How to Eat Right When You’re on the Road

Tips for trips on planes, trains and automobiles
boy eating while traveling on airplane

People have found more and more creative ways to travel safely during the coronavirus pandemic, and with more and more people getting vaccinated, you might be ready to hit the road for a long-awaited vacation or visit with family or friends.

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Whatever your reasons for traveling, eating right when you’re on the road can be a challenge. Whether you go by plane, train or car, you don’t have to let bad food choices bust your diet when you’re on the go. With a little knowledge and some advance planning, you can steer clear of dietary road-blocks, says preventive medicine specialist Roxanne B. Sukol, MD

On the road

If you’re traveling by car, it can be easy to rely on vending machines or fast food options in rest stops along the way. After all, these things are convenient and inexpensive. But those quick food choices come with a price: They’re typically loaded with sugar, processed fats and empty calories. 

Make pit-stop shopping something you’ll feel good about 20 miles down the road by taking some time to plan ahead for smarter snacking options. You’ll have good food options, and you’ll feel better about keeping your own tank running in tip-top shape. 

Pack a cooler full of protein and nutrient-rich treats. Consider fueling up with these nourishing foods:  

  • Applesauce.
  • Fresh fruit such as bananas, apples, oranges or grapes. 
  • Yogurt. 
  • Low-fat string cheese or cheese slices. 
  • Single-serving containers of hummus, guacamole or tuna
  • A peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Single-serving packets of nuts such as almonds or cashews. 
  • Baby carrots, celery sticks, sliced bell peppers or snap peas. 
  • 100% whole-grain wrap with avocado, shredded carrots, and hummus.  

Tip: Trail mix can be a great choice. Choose mixes with nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Dark chocolate chips are great in cool weather. Try to limit mixes with M&M’s or candy. 

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“If you have time, a good bet is to make your own,” says Dr. Sukol. Measure out ¼ cup portions and fill small baggies for the ride. 

By plane or by train

You can find real food, even in the airport and train terminals sandwiched between the pretzel, cinnamon roll and fast food joints. But if you choose, you can also pack healthy snacks to save time during layovers. Granted, you can’t take a cooler through airport security. But with some simple planning you can pack healthy food options. Dr. Sukol suggests the following.

Put nourishing snacks into clear baggies to get through security.

Healthy options include:

  • Homemade trail mix, such as this recipe
  • Air-popped or bagged popcorn (with minimal ingredients, corn, oil and salt). 
  • Baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, celery sticks, dried cranberries or other easy-to-eat veggies and fruit that will stay fresh. 

Visit shops or kiosks where you can buy single-servings of healthy snacks.

Consider:

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt. 
  • Hummus with veggies. 
  • Fruit cups made with fresh fruit. 
  • Pre-cut veggies. 
  • Turkey or salmon jerky (but watch the sodium content on these if you have salt-sensitive hypertension). 

Stop by a cafe and swap healthier foods for your go-to choices. 

Consider:

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  • Oatmeal instead of sugary granola. 
  • Unsweetened fresh fruit cup instead of a blueberry muffin.  
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg instead of sugar, syrup or whipped cream in your coffee.  

Tip: Keep a few single-serving snacks on hand during your flight in your backpack or carry-on. 

At your destination

End the day with a nourishing meal. The feeling of wanting to binge on fast food or sweet snacks is understandable after a long day of travel, especially if you haven’t eaten well at all throughout the day.

If you plan to eat out once arriving at your destination, address your hunger head-on with veggie appetizers, like a salad or steamed broccoli, Dr. Sukol suggests. Include whole grains and nourishing fats such as olive oil and nuts, or those in grilled chicken or salmon. These will stick to your ribs and keep you feeling satisfied longer.  

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