By Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN
Airports, highways and hotel rooms often appear to be junk-food-only operations. Candy bars under the cashier counter, rotating hot dogs at the gas station and stocked, overpriced hotel room mini bars are familiar sights. While not as noticeable, healthy options are available. Sometimes you need to bring these items with you, and in other instances you just need to know where to look. But no matter where you travel, your family can keep eating healthfully with these simple solutions.
Before You Go, Pack Non-Perishable Snacks
- Trail mix
- Whole or dried fruit
- Freeze dried vegetables
- Nuts (pre-portioned into snack-size bags)
- Nut butters (travel packs are great for planes)
- Whole-grain pretzels or crackers
- Instant oatmeal
- Snack bars
When it comes to snack bars, many aren't much better than candy. Patricia Bannan, MS, RD, author, recommends bars made of ingredients such as whole grains, fruit and nuts. "The most satisfying and energizing bars clock in at under 200 calories, with at least 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per serving," adds Bannan.
Once You're Off, Seek Out Healthy Bites
Airport snacks. These choices are easy to carry and are available in most airport terminals.
- Part-skim mozzarella cheese stick
- Whole-grain sandwich with lean meat, vegetables and mustard
- Salad with lean protein
- Vegetable soup
- Fat-free latte
- Fruit cup
- Pre-cut veggies (paired with nut butter brought from home)
Road trip stops. There might be long stretches of road with limited options between cities, but road trips don’t have to cause a disruption in eating healthfully.
- Markets. Pick up pre-washed/pre-cut vegetables, hummus, yogurt, sandwiches, salads and fruit with peels like oranges and bananas.
- Sandwich shops. Choose whole-grain bread, extra vegetables and mustard instead of oil or mayo.
- Drive-thrus and casual restaurants. Check the calorie count before you order, if possible, and focus on items that are grilled, steamed, broiled or baked instead of fried or sautéed. Consider salads with lean protein and a vinaigrette-based dressing, broth-based soups, oatmeal and eggs with whole-grain bread. If you're craving comfort food, just watch your portions — stick to the basics such as a single burger patty without special sauces, kid-size sides and water instead of soda.
- All-you-can-eat buffets. Before you grab a plate, walk around the buffet and decide which foods you’ll choose; then, stick to your plan. Aim to make half your plate fruits and vegetables, one-quarter lean protein and one-quarter whole grains.
Hotel hacks. Whether you’re settled in for a luxury stay or it's a quick slumber before sightseeing, here are some healthy eating tips.
- Ask for a mini-fridge and then visit the local market for grocery staples. "Plan to eat breakfast in your room most days, so you know you’ve got one healthy, wholesome meal under your belt,” Bannan recommends. "If you'll be on the go all day, take your own snacks with you."
- If you have a coffee maker, you can make instant oatmeal. Stir in dried fruit, nuts and milk for a satisfying start to the day.
- Many hotels offer a continental breakfast as a part of your stay. Enjoy this free meal option by choosing whole-grain cereal with fat-free or low-fat milk, fruit or yogurt.
In Developing Countries: Make Safe Choices
A common question travelers ask when abroad: "Is the water safe?" The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends avoiding any tap water, including when brushing your teeth. Drink safe beverages such as boiled water or drinks, bottled water, bottled or canned drinks, and properly treated water. Carbonated beverages are a safe solution since you can be sure it's been sealed properly if it fizzes when opened.
Avoid raw produce, including salads, advises the FDA. This will reduce the possibility of coming in contact with fruits and vegetables that may have been rinsed with tap water and may be contaminated. However, thoroughly cooked produce, fruits with a thick, intact peel or covering you peel yourself (such as citrus fruits and bananas), well-cooked meat, poultry and fish, and dairy from large commercial dairies are considered safe by the FDA.
Reviewed January 2014
Caroline Kaufman, MS, RDN, is a nutrition expert in private practice based in Los Angeles.