Eating Healthy Away From Home

by Joel Fuhrman, M.D

Are you are taking a long-planned vacation or on a business trip, many of us struggle to eat healthy when we are away from home. Finding quality food can be a challenge when in a new place and often your time to explore possible options is limited. Luckily, if you are committed to following a nutrient-dense lifestyle, you do not have to leave your healthy eating habits at home. Here are some strategies I use when on vacation or when a business trip takes me away from home.

Survival on the Road

You can dine like the Europeans sometimes do – with a little picnic. Take a cooler with ice packs and bring along a supply of salads, cut-up raw veggies, fresh fruit, whole-grain wraps, and veggie stuffed pita pockets, raw nut butters and unsalted raw nuts and seeds. Pick a scenic spot and relax outdoors while you dine. If you are travelling with small children you will appreciate the convenience of not having to find a restaurant that everyone agrees on, with foods everyone likes. Plus, it is less costly.

When away for several days, replenish your supplies by seeking out local produce at farmer’s markets or grocery stores along your route. Include a pick-your-own farm in your travel plans (fun for kids and grown-ups alike). Fast food chains are identical, but farms and farmer’s markets offer an area’s best and freshest produce and can be a great introduction to the places you are visiting.

If you are flying, pack everyone’s carry-on bag with whole grain pita pocket stuffed with salad and fruit that travels well, such as apples and oranges, and take nuts, seeds and homemade trail mix, too.

Upon Arrival

Make arrangements ahead of time to have a refrigerator -- or better yet -- a kitchen available at your destination. This way you can store healthy items for breakfast and lunch. At night, refreeze your ice packs for the next day, or travel with plastic storage bags and fill them up with ice from the hotel ice maker. You can also ask the hotel to put your ice packs in their kitchen freezer. Insulated water bottles, filled with ice and water, are also handy. Other tips include bringing along real silverware, including one sharp knife for opening melons and cutting up veggies and fruits. Take along a large bowl to wash vegetables and to prepare food in your room.

Eating Out

I look for restaurants with healthy choices by browsing local menus online. For lunch or dinner, seek places which offer an interesting assortment of creative salads or have a salad bar. As I always say, “Make your salad the main dish.” Order a double-sized salad and let them charge you double. Ask for your salad dressing or olive oil and vinegar on the side and use it sparingly. Restaurant soups are always too high in salt, so it is best to avoid them. Ask the waiter not to bring bread to your table so you are not tempted to eat white flour products before your meal arrives.

Request an extra side of steamed vegetables instead of pasta, potato or white rice to accompany your main dish. Ask for them to be made without butter, oil or salt. You can also just request a double serving of vegetables as your entrée. If you order a conventional entrée, choose simple broiled fish or chicken items and share with someone you are dining with so neither of you consumes an excessive amount of animal products. Asian restaurants are also good choices because you can order vegetable dishes that are steamed or water sautéed with the sauce on the side.

And many restaurants will make special accommodations if you call ahead and ask. In a pinch, lots of supermarkets have not only salad bars but cooked options, too, such as steamed vegetables and veggie soups. Breakfast is often the easiest meal of the day since it is simple to find fruit and oatmeal; you can even make it yourself by soaking it in the room the night before or cooking it in the coffee maker in your room.

Relax

On vacation, you may not eat perfectly at every meal, but the goal is to eat well the vast majority of the time. If you eat some conventional foods, don’t despair; just start eating healthfully again at your next meal and continue until you return home. Lastly, be active on the road. Exercise more. Structure your free time around physically demanding activities. Try to go to bed physically tired each day.