fresh fruit.

·         Tame your tummy from turbulence.  In case your plane runs into turbulence causing you an upset stomach, there are certain foods to avoid and others that can help relieve this feeling.  Foods to avoid or that will make you feel worse are coffee, alcohol, orange juice, milk, any greasy, fried or processed foods as they take longer to digest and can lead to heartburn.  Foods that can help with an upset stomach are club soda, ginger ale, herbal tea, crackers, vegetables sticks, fruit and keeping yourself hydrated with water. 

This summer, have a wonderful time wherever you may travel and don’t forget to make healthy eating a priority during the journey. 


ABOUT CHERYL MUSSATTO, REGISTERED DIETITIAN

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Cheryl Mussatto has over 30 years of experience as a Registered Dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings that cover a wide span of nutrition experience.  Currently she works as an adjunct professor for two community colleges, Allen Community College in Burlingame and Butler Community College in Council Grove, Kansas teaching two courses, Basic Nutrition and Therapeutic Nutrition. Cheryl also is a contributing author for osagecountyonline.com, an online newspaper and Edietitians, a global free nutritional and health magazine. Her articles for both publications pertain to nutrition topics that cover a diversity of health and nutrition interests for the general public.  She is also certified as a health and wellness coach.