How healthy are you eating while traveling? (photo courtesy of thehealthage.com)
With Thanksgiving, holiday parties and all sorts of merriment right around the corner, I thought we could all use a few reminders on how NOT to gain 20 pounds this holiday season!
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, it’s important to realize that you can be away and still eat healthfully and mindfully.
I asked Elisa Zied, nationally recognized dietician and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, her best advice for healthy eating while traveling. Here are her top two takeaways:
1. Don’t abandon all your healthful habits! If you do, you’re destined to come back from your getaway feeling worse—the number on the scale will be up, your clothes will feel more tight, and instead of being motivated to get back into a mindfully healthy routine, you may end up seeking comfort by eating more than usual.
2. Find time for fitness! Even 10 minute bursts of activity help you burn calories and help your mind and body feel strong and fit. Ms. Zied recommends:
- Taking a few laps at the airport
- Walking up and down escalators instead of taking the stairs
- Scoping out walking/running trails or routes nearby your hotel
- Doing some simple exercises in your room like lunges, squats, or push ups, jogging in place or dancing to music
How can we eat healthy when we travel?
It’s really critical to plan ahead in order to eat well when traveling. Having healthy snacks on hand will provide you with ammunition to help you think twice before grabbing a candy bar or some other vending machine treat to get your food fix. Consider homemade trail mix made with whole grain, crunchy cereal, dried fruit (with no sugar added), and your favorite nuts, preferably unsalted so that you’ll always have something on hand to give you energy and key nutrients to help you get through the day. It’s also a great idea to travel with a refillable water bottle (preferably one made of stainless steel) to stay adequately hydrated (pack it empty and refill when on an airplane or at the airport after you’ve gone through security).
What should we be looking for on restaurant menus?
When you read restaurant menus, it’s important to look first and foremost for calorie information if it’s available. For most people, 500 to 600 calories per meal is a good rule of thumb. Of course, we know that most restaurant entrees can have double or triple that amount!
At breakfast or lunch, having vegetables like mushrooms or onions as part of an omelet (made with one yolk and a few egg whites), and having fruit on the side or for dessert (berries, bananas, melons or citrus fruits like grapefruits or oranges) provides lots of water, fiber, and valuable vitamins and minerals; they’re also great sources of carbohydrate—the key fuel for your brain and body.
Planning ahead is particularly important before you go to a business dinner. Try to make it a rule to eat only half the appetizer and half your entrée. Look for a vegetable-based appetizer or order a colorful salad with dressing on the side (you can dip the fork into the dressing). These are great things to start with at dinner to provide key nutrients and fill you up.
For your main course, choose fish, skinless chicken breast, or some lean meat (like sirloin), but ask them to prepare with minimal amounts of oil, butter, and salt. If you choose to have bread from the bread basket, skip starchy vegetables like a baked potato, pasta, or rice. If you choose to have alcohol, stick to only one drink (for example, 5 ounces wine, 12 ounces of light beer, or one shot of hard liquor). Make sure to drink plenty of water – that can help fill you up and counteract some of the harms of too much sodium from your meal.
What can I eat to feel energized while traveling?
The best foods to eat for energy are those rich in simple or complex carbohydrates, and protein. For example, you can pre-make whole grain cracker sandwiches (each made with 2 whole grain crackers and some type of nut butter – like peanut , cashew or almond butter). If you’re traveling with a cooler, having small sandwiches, low fat yogurt, string cheese, and cut up fruit are other healthful, filling options. Making pre-portioned plastic baggies with 2 tablespoons each of cereal, dried fruit, and nuts is a great way to stay fueled and focused without overdoing calories when few options are available.
What should I eat if I need to sleep while traveling?
There’s no one food that will magically help you sleep. What can help is limiting alcohol, fried or fatty foods, and large portions or anything before you slumber. Limiting caffeine a few hours before you plan to sleep can also be helpful.
What do you find the most difficult thing about eating on vacation?
Not having our favorite breakfast cereals on hand certainly makes eating on vacation a bit of a challenge (sometimes I go as far as to bring a box or two with us)! We also don’t love having to go out for every meal, especially when the food available looks and smells so good. Sometimes we stay at hotels that have a mini kitchen, and that makes it easier for us to at least have healthful breakfast and snack foods and beverages (especially water) on hand. I try to be as consistent as possible in terms of my own eating and encourage my family to do the same when we’re on vacation.
Also, it’s critical to get plenty of physical activity. I know for my family that being active and doing fun things that we might not get a chance to do at home are often the highlights of our family vacations.
About Elisa Zied
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is a nationally recognized award-winning dietitian and the founder/president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York, New York. She is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and galtime.com. She’s the author of Nutition At Your Fingertips and co-author of Feed Your Family Right! and So What Can I Eat?!, both written by Ruth Winter. Visit her and sign up for her free e-newsletter The ZIED GUIDE at www.elisazied.com.