Let’s be honest. When you travel today, you have to take real food with you. It’s not your fault that you can’t find real food in the average American town. The food industry conspires to keep real food off the shelves. Why? It’s simply not as profitable to sell real foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts as it is to sell snack cakes, candy bars, and chips.
As a result, we have a diabesity epidemic, and numerous culprits play a role. The introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) into the food supply certainly is a mainliner in this drama, but so too are ridiculously large portion sizes and eating more than half our meals in restaurants, on the go, and at fast-food restaurants. I have a simple solution for that:
BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)
Even if you choose farm-to-table restaurants or fine dining, you can never know exactly what goes into your food. Gluten and other food sensitivities as well as inflammatory vegetable oils are among the many problem ingredients you’ll face at restaurants. Choosing what you eat is an easy solution when you pack breakfasts and lunches for yourself and your family.
That doesn’t mean eating while you travel should feel impossible. I realize that traveling means you sometimes can’t avoid eating out. Dining out can be a pleasurable experience and a welcome deviation from cooking, but you want to be especially prepared during these situations.
What to eat when you travel can become a big stressor. As much as possible, plan ahead by packing healthy breakfasts and lunches. When the inevitable happens and you find yourself dining out, you need not abandon all logic when you have a meal at a restaurant or at a friend’s house.
Keeping these 10 principles in mind and remaining flexible will allow you to eat well in any occasion.
Bring an emergency pack. I can’t emphasize this enough when you travel. You wouldn’t forget your toothbrush or extra walking shoes, so add one more thing to your checklist and be prepared and prioritize your emergency life pack accordingly. Over time you will find your favorite version of the life pack, but here’s an example of what you could include:
- A small bag of raw almonds, walnuts, or pecans
- A small bag of cut carrots or cucumbers
- A small container of hummus (try Wild Garden single-serve packets)
- A can of wild salmon
- A can of sardines
- A container of chickpeas with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper
- A healthy whole-food protein bar
Be wary of salad bars. This tip comes from my good friend Ann Louise. “Especially when you’re traveling in a relatively undeveloped country, don’t eat fruit and vegetables that are not extremely well cooked,” she writes. “Don’t touch raw salads, no matter how well washed. Serve-yourself salad and food bars, in any country, are just colorful buffets of bacteria where the food sits out for hours, touched by countless other people.” You’ll find more of Ann Louise’s great travel tips here, and lots of other helpful information in her many books including The Gut Flush Plan.
Be very clear about your needs. Asking your server questions before you order can save confusion and frustration once your entrée arrives. Most restaurants are set up to accommodate food sensitivities and special requests, so don’t let the menu dictate what you order. Likewise, hosts will usually be very accommodating about special needs for dinner parties. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
Choose the restaurant when you can. When dining with others, research your options online and suggest a few options to your party. Most people are happy when someone else makes the decision, and choosing puts you in the driver’s seat to find healthy options. Most places have online menus, and even most airports or road stops provide one healthy option. Look for those with high-quality foods like grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and organic produce.
Request a “crudités platter,” fresh fruit, or olives as a starter or appetizer instead of the breadbasket. Bread and alcohol at the beginning of a meal increase your hunger and alcohol decreases your inhibitions, making it more likely that you’ll make a play for the cheesecake. Specify a healthier option. Likewise, opt for berries instead of a high-sugar confection for dessert.
Be very specific about gluten and dairy. These two slip into even innocuous-sounding dishes like soups. Again, always ask your server. More restaurants now offer gluten-free menus.
Pack the right supplements. Gut health becomes vitally important when you travel, especially in foreign countries where you are unsure about the food’s origin. Ann Louise recommends digestive enzymes, HCl, probiotics, and activated charcoal. “Open up an activated charcoal capsule and sprinkle on foods that are raw, undercooked or otherwise questionable,” she says. “Charcoal is a wonderful all-around absorber of toxins and contaminants. If you get sick, start with 4 capsules at the first sign of symptoms.”
Make it simple. Ask for a grilled fish or chicken dish with a large plate of vegetables steamed or sautéed in olive oil. Almost any roadside or airport restaurant can do this. Anything glazed, breaded, or otherwise comes drowning in sugary sauce should be a red flag to stay away. If your entrée arrives with a gluten grain or starchy carbohydrate, simply ask for another green vegetable instead.
Discover some “slow food” restaurants. These restaurants, where the atmosphere and ambience are soothing to your senses, are popping up more and more in big as well as smaller cities. Many use the highest-quality farm-to-table ingredients they can source. Our eating environment influences how much we end up consuming. Slowing down and savoring your food helps you better enjoy your meals and also helps you eat less. Airports provide a great opportunity for this if you have several hours before your flight. Slow down, breathe deeply, and enjoy the ambiance.
Drink smartly. I’m talking about water, not alcohol! Ann Louise advises to “fill your bottle with pure, filtered water. Even public water supplies can contain parasites like giardia as well as unwanted toxins.” You’re not necessarily safer with bottled waters. “According to a four-year review by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an estimated 25% or more bottled water brands are merely tap water in a bottle (sometimes with further treatment, sometimes without),” she writes. “And, testing has even found that the popular Fiji Water is loaded with arsenic! My personal go-to bottled water (when I can find it) is Volvic.”
Eating out often leads to eating too much and too much of the wrong things. Eating too much of the wrong things or finding yourself in this situation often leads to stress. Being on vacation and traveling, in general, doesn’t mean you need to fall into this trap.
As awareness grows and the needs of health-conscious diners are met, menu options are changing and nutritionally intelligent choices are now available. And most chain restaurants now offer healthy options.
Every voice counts, so speak up and let your favorite restaurants know you want organic produce, high-quality oils, wild-caught fish, and grass-fed beef.