6 Healthy-Eating Secrets Nutritionists Use While Traveling

Whether it’s for work or play, setting out on a trip is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Something about stepping away from your ordinary routine is just so appealing, even if you’re traveling for business. It really can be an escape, and the freeing feeling often extends to our diet. According to a 2012 TripAdvisor survey, 29% of travelers said they typically gain weight on vacation. The amount can obviously vary, but even a few pounds can seem like a nightmare to shed once you’re home.

Without your regular kitchen and grocery store, eating well often seems impossible. Though there won’t be access to exactly the same resources, you don’t have to abandon your efforts to eat healthy. We spoke to two nutritionist experts about their strategies for warding off weight gain while hitting the road, and it’s advice anyone can use. Follow their tips to have a great trip without feeling like you have to eat nothing but kale for the next three weeks.

1. Always bring your own snacks on the road

bowl overflowing with homemade trail mix made with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit

Homemade trail mix with nuts and raisins is a great snack to bring with you | iStock.com

Sticking to a rigid plan of three square meals just doesn’t work for traveling. Getting caught in traffic or enduring a flight delay means your usual lunch might get pushed back several hours. Pretty soon, your grumbling stomach is going to force you to eat anything you can get your hands on. In these situations, packing your own food is the best way to avoid the lure of junk food.

Road trips offer the most flexibility. “If you can pack a cooler, do it,” said Amy Shapiro, R.D. and founder of Real Nutrition NYC. “This is the best way to bring fresh, healthy snacks and meals with you. You can bring anything you want and be prepared for any situation.” Of course, you need to make smart choices when you’re planning your snacks. Garrett Berdan, chef, R.D.N. and culinary nutrition consultant, said he usually goes for carrots, apples, and nuts. “I like foods that crunch when I’m on road trips,” he said. “They keep me awake and alert.”

In the event you don’t have time to prepare food ahead of time, gas stations have more than just chips and candy. Shapiro suggested seeking out low-sodium trail mix or bars made with fruit and nuts.

2. Know your options at airports

ripe plum

Airports have plenty of food options if you take the time to look | iStock.com

When flying, things can be a little bit trickier. The limitations on liquids can make it difficult to pack certain foods, so you need to know what you’re up against. “If you can, research the terminal you will be flying out of before you get to the airport,” Shapiro said. “That way, you can see what options you will have.” If there’s a coffee shop, chances are you’ll have some decent choices. “I was recently at Sea-Tac Airport and was delighted to see a fresh red plum as a grab-and-go option,” Berdan said.

Even if you think you’re covered, it’s always good to have a backup plan. “To be safe, pack small snacks in your carry-on, like nuts, dried fruit, or protein bars,” Shapiro suggested. “Even an apple or banana will do.”

3. Be wary of complimentary food

Fresh baked pastries

Be careful of the free food available when you’re traveling | iStock.com

Most folks are so excited about getting free food, they tend to forget those calories still count. Even small bites here and there can add up by the end of the day. Take the in-flight snacks, for example. “It’s great to get a refreshment, but you have to keep those calories in check when sitting on your butt in the airplane seat,” Berdan said. His pick? Club soda.

Once you arrive at the hotel, the same rule holds true. Continental breakfasts might be friendly to your wallet, but not so much for your waist if you aren’t careful. “Stay away from the buffet and free pastries,” Shapiro said. “Just because they’re free doesn’t mean they don’t have calories.”

4. Prioritize breakfast

Healthy breakfast

Make sure you start your day with a nutrient-dense breakfast | iStock.com

The advice to start your day with a healthy breakfast shouldn’t take a backseat just because your routine is a bit different. Shapiro said eating a healthy morning meal is the best way to set yourself on the right track, and it gives you a little bit more freedom to indulge at dinner, when you’re more likely to eat rich foods. Her recommendations include vegetable omelets and Greek yogurt topped with fruit and nuts.

Berdan echoes the advice about getting good nutrition in the morning, and he never leaves it up to chance. “One of my first stops on vacation is the grocery store,” he said. “I load up on easy protein, whole-grain foods, and fruit so I can always start my day with a nourishing breakfast.” If you have access to a stove, you can even pick up some eggs.

Another good strategy for breakfast is choosing room service over the downstairs buffet. Shapiro explained, “It takes a lot of temptation out of the picture and if you don’t order it, you can’t eat it!”

5. Share with your family or friends

Two people sharing a dessert

Share a dessert so you won’t eat all those calories yourself | iStock.com

Even the biggest food lovers can stay on track while eating some new, delicious eats. “I love to eat,” Berdan said. “That’s why I’m in the food service field.” He particularly likes to try regional specialties. Most of these foods come with a lot of fat and calories, though. Chicago is famous for hot dogs and pizza. The south is known for fried chicken and smothered pork chops. What you don’t see is a destination known for its spinach salad.

You can still enjoy these treats, you just have to be a little bit smarter about it. “If I’m traveling with others, I’ll negotiate a plate partnership and share something decadent, then balance it with a salad or interesting vegetable small plate,” Berdan said. Shapiro likes the approach as well, especially for sweets. “You’d be surprised how satisfying only three bites of rich dessert can be,” she said.

6. Don’t beat yourself up if you overindulge

man going for a run

Don’t punish yourself for indulging a little too much on vacation | iStock.com

OK, so maybe you screwed up. You had way too many drinks or ate an entire steak plus a slice of cake. It’s not the end of the world, so don’t punish yourself by feeling like you can’t eat anything for the next two days. “Take on every day as a new opportunity to eat right and stay on track,” Shapiro suggested. “Start all over with a healthful breakfast, and take it from there.”

Don’t forget about the role of staying active, either. Fitting in a workout is one of Berdan’s favorite ways to feel good after a day of overindulging. “I like to run and explore wherever I’ve traveled to,” he said, but he also admitted it’s not always an option for certain locations. Most hotels have gyms, and you can even work up a sweat without additional equipment. Berdan said he likes to do a bodyweight circuit with exercises like squats, burpees, push-ups, and planks.