There’s no question that traveling can wreak havoc on your diet. Road trips can end up being roadmaps to greasy spoons and fast food restaurants. A recent driving trip from New York to Atlanta made me think about healthy ideas to keep in mind these days to keep as normal of a diet as possible. Try these healthy ideas for eating on the road. They’ll help you maintain a leaner waistline and better overall health.
Healthy Ideas to Consider Before You Stop for Food
Our annual pilgrimage to see the in-laws was made by car this year. While my daughter was thrilled at the concept of stopping at a Wendy’s or Chick-Fil-A, I was determined to come up with some healthy ideas to keep our family from falling into the fast-food traps of years gone by. And if we did end up at a fast food restaurant (yes, there was a promised Chick-Fil-A stop) I wanted to go to a place that did offer some healthier alternatives. There are plenty of concepts to consider, but here are some easy ones to remember.
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They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you’ve stayed at a hotel that offers a free Continental Breakfast take advantage of it—but try to avoid all the easy, accessible sweets (think carbs like cereal, donuts and the ever-popular “make it yourself waffles”). While they’re better than eating no breakfast at all, the sugar and fat in them will have you getting hungry sooner. Instead, healthy ideas include oatmeal, fresh fruit, plain yogurt (sweetened with fruit or honey) and eggs (hard-boiled are best but scrambled or an omelet are okay too). The protein in the eggs, oatmeal and yogurt combined with the complex carbohydrates in the fruit will help to feel full longer and are better for you.
If a fast-food restaurant is your only option, go for the Egg McMuffin, egg sandwich, yogurt or apple slices. Try to avoid the greasier meats like sausage or the pancakes loaded with corn syrup and butter, as they’re typically heavy on the fat content. If you can skip the hash browns, you’re doing yourself a favor as well, although I admit, it’s hard not to have them as a treat every once in a while!
No Supersizing or Combo Meals
While the person behind the counter may be required to ask you whether you want to “Supersize” your meal, you are not required to say yes! Forget both this option and the “combo meal” option if offered. Instead, healthy ideas include ordering a la carte and if you must have a side of fries (or another unhealthy side), keep it small.
For drinks, water is best, but unsweetened iced tea or unsweetened lemonade can be used for a good reward for kids—just make sure you don’t let them decide how much sugar to add!
Try Some “Slower” Fast Food
There are plenty of restaurants on the road these days that offer alternatives to traditional “assembly line” fast food. Whether it’s a Panera in Philadelphia, a Subway in Susquehanna, or a Chipotle in Charlotte, plenty of chains will let you “design” your own sandwiches or meals with healthy ideas like turkey and chicken meat, and plenty of vegetable options. You also have the ability to keep the mayonnaise, butter or dressings on the lighter side, to use olive oil or opt out of condiments all together. Some fast food places, like Chick-Fil-A are now offering multiple salad options made fresh on-site as well as fresh, whole fruit. For finicky eaters (like my daughter) having a chance to choose a cheese she likes, along with lettuce, tomato and cucumber and bread allowed her to come up with her own healthy ideas and create a personal sandwich made to order-which translates as “fresher” to her—and to a better choice overall.
Drink First, Eat Fruit and Veggies Second
Before you start eating, have a glass of water. Allow yourself a few minutes to digest it, and then eat the fruits and/or vegetable options on your plate next. By the time you get to other food that may not be as good for you, your stomach will already be telling you that it’s doing fine and you will hopefully be able to control some of your temptation to finish everything that’s on your plate. Speaking of plates, if you’re eating off a buffet, also avoid the temptation to fill your plate up just because you can for the same price. Think about how much food you really need to satisfy your hunger.
Eat Before You Feel Like You’re “Starving”
This tip is along the same lines as not going food shopping on an empty stomach. Bottom line is if you wait until the family is famished to eat, you’re much more likely to make bad food choices and eat too much, too quickly. Try to time your meal stops before you hit that point.
Let’s face it, when you stop at the typical roadside travel mart/gas station mini-mart there are major temptations (think chips and candy bars) and plenty of unhealthy choices (I recently saw 26 different variations of rotisserie hot dogs on display!) in just about every aisle. If you can, pack your own hearty snacks and bring them with you, like fresh apples or carrots or a bag of your favorite walnut-cranberry-chocolate chip mix. If beef jerky is your thing, consider making it yourself in advance or buying it from a store like Trader Joe’s. Nuts get a bad rap, but they’re actually good for you eaten in moderation, and there are lots of good energy bars to help keep the munchies at bay.
Plan Ahead and Eat Local
With a little advanced preparation, assuming you know what route you’re taking, you can look into local restaurants that may provide not only better food made fresh, but offer a glimpse into life around town and allow you to take in the local flavor (literally) in the area where you’re traveling.
And don’t forget to stop at least once during the day to get out of your car for a little burst of exercise! Whether it’s a short walk, jumping jacks, running stretches—help strengthen your body a bit while burning off a few calories. Your body will thank you when you finally make it to your destination!