If you’re on the road often or simply want to stay within a budget while traveling, and wanting to eat healthy, it’s all about preparation. As the saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, you have prepared to fail.”
Plan Your Accommodations
If you’re able to choose where you stay, or at least have some influence over it, find a hotel or lodging that has at least a mini fridge and microwave. Having these two appliances will give you a lot more and better tasting options for food, than without one or the other.
If possible, find a place that includes a stove. This will be easier to find if you plan on staying in an extended stay hotel or an AirBnB. Don’t worry if you can’t find a stove, there are plenty of meals that can be made without it.
Find yourself on the road more than in the hotel? An electric cooler isn’t a bad idea so you can keep food fresh longer. While an RTIC, Yeti, or just a regular cooler would probably work fine for keeping items cold, some electric coolers offer the ability to also keep your food warm. This feature allows you to have much more time to eat food that would otherwise go bad if you prepare it before a trip.
Switch to Decaf
Everyone loves the caffeine buzz, but even without the caffeine, decaf coffee has its perks too. The main benefit of decaf coffee is its ability to help suppress hunger.
While I am speaking mainly from experience, there have been studies done showing decaf coffee has effects on suppressing appetite. So how does this affect you? If you can make the switch to decaf, even for just a short period of time, it’ll probably help you avoid making a quick stop to McDonalds or picking up a hot dog from the ever so tempting street vendor.
Grazing and Snacking
Instead of eating a few big meals in the day, graze and eat more frequent smaller meals. You won’t be as hungry, nor will you feel as tired like you do after a large dinner. Pack snacks ahead of time. A few of my favorites are protein bars, nuts, chicken salad and crackers (you can buy packs of these for a $1 at the store), protein shakes, premade smoothies (store or homemade), and instant mash potatoes.
All of these items are easy to make and don’t bog me down or make me feel tired after eating them. Premade smoothies are great because I can make 5 of them at a time in a large blender, freeze them, and then they thaw out by mid-afternoon. The recipe for those can be found here.
Cooking and Packing Meals ahead of Time
This goes back to the whole preparation concept and more specifically meal prep now. While meal prep is most notably done by fitness enthusiasts and hardcore bodybuilders, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The reason these people do meal prep is because it saves them time later and allows them to do something that will help them earn dividends on their body later. Think of it as an initial investment of a few hours that will pay off during the week.
Even if you’re not traveling for a whole week, but only a few days, it’s still worth prepping a few days’ worth of food ahead of time. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll find yourself feeling a lot better overall, knowing you ate clean.
I can hear some people now crying out that they won’t know what to do with their meal prep containers once finished. This is especially true if all the containers you own are more expensive like glass. Have no fear, you can purchase containers that are cheap enough to throw away when done, but strong enough to be used again if you wish.
Some containers on Amazon, like the plastic ones in this article, I have used for months without a problem. A pack of 20 of them cost me $14, which is $.70 a container. I don’t mind paying $.70 just so I can eat a healthier meal on the road. Besides, I’d end up paying twice as much for a fast food meal as what it would cost for me to prepare my own food.
Just be sure to have the appropriate storage for your meals when you hit the road. Unless you have an electric cooler, lunchbox or some other means of keeping your food fresh, then it’ll be difficult to stomach spoiled food.
Buy Pre-made Meals at the Store
Maybe cooking isn’t your thing, or you’re sitting in the airport reading this, realizing you don’t want to stand in line waiting for fast food for the next week. Aren’t you glad grocery stores are a thing? Grocery stores have realized there’s a shifting trend towards eating healthy, but also realize people are still just as busy as they were 10 years ago.
Nowadays a lot of grocery stores are offering ready made options that allow you to pop a meal in the microwave and 2 minutes later, have a grease-free meal that’ll leave you feeling full and satisfied. For example, I found this at my local grocery store last week. It’s an instant quinoa meal that goes right in the microwave.
If you’re not familiar with quinoa, it tastes a lot like brown rice, but a bit softer. It may look funny, but it tastes alright with a few seasonings, plus it’s high in protein.
Items like these are spread around the entire grocery store, you just have to find them. I found this little package in the organic section while I was searching for breadcrumbs. Typically in the rice or grains aisle you can find minute brown rice. It’s a full cup of brown rice and takes 60 seconds to make. Pair this with some pre-cooked chicken (found next to the refrigerated meats), and you have an easy chicken and rice meal.
In almost every grocery store you can find an area where there are ready-made salads, fresh fruit mixes, and pre-made sandwiches. While the nutrition facts on the sandwiches might be high in salt or other ingredients, these options are going to be miles better than what you’ll get at a fast food joint.
What if Fast Food is the Only Option?
It’s come down to this, it’s late at night, you failed to pack anything, and you’re starving. You don’t want to order room service because it’s horribly expensive or you’re just now finding your way back to the interstate to head home. Not too many options off the interstate late at night are there?
If you absolutely must eat fast food, you can still make good choices despite how tempting the bacon cheddar double stack looks.
Grilled chicken is your friend. Salads are too, but it’s going to be difficult to eat a salad if you plan on driving. By the way, eating and driving is a bad idea, so it’s probably better to sit down in the restaurant and eat. You’ll enjoy your food more anyway.
Anyways, stick to the salads and grilled chicken. Chik-Fil-A has a delicious garden salad that actually has a lot of flavor and fruit packed into it. There’s grilled chicken on top of it and if you eat the whole thing, you’ll probably be pretty full. If you don’t have a Chik-Fil-A near by, or it’s Sunday… McDonalds’ are everywhere.
Stick to a grilled chicken sandwich and at the most, get some mustard or ketchup to taste. Normally I’ll end up getting two of these, and just tossing the buns. I hate being wasteful, but when it comes to putting good food in my body, I try to be picky more often than not.
If you’re looking for more flavor, a grilled chicken ranch snack wrap is a good alternative. There’s not really any grease in it, but like all their chicken breast, it is high in sodium.
If you’re Catholic like I am and it’s Friday during Lent, then you can’t really eat any meat. Luckily, the fish filet isn’t a horrible sandwich at all. With 380 calories, 18g of fat, and 640mg of sodium it’s better than a lot of other items on the menu. The only downside is I need about 3 of these to feel full. Sometimes that’s what I get for failing to prepare ahead of time.
What are your best methods for eating healthy on the road? Leave a comment in the section below and I might just end up adding it to the article!
Also published on Medium.