10 Tips For Making Good Food Choices Away From Home

10 Tips For Making Good Food Choices Away From Home

Having just enjoyed an extend time away from home, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my strategies for making good choices with my food while traveling or eating out. 

I’m no longer one of those “anything goes on vacation” types. I don’t let all my good habits fly out the window just because I’m away from my normal routine. I’ve done that too many times in the past and I know I don’t like the aftermath.

Instead, I now find ways to make the best choices with what I have available and do a bit of proactive planning to ensure I’ve set myself up with some good options for food and activity. Let me tell you, this makes for a much happier, less bloated/food hungover return home to my usual routine and habits. 

I’ve spent the last couple years really honing in on what makes my body feel good. For instance, I know that if I don’t stay well-hydrated and get a hefty dose of colorful produce and protein throughout the day, not only do I get grumpy, but my body does too. My body doesn’t change while I’m away from my normal routine at home, so why should my eating habits? Granted, the amount and types of food I eat will change with my level of activity, but in general, If I know that eating pizza, burgers, fried food and dessert every day at home would make me feel less than stellar, why would they make me feel any differently on vacation?  

There's no guesswork when it comes to knowing which of the following options will leave me feeling satisfied, healthy and ready to jump into the next fun vacation activity: 

Now don’t get me wrong, when I’m eating out or traveling, I do tend to have things I don’t typically have at home. Variety is the spice of life. I want to experience and enjoy the food and culture of new places and not feel deprived. However, that doesn’t mean my baseline good habits have to be left at home. Instead, I use these good habits as a guide to enjoying new, interesting foods while keeping my body feeling happy and healthy. See below for a perfect example: After a pretty active day of hiking and swimming in Maine, I had this lobster roll (the BEST i've EVER had!) without mayo, just a bit of butter, a big salad, dressing on the side, and yes, I enjoyed the house-made potato chips too. Yum. 

The BEST lobster roll I have ever consumed from Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine

The BEST lobster roll I have ever consumed from Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island, Maine

10 ways to eat well away from home:

These tactics go with me everywhere I go - out to restaurants, foreign countries, dinners at a friend’s house, etc.: 

1. Eat slowly. Try to put your utensils down between bites. Really taste your food. Enjoy your company. Take sips of water every now and then. 

 

2. Eat until you are satisfied. Not full or stuffed. Despite what your parents told you when you were young, there is absolutely no reason you need to to finish everything on your plate. There are to-go bags/boxes for a reason. Take leftovers home and save them for a ready-to-eat meal or snack later. 

 

3. If you’re not really, truly, physically hungry, don’t eat. How do you know if you're physically hungry? Use the hunger scale below. This one is a toughie for many of us. SO many of our social engagements are centered around food and we live in a culture of snacking. No one wants to sit at a dinner table and not eat. If you know you have a planned meal out coming up or you’re traveling with others and eating with a group, this can be especially challenging. However, you can help ensure you’re hungry for that planned meal by 

  • not over-eating at other meals
  • not snacking between meals if you’re not truly hungry
  • skipping appetizers
  • sticking to lighter meals throughout the day

 

4. Consider what makes a meal balanced and try to find a dish that offers those things: 

  • Colorful Vegetables
  • Lean Protein
  • Healthy Fat
  • Whole food carbohydrates 

Example: See lobster roll meal above: Veggies (salad) - check! Lean protein (lobster) - check! Healthy fat (butter, salad dressing, oil to fry chips) - check! Whole food carbohydrates - check! (no, the roll isn't a whole food carb, but you can definitely tell those house-made chips came directly from potatoes!)

 

5. Consider how the food is cooked: 

  • If words like fried, crispy, creamy, crunchy, or sautéd are in the description of the dish, I try to minimize intake as I know these foods are very rich. 
  • If words like baked, grilled, steamed, poached, or roasted are in the description of the dish, I know those are usually a safe bet 

6. Consider the portion size. Despite the sometimes monstrous portions that restaurants supply, keep your goals and activity levels in mind when you sit down to a meal. CLICK HERE for the portion guide I always use and refer my clients to: Your hands go with you everywhere, so there is no excuse not to use them to your advantage! 

 

7. Take control of what goes into meals you don’t prepare yourself: 

  • Ask for sauces and dressings on the side
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications. If the omelet you want doesn’t have spinach, but you see spinach somewhere else on the menu, you know the kitchen stocks spinach. Kindly ask your server if you can add that nutritious green to your omelet! You may have to pay an extra $0.50, but your body will thank you. If you don’t want a bit glob of mayo on your turkey avocado sandwich, ask them to skip it or request a very light smear. 
  • If you’re not sure how a food is cooked or what goes into sauces, etc., just ask. Remember that there are MANY people out there with food allergies or intolerances who HAVE TO ask questions about their food, so don’t be embarrassed to ask for the sake of your own health. 

 

8. Stay hydrated. Whether you’re enjoying coffee, tea, or an adult beverage, always ask for water or carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. Staying hydrated will help your body distinguish between hunger and thirst. It will also ensure you feel your best and aid in regular digestion while you travel. Nobody likes travelers constipation. It’s just not fun. Not sure if you’re drinking enough water? Check out this chart to see where things stand: 

 

9. Keep some healthy staples on hand. Whether you’re traveling by plane, car, boat, or just going to visit family or friends for a weekend, having some go-to snack or meal options on hand is a great way to ensure you have some foods available that you know will do your body good. 

Easy foods I travel with (sometimes in an insulated lunch bag with ice packs, depending on what it is): hard boiled eggs, cut up fresh veggies, fruit, jerky, kale chips, dried beans (chickpeas, edamame, etc.), protein powder with my handy dandy blender bottle for mixing, a good protein bar like The Perfect Bar or Quest Bars, nuts, greek yogurt, and plain oatmeal packets.

Snacks I took on a recent trip along with my nifty PN blender bottle for mixing protein powder.

Snacks I took on a recent trip along with my nifty PN blender bottle for mixing protein powder.

 

10. Go to the grocery store! Farmers markets and Whole Foods Market has saved me on many a vacatio n. Almost every destination has some sort of market or grocery store. When you get to your destination, find the nearest one and stock up on foods you know make you feel good at home. Find a fun new fruit, vegetable or other new, fresh food local to the place you’re visiting. Pick up some prepared foods if you need to or don’t have access to a kitchen. If you don’t have a fridge, consider getting a small cooler and ice packs or request a mini-fridge in your hotel room.

The little farm pictured below was about 1/2 a mile from where I was staying on my recent vacation in Maine. I made a visit most days to pick up some fresh produce to have for snacks & meals. 

 

None of these tips are complicated. In fact, they are pretty darn simple! However, they do require a small amount of effort to put in place and practice. They require you to be conscious of your choices and conscious of your body. Whether or not you eat well and consider the nutrition of your food when you’re away from home is a choice. Is being healthy part of your life? Part of your identity? Or is it something you muscle through on a dally basis and leave behind whenever you have a more interesting, appealing option?