We just came home from three days away in Washington, D.C. And while it was an active vacation (even *I* got tired of walking), I was reminded that eating healthy on the road can be a real challenge. So, because 'tis the season for hitting the road more often, I've compiled 8 top tips for you!
- Pack some reinforcements: There might be times when you need a non-perishable, healthy snack - why not bring some of your favorite nuts, snack bars, etc. along with you? We packed one bar per person per day - these gave us the flexibility to stretch lunch out 'til 2 (my daughter gets HANGRY if she's underfed!) or in one instance, helped me replace lunch when all that were available were hot dogs, hamburgers and popcorn. Although I'm not a fan of these things, my favorites are Kind Bars, Larabars and Gnu fiber bars.
- Start strong: There are often more healthy choices at breakfast than at any other meal, and why not set a healthy tone for your day? Hard cooked eggs, omelettes without cheese and with lots of veggies (egg white or whole egg, you choose, just ask for "very light" on the oil or see if they have cooking spray handy). Fresh fruit, whole wheat toast or English muffins and oatmeal are all usual suspects. All good. Be careful of low-fat fruit yogurts, though, they're often LOADED with sugar. If there are plain yogurts or plain Greek yogurts at breakfast (rare), you can add your own fruit, a dollop of jam, whatever - but you can control that sugar! My go-to breakfast this past weekend was 2 hard-boiled eggs, a big bowl of cantaloupe chunks and copious amounts of Tazo Awake black tea (without milk or sugar). I felt fueled up but not weighed down. On the last day, there were no hard-boiled eggs so I subbed an egg white omelette made with cooking spray (a special request by me, she was happy to help) and asked for "some of each of the veggies" she had on hand. I got a loaded omelette which I topped with some salsa. Added a side of fruit and voila! A very hearty breakfast, high in protein and fiber but cheap on calories.
- Ask for help: If you ask nicely, servers and chefs are usually happy to help you eat healthier. Request dressings and sauces on the side, that dishes be grilled or cooked with very little oil or butter, for an extra serving of veggies in lieu of potatoes or pasta, etc. Go crazy and request that they DON'T bring a bread basket (although in my family, this would cause a riot, so I have it kept on the other side of the table). Inquire about whether half-portions are available - try ordering a half-entree and an appetizer and feel like you're getting variety and the experience of dining out, without the temptation of having an entire entree (usually WAY too big a portion) sitting in front of you. Heard of the "see food" diet? You are likely to eat what you see! Out of sight, out of mind, friends. Also good: Ordering two appetizers - get one delivered when others have their apps, the other when others have their dinner.
- Choose one: If you're going to go for it at dinner time, chose amongst alcohol, an appetizer or a dessert. Not all three. You'll save zillions of calories. And if you are drinking, a glass of wine's a better bet than a cocktail . . . I'll admit this one's easy for me - not a drinker. I like to eat my calories, thankyouverymuch.
- Think Green: Wherever, whenever you can, get some veggies into your body. They're good for you and they'll fill you up with a minimum of calories, provided you skip or go light on dressings and sauces. Start your meal with a salad when possible - ask for dressing on the side. Better yet, make your MEAL a salad. Add a protein (chicken breast, tofu, hard-boiled egg, a piece of fish) and voila! Satisfying and healthful. Ordering an entree with sides at dinner? Ask for an extra order of veggies instead of a starch. You'll feel better, you'll save calories and you'll feel more full.
- Ask yourself "is this worth it?": I love to eat. I love to try foods that are specialties of a particular place. I live for eating at cool restaurants that are different from places I eat at home. I'm a sucker for a "hot spot" and a "celebrity chef." So sometimes, it's worth it to me to splurge. NOT on a loaded hot dog at the zoo, though. No, on something like an authentic Sichuan restaurant in downtown DC that gets written up all over the place as being super. One with lines of Chinese tourists outside. One where the waiter asks us "you sure you can handle this one?" when we order . . . I didn't stuff myself, but I ate food that was off the plan, and I enjoyed every bite of it - probably more-so because I've been so strict about my diet lately. See also: Brick-oven pizza with sausage, broccoli rabe and roasted garlic. But not: Mid-afternoon fro-yo with toppings.
- Do the best you can: Sometimes, it's REALLY hard to find healthy options. For example, when you're stuck at the gate in the airport. Even there, though, you might be able to bypass some disasters (bad Airport Pizza, for example - not so tasty and loaded with fat & calories - do you really want to splurge on that?). Poking around carefully in Reagan's Terminal C, I found a random "Greek" salad with wheat berries, mixed greens, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and a bit of Feta cheese. I didn't even need the dressing - just smooshed up the Feta and spread it around. That wasn't quite filling enough, so I hit up Hudson News for a package of cashews and a bottle of water. Not a satisfying dinner, but one that was far more healthful than a hoagie, a burger, or the aforementioned crappy Airport Pizza. I even noticed that Hudson had Kind Bars, Lara Bars and Luna Bars tucked in the back. Took some sleuthing past Doritos and candy bars to find these goods, though - you need to be persistent! Many of the food vendors did have apples and bananas - those are great, portable options too. Why not spring for one of those and turn down the sweet or salty snacks they're going to offer you on-board? You can do this!
- Get back on track, STAT: Once you land at home, get on your plan again, ASAP. We got home after dinner and I got straight to making my shopping list for the week. My daughter and I hit the market first thing in the morning (after I had a wondrous green smoothie for breakfast . . . I really missed my green smoothies!) and loaded up our cart with fresh produce, fish, tofu etc. I ate super clean all day and am feeling more normal already.
What are your favorite tricks for eating healthy on the road?