Is it just me, or is it entirely too easy to idly munch your way through a bag of chips or a sleeve of cookies on a car ride? It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a long or a short trip. I’m pretty sure that every time I drive to the grocery store I end up breaking into my haul and devouring two or three apples at the very least before I even get home (I can’t help it, fresh fruit is my weakness—if I had a melon scoop or a knife I’d probably break into the watermelon or the pineapple, too…okay, maybe not).
As I was growing up, my family often took road trips to see relatives that lived out of town, be it St. Louis or Florida. Considering the distance between their homes and ours in Kentucky, we spent a lot of time in the car. While we could have stopped and eaten fast food for every meal, my parents saw the value in being prepared. Before leaving, we made a group effort to pack a cooler filled with sandwich fillings, fruit, and drinks as well as a bag of “emergency” snacks and additional foods. This sort of preparation is a good way to keep yourself on track (and your food expenses in check) when you’re traveling. Not only will you cut down your time on the road (how fast is fast food, really, when you’re waiting in a line for half an hour?), you’ll also be able to forego the temptation of sizing up your order or adding a dessert to your meal.
When you pack meals for yourself, you control what is available and the portion sizes you have. Some of the snacks my family often brought along on our trips included jerky, snack bars, apples, string cheese, nuts (although it’s easy to eat multiple servings of these, so you may want to portion them out beforehand; you can even make your own “100 calorie packs” by placing the appropriate amount into plastic baggies), and peanut butter and crackers. If you suffer from the same problem that I sometimes have, where I’m not really hungry but will start eating something anyway (no, I don’t really need that second or third apple while I’m driving), it also pays to have some sugar free gum, mints, or hard candies to occupy your mouth with. Whatever you pack, try to make sure that it has plenty of fiber and protein to satisfy your hunger. It pays to plan ahead so that you aren’t stuck buying a greasy sandwich from a gas station or a couple of candy bars to try and tide you over until your next meal.
This also applies to air travel. Similar to establishments in the restaurant industry, some airlines have started setting the bar higher with calorie-conscious food options but many others have not (luckily, there are people out there who have done the detective work for you so you don’t have to). Most airlines insist that you arrive early before your flight anyway, so take the time to shop around the terminal for some health-conscious options to take on board with you. There are often plenty of salad and sandwich options available, and places like McDonald’s or Starbucks usually have fruit and yogurt parfaits, fruit cups, and protein platters. Check out some of these healthy foods to eat while eating out.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, though, what then? Believe it or not, you still don’t have to eat out for every meal and you don’t need to break into the hotel minibar, either (seriously, have you seen that price list?). You can visit the local grocery store and fill your cart with ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables (like pre-cut melon or pineapple, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots), yogurt, and low sodium soups. Packets of oatmeal can also make for a great breakfast.
Carrying water bottles (reusable, if possible) is also helpful because it’s so easy to become dehydrated (whether from air travel or just sitting in a hot car with the sun shining on you). If plain water is too boring for you, trying adding some lemon juice or sugar-free powdered drink mixes (think Crystal Light). There are also a wide variety of prepackaged flavored waters available for quenching your thirst. Try to avoid sugary drinks like juice or soda, which are not only full of empty calories but also make a mess if they spill.