One of the most difficult times to stay on track with our meal plans (not to mention exercising!) is while we are on vacation, or traveling. I recently completed a 30-day PCS (Permanent Change of Station) trip from WA to AZ, so I understand how it feels to be extremely limited when it comes to healthy food options on the road. This situation often leads to us falling into the trap of consuming whatever is convenient, instead of what is good for our bodies. And as soon as we do it once, it becomes easier and easier because we think “Oh well, I already screwed up my diet, so what’s the point? I’ll just pick my healthy eating habits back up as soon as I get home.”
This type of thinking also gets to us on the weekends sometimes (well, I know it does for me, personally!) I think for many of us (and by “us,” I mean women), we like to think that the weekends don’t “count” and then we get into the cycle of what I like to call “a permanent case of the Mondays”… you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Monday will be my day to clean up my diet..Monday I will start being consistent with my exercise routine..Monday I’m starting over.. Why do we always have to wait until Monday?
This train of thought reminds me of an analogy that my friend once told me in terms of diet, and I share it with all of my clients, usually in our first session, when we talk about developing good nutrition habits. The analogy goes a little something like this: If you are driving along the road one day and you get a flat tire, do you pull over and think “screw it, I might as well just slash all the rest of my tires, this one is already flat anyway”?? Of course not!! That would be ridiculous, not to mention expensive. You do what most rational people would do, and if you can’t change the tire yourself, you call someone who can. Why should our diets be any different? Sure, you might go to a BBQ and have a cocktail and a piece of cheesecake. SO WHAT? Does that mean that you can’t go home and have a salad or some veggies afterward, or wake up the next morning and pick up where you left off before the BBQ? Absolutely not.
It all comes down to changing our perspective on healthy eating, and making it a priority in our lives. As wives and mothers, we are usually so consumed in taking care of everyone else’s needs that by the time we get around to taking care of ourselves, we would rather just plop down on the couch with a glass of wine and/or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s than prepare ourselves a decent meal.. which leads me to my next and most important point: PREPARATION IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS in all aspects of life (not just diet and exercise)! Sorry for yelling, but if you get anything out of this post, I want it to be that.. since, like me, you probably haven’t had nearly enough caffeine yet today to absorb full sentences let alone paragraphs:)
One of my favorite quotes is: “Nobody plans to fail, what we do is fail to plan”. If you do not plan (and ideally prepare) your meals ahead of time, especially while on the road, or in anticipation of sugar and starch-laden social gatherings, you most likely will not have the tools to keep yourself fueled with nutritious, whole foods. Now, I know you already have a lot on your plate (pun intended!) BUT, these tips and tricks will only take a few minutes of your time, and the benefits will be worth it, trust me!
1.) Always have plenty of water on-hand while traveling (not only to get your recommended daily intake, which should be 1/2 of your bodyweight in ounces, by the way, even more if you are exercising). Water will help with not only hydration but satiety. Tip: Drink an ice cold glass of water first thing in the morning to rev your metabolism!
2.) Write out a meal plan before you go shopping, so nothing goes to waste. If you are eating 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day (as you should be), try to make it your goal to have at least three of them already prepared. The point is to remove barriers to your success and eliminate excuses!
3.) Do your research. Most likely, you have planned out where you are going to stay, and what route will get you to your destination.. so get on that Google machine and find healthy places to stop along the way, so you don’t get stuck in some bufu town where the only options are McDonald’s …or McDonald’s.
3.) Invest in a good cooler, and stock it with pre-cut veggies and fruits, and plenty of lean protein (while traveling, I usually pick up some pre-cut grilled chicken from a local deli ahead of time). If you do not eat meat, this will be a bit trickier, but the proper combination of vegetables and legumes, raw nuts, non-fat plain greek yogurt or even pre-made quinoa salads will do the trick. Always pair your protein with a vegetable if possible. Tip: portioning your nuts, proteins and fruits/veggies ahead of time will make it WAY easier for you to just “grab ‘n go” on the road (portions= palm of your hand for nuts and fruit, fist-sized for protein, and unlimited veggies!) I use tupperware and zip-locks so that all I have to do is grab one of each and then I’m all set!
4.) When packing fresh fruits and veggies becomes more difficult (say, if you are doing doing some airplane traveling), stock up on healthy dry goods. Home-made trail mix (with raw nuts and some dried fruit- skip the M&M’s!) and beef jerky are great options. Tuna/salmon packets are also small and easy to pack. Protein drinks and bars are okay in this situation, but not ideal- just make sure they are low sugar and pack a lot of protein and fewer carbs for their punch. A high-quality whole food “greens” supplement might be a good idea here.
5.) Try to stay active. Get up and go on a walk in the morning, and take advantage of those POS “fitness centers” in your hotels. It’s better than nothing!
6.) Don’t beat yourself up! Do the best you can, and remember, it’s not about perfection, but progress. Anything you can do to get more whole food sources (versus processed ones) into your body while traveling is far better than simply surviving on whatever sustenance is readily available at the highway truck stops and fast food joints.
I hope that this article was helpful for some of you who are like me, and might struggle to maintain a clean diet on the road. I also incorporate meal planning and preparation into my weekly routine at home, so that I have no excuses to sit around and eat “toddler snacks” all day (oh come on, I know you do it too!)
For those of you who are in the local area, or might have just PCS’d yourselves and are stuck living out of a hotel for weeks at a time until your house becomes available, I have developed a short list of resources for places to grocery shop, as well as places to eat out that should have healthier options than your typical chain restaurant.
For groceries: (I recommend getting most of what you need at these locations; it only takes a little creativity to live out of a kitchenette for a few weeks! Try to limit going out to eat to once per day if you can…this will save you lots of $$$ too, by the way!)
- Sprouts Farmer’s Market 7877 E. Broadway Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85710 (Open daily from 7am to 10pm)
- Whole Foods Market 3360 E. Speedway Blvd. Tucson, AZ 85716 (Open daily, 7am-10pm)
- Renee’s Organic Oven* 7065 E. Tanque Verde Rd. Tucson, AZ 85715 (520) 886-0484
*this place is definitely the best local joint we have had the opportunity to dine at so far! Tip- call ahead and make a reservation!
Since my husband and I got into our home fairly quickly, we didn’t get much of a chance to sample the local cuisine, but one tip I can give you is that no matter where you go, control as much of your meal as possible. Dressings and sauces on the side, steamed veggies instead of pasta or bread, etc. You pay a significant amount of $$$ to eat out, so you are entitled to have your food served the way you want it!
Here is a link to a list of the “Top 5 Healthiest Restaurants in Tucson.” I can’t personally vouch for them, but they seem like a good start.