Eating healthy while travelling; is it really possible?
The distractions of a new environment, changes in routine, and exposure to different foods when travelling can significantly affect usual healthy eating habits. But, fortunately, eating well while travelling isn’t all that difficult – all you need is some pre-planning before you take off.
Many options on airlines are not particularly ‘healthy’, so it is important to either eat a wholesome meal before taking off or pack a variety of healthy snack-foods to take with you (such as the picture below - I prepared a home made nut-bar and overnight oats for an early morning flight). So snacks such as nuts, muesli bars or wholegrain crackers are great for airline travel.
If you absolutely have to purchase food before flying out, look for cafes that have pre-packed vegetable and fruit salads, or yoghurt/oat cups. This will help you avoid the temptation of buying the packaged and processed options usually available on airlines.
Where possible, book accommodation that is equipped with a microwave and a fridge. This will help you store groceries in the fridge and prepare frozen meals easily; and consequently, helping you save money on the meals you would otherwise eat out.
Once you’re at your destination, walk around the area to find local markets and grocery stores, and stock up on healthy options. The most important product to purchase would have to be water. Drinking water when away from home can be really hard, as your routine may be disrupted or you may not have your favourite drink bottle at hand. Buying a 10L carton of water will ensure you always have water available, allowing you to stay hydrated and also save some money on buying the hotel’s ‘golden water’.
Everyone loves the breakfast buffets, but it is important to think about the choices available. Keep breakfast buffets healthy by filling up on plain yoghurt and fruit, and choosing natural muesli over bircher. Try to avoid the pastries as much as possible. If you’re a savoury-breakfast type of person, opt for poached eggs instead of scrambled and fill up on wholegrain toast. Finally, take notice of how the hot foods have been prepared and avoid meals with a lot of added butters/oils.
It’s important to avoid all-you-can eat places, as this will be your first step for dodging over-indulging. Do your research and find restaurants/cafes with a varied menu. Local businesses tend to have more authentic/home-cooked style meals compared to the international chain restaurants – supporting local businesses will help support your body on avoiding unhealthy choices.
Wherever you decide to eat out, however, follow these simple tips for healthier takeaway options:
Make sure your plate is divided into 50% vegetables, 25% protein (i.e. meats and meat products/legumes) and 25% carbohydrate food (i.e. bread/pasta/rice).
Order a vegetable dish as a main, and opt for all-protein meals as a side-dish.
Don’t be afraid to ask the waiter for less salt and sugar in your dish.
Go for tomato based sauces instead of cream/coconut varieties.
If you are having takeaway, avoid their fried/battered food options. If you want fried food, question which oil they use – choose outlets that use vegetable oils (canola/sunflower) and avoid those who use coconut or palm oils.
Opt for steamed or grilled dishes instead of fried.
Avoid high fat meats such as steaks and hamburgers and avoid eating the skin of meats. Choose lean chicken or beef that have been grilled or baked, not fried.
Stick to the 25% ratio of carbohydrates on your plate. If you are ordering a container of rice/noodles, it will be far more than you should eat. Stick to one (ideally half) a cup of plain cooked rice/noodles and avoid the flavoured/fried varieties.
Choose brown/wholemeal rice or noodles where possible.
Most importantly, STOP eating when you’re full. It is very easy to over eat. Ask the restaurant to pack your meal in a takeaway container so you can heat and eat the rest at the next meal or day.
Don’t overthink food when travelling, just use common sense and listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Choose the healthiest options available and always do incidental exercise (use stairs instead of elevators, stand up instead of sitting, walk instead of using transport, etc.) The more you do this, the more natural it will become and the easier it will be!
Bon voyage and bon appétit!
Joyce Haddad, Director of A Dietitian's Mission, is an Adelaide based Dietitian/Nutritionist and Master Personal Trainer with a passion for health and wellbeing. ADM aims to help the public make informed and realistic nutritional choices and ensure everyone has a healthy relationship with their body and with food.