Eating Healthy on the Road

So, I’ve had a lot of requests from you readers on topics you’d like to hear about.  This particular request came from one of our readers in Hawaii (Aloha, Amy!) Looks like a lot of you all have the same question on how to eat healthy when traveling.  It just so happens, I have quite a bit of experience on this one.

For starters – I have a job that requires travel.  I’ve been traveling for my job for more than 10 years now.  (One hotel chain gave me a rose and chocolates when I checked in because I had so many hotel points there. No joke.)  So, I’ve spent many a day trying to figure out how to balance a healthy eating lifestyle with my travel.  Lucky for you guys – I have lots of tips.

So, buckle your seat belts, make sure your seats are in their full, upright and locked position because it’s time to wade through some Healthy Eating Travel Tips:


Do Your Homework: The first thing I’d tell anyone about to hit the road is look at nutrition facts before you even leave.  Let’s face it, when you’re on the road, many times you’re going to have to eat at a fast food restaurant.  So, spend some time on the websites of a few fast food restaurants and find out what you can eat at each one.  We’re pretty lucky that a lot of fast food restaurants have added healthier food options to their menus over the last few years. So, there are options at almost every restaurant, you just have to know what they are (because they’re not always the options you might think.)

Here’s an example: I know that I can go to Chick-fila and get a Market Fresh Salad and use ½ of the ranch dressing packet for a total of 350 calories.  Or, I can get grilled chicken nuggets, a side salad, some of the ranch dressing and a fruit cup for 415 calories.  That’s delicious, fast and I don’t feel like I’m skimping on anything.  

Here’s another one of my go-tos: I can go to Arby’s and get a Classic Roast Beef Sandwich (hold the bun), side salad with some dressing and a package of apple slices all for under 400 calories.

I put together a quick table of my most-frequented fast food restaurants on the road, a few of my favorite orders at each one and their total calories:


Now, I’ll let you in on this little nugget of info – sometimes just because food sounds healthy and low calorie, doesn’t mean it is.  For example: you see the “Turkey and Swiss Sandwich” on the menu at Arby’s – sounds healthy, right?  Nope.  That sucker will run you 700 calories for the sandwich alone.  How about a McDonald’s Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken?  It’s lettuce and healthy, right?  Wrong again.  That guy is going to run you around 500 calories before you even think about adding dressing on top.  So, know what you’re ordering so you don’t accidentally sabotage your healthy eating.  (After all, if I’m going to splurge on a big calorie meal, I’d rather it be on a hamburger and fries than a salad.) 🙂


Be Prepared: I always have at least one apple with me when I travel.  I may have more than one.  They are the perfect traveling fruit.  They’re a little sturdier than some fruit and they’re pretty light weight.   (I made the mistake of once packing a pear in my briefcase.  FYI – don’t do that.  It ends up as a mushy, messy mess. And your reports smell like pear.) I will sometimes toss in a granola bar, raisins or individual packets of almonds.  They’re light, easy to carry and they’re there to grab if you need them.  Get hungry in the car?  Skip the gas station tacos (do people actually eat those??) and eat your apple.  


Eat Before You Leave: This one seems easy, but, if you can eat your meal (breakfast or lunch) BEFORE you leave the house to catch your plane or hit the road for your road trip, then do it.  You’ll eat less calories and not put yourself in situations of having to find “healthy” food at an airport.


When You Have To, Take Your Best Guess: Now, there are times that you will have to go out to eat with clients to restaurants that you haven’t been able to check their nutrition facts or they don’t have them available.  Don’t stress out here.  This is where you need to use your best guess.  You know that the fried chicken is high calorie, you know that french fries, pastas and meats covered in sauces are not your best choices – so don’t order them.  Make the best decision you can.  Go for a piece of grilled meat or a salad (dressing on the side.)  It’s going to be more calories than you would have eaten at home, but this is the time you have to use this rule: Eat as well as you can when it’s in your control so that the times it isn’t in your control, it will average out.  Just look at the menu, take your best guess as to what is the healthiest option and order it.  Then just get back on track at your next meal.  And remember, you don’t have to clean your plate.  Portions at restaurants are crazy big now. Eat slowly and stop before you demolish the whole thing.  If there’s food still on your plate, the server won’t give you grief about the starving children in Africa….


Car Time Doesn’t Equal Eat Time: This is the weirdest thing to me.  But so often, people equate road trips with eating in the car.  They feel like they must have something to eat in their car with them the whole trip.  You don’t eat all day when you’re sitting at your desk, do you?  So, why do it in the car?  Just because you’re driving in the car doesn’t mean you have to continuously be snacking.  Eat three meals like normal.  A few healthy snacks like you usually do.  No need to graze your whole trip.


You Don’t Have to Get Something to Eat at Every Stop:  Another oddity to me.  People stop at a gas station to fill up or have a quick bathroom break and feel the need to grab a snack.  Stop!  Are you really hungry?  Or are you just bored or getting food out of habit?  If you are hungry, hopefully you have your handy-dandy healthy snacks you packed.  If you don’t have healthy snacks with you, pay attention to what the gas station has to offer.  Many of them are carrying fresh fruit now.  Grab a banana and hit the road.


Go To a Grocery Store:  This is a little trick I learned awhile back that has come in handy quite a bit.  If you need something to eat or snacks, you can skip the gas station and run by a grocery store.  Hit the produce aisle for some fresh cut fruit, pre-washed/cut veggies or even salad bars at some.  Head on over to the dairy for a carton of yogurt or some cheese sticks.  This little nugget will save you some unwanted calories and give you a lot more options on healthy eating.


Don’t Be Scared of the Kids Menu: Here’s another good one.  You know the portion sizes at restaurants are ridiculous these days. (And, for me, I’m about the size of a 12 year old anyway.)  Don’t be scared to order off the kid’s menu.  They often have healthy side options (cutie oranges, apple slices, yogurt) and much smaller portion sizes.  Some restaurants may push back, but offer to pay a few dollars more for your kid’s menu order – they’ve yet to turn me down with that one.


Use the Hotel Gyms: Just because you’re away from home does NOT mean you get to skip workouts.  Most hotels have gyms.  They may be bare-bones but they’ll have a treadmill.  Use it.  Set your alarm to get up early and get a good sweat in.  You know you’re going to be eating unhealthier food than usual, so use the gym to help keep you on track. Heck, I’ve even brought a few workout DVDs and played them on my laptop in my room to get a workout in.  Or try YouTube – there’s a million free workouts on there.  Whatever it is, just get moving.


Let me bottom line this for you here – you don’t have to be the weirdo that brings their own Tupperware of grilled chicken out to eat at the restaurant with them.  You can eat healthy on the road, but it takes some homework, planning and discipline.  And, don’t let one bad meal throw off your eating for your whole trip.  Just start back eating healthy the next meal (don’t wait until Monday or next week or next month.)


So, travel.  Have fun.  And rack up those frequent flier miles, not those frequent flier pounds.
Safe travels, Road Warriors!

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