Healthy Nutrition for Travel
We are getting ready to travel through Scotland and Ireland for 2.5 weeks! I’ve been getting many questions about how I plan out the food for these kinds of big adventures so I thought I’d post an answer because there’s no reason venturing away from home should derail nutrition efforts. It’s baffling to me why travel is discounted as an opportunity to eat well; many seem to opt for defeat before they’ve even left. “It’s just how traveling is! There’s nothing healthy to eat!” I hear them say, as they throw up their hands. Sure, it takes a little planning, but I promise it is possible to feel good (the main benefit of eating well) and vacation properly. Here are some ways I like to stick to a whole, or minimally processed, plant-based diet when away from home.
For me, driving is all about easy options - poppable, snacky foods that are light. Driving as an activity isn’t physically intensive so I veer away from the higher density / calorie options like bars, chips, or fast food (that energy isn’t being put to good use when I’m sitting for 7 hours).
1.Pack a cooler
What to put in the cooler: Popcorn, Dry Roasted Almonds, Shelled Pistachios, Cherry Tomatoes, Carrots, Triscuits, Cherries, Blueberries, or even Cheerios (they are fun to eat and most gas stations have a single serve bowl). If I am a passenger, I’ll have hummus or guacamole to dip crackers in, but I forgo the dips when driving (safety first, after all!). Spindrift or a water bottle are my beverages of choice. And the cooler can hold a more substantial meal for when you can stop and eat properly (I usually pack a salad with protein or a wrap).
2. Plot your Route
Plot your stops to align with grocery stores if you didn’t pack a lunch. A store with a hot bar is ideal (which is why Whole Foods usually wins out, plus their bathrooms are pretty clean and they have water fountains for a refill). Even if a store doesn’t have a hot bar, they usually have pre-made salads, wraps, or you could even snag a frozen meal to heat up if they offer a microwave. You can consider grocery stores your version of fast-food any time (no travel plans required). At times, I may also use the store to buy the final touches for a meal I packed at home. For example, picking up some tofu to add to a salad I brought.
Airports are a doozy because they are all so different. The Atlanta airport has an amazing selection, as does Detroit’s, and I’m sure many others I haven’t been through yet. But many are extremely limited to a few fast options and a small convenience stand. Luckily, we can travel through airports with food (yes, through security!) and maybe give ourselves a little grace if we must rely on the options they have.
Healthy Foods that Pass Through TSA /Security
Dry Cereal (try to go natural here with lower sugar)
Dried Fruit (aim for no added sugar or oil)
Cooked Veggies (no liquid remaining) – a cold potato green bean salad might be nice!
Raw/Fresh Veggies – these are OK domestically but many restrictions exist based on origin and destination.
Crackers (I love Triscuits! but anything works. Keep the ingredients simple)
Hummus, Nut Butter, Salsa, Bean Dip or Guacamole are OK if in 3.4 oz containers or smaller (check out the 1 oz cups at the grocery store)
Nuts and Seeds (although I do not recommend bringing these on the plane because some allergies are VERY severe and easily triggered by circulating air).
Bars (some of my fave are Trail Nuggets or Larabars but there’s lots of good options)
Sandwich (yes! Make a veggie hummus or guacamole sandwich or wrap)
Oatmeal Cups – there are a lot of travel oatmeal cups. Simply add water.
In Flight Meals
If your flight is long enough to offer a meal, you can request a vegan or vegetarian meal, a bland meal, a gluten free meal, a low salt meal, even an entire meal made from fruit! There is something for everyone, seriously. Go to your flight reservation and hit the Specialty or Meal request. It should provide a meal option if your flight serves one. I recommend a vegan option or Asian vegetarian (spicy version).
I like to stick to a routine but am flexible with meals when it comes to traveling - enjoying the food is one of my favorite parts! I also fully adhere to the rule of “do the thing in the place” meaning, if an ingredient is customary, you should try it! Now, after a long time without meat or dairy in my life, I am unlikely to try more than a bite of either of those things (they really mess with my digestion) but it might mean more frequency with sustainable seafood. Regardless, I find this to be non-issue in most places as plant-based diets are a core component of most traditional diets and meat/dairy alternatives are easily found in the US and Europe (of course there are more places to tour but based on my limited experience…).
To create a routine, I pick up a breakfast to prepare at my accommodations along with snacks and some light lunch options which leaves dinners open. Of course, planning for a few dinners can work, too, but is limited unless you are in an Airbnb or extended stay hotel. The ability to cook and store food is why I almost exclusively book in Airbnb or VRBOs - it’s important to me!
I also search for the nearest grocery stores in relation to our lodgings and then research about the store to assess their options. If there is a language barrier, I suggest writing out and converting your list into the local language. Many web pages will also translate into English.
I recommend practicing a few phrases to express your dietary goals for eating out. While I don’t subscribe to veganism, I’ve found the phrase “I am vegan” to be the most direct option. It’s also helpful to check out the menu online ahead of time to identify solid options. It is rare to find a place that has nothing without meat or dairy but it’s happened (like maybe twice in the past 7 years).
I will be posting about our amazing meals and some of these tips in action through Scotland and Ireland on my instagram https://www.instagram.com/eatwell_atl/ come check me out! I also welcome any suggestions for plant-based meals in either place!