As I sat in my third airport of the day, I reflected on the past two weeks of eating while traveling for work. I am so used to being able to eat at home at least 5 nights a week. My husband and I enjoy cooking and are able to most nights of the week. With that said, the reality is that most Americans do not have that luxury. Between jobs that make them travel, kids with after school activities, hectic home life, etc. most don’t have the ability to cook as often as I am used to. When you cook at home, you can be the judge of how much oil to add, how much salt goes in, and add as many veggies to the plate as you wish, but when you eat out and rely on someone else to do the cooking for you… it’s a different story.
If you are frequently (more than 3x per week) hitting the take out, sit down, slow food, fast food scene, you need to check out these simple substitutions below. When you replace meals eaten at home with those that are eaten out, you could be losing important nutrients you need to stay healthy. Of course, this can be avoided if you are smart about your choices.
It is crucial that you get nutrient dense foods while eating out (and at home). Nutrient dense foods are those that that pack a lot of nutrients for a relatively low amount of calories (vegetables, fruit, low-fat milk, yogurt, and complex carbohydrates). It can be a challenge, but it can be done. This past week I put myself to the challenge of eating EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. OUT. Eating out does not have to mean that your entire eating structure has to be thrown off.
I typically indulge when I eat a meal out because we typically don’t do it that often. When we do go out, it is solely for the purpose to get something we do not make on a regular basis. Well… this week I was eating out simply because there were no other options. I kept these simple substitutions in mind when making my menu selections.
Breakfast: This really is the most important meal of the day whether on the road or at home. This is a crucial time to feed your body with the nutrition it needs to wake up your metabolism and get you through until lunch. This is one if the easiest meals to find healthy options BUT can also be a meal loaded with tons of calories and added sugar that lacks essential nutrients. A few tips to keep you on track at breakfast:
- If your hotel offers breakfast, take advantage of it. Usually you will have fresh fruit, whole grain cereal, whole wheat toast, and oatmeal available.
- If you are eating out it can be a little tricky, but do a little research about surrounding restaurants to find out what they have before you go. Most restaurants post their nutrition information online or at the restaurant upon request.
- If nutrition information is not available, it is even more crucial to make smart choices. Try to get a serving of whole grains, fruit, and low-fat or fat free dairy. Think to yourself how many calories does this offer and does it provide me with anything my body could use for good nutrition (calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals)?
- This could come in the form of a fruit and yogurt parfait, whole grain bagel with peanut butter, egg white sandwich, fresh fruit smoothie, etc.
- BE CAREFUL. Some specialty coffees can have as many calories and grams of fat as a concrete from your favorite ice cream shop. Try to stick with low-fat or fat free milk, ask for your favorite coffees “skinny”, or take it black and add in your own milk.
Lunch and dinner: This can be more difficult than breakfast to find healthy options BUT it can be done. Be careful that your hungry appetite does not get in the way of sound, smart choices. Just like with breakfast, try to make some simple substitutes to stay on track.
- Substitute grains for whole grains when available (whole wheat bun, whole wheat pasta, etc). This will help fill you up faster and they will stick with you longer through the afternoon and evening.
- If you are able to sub the side of fries or chips with the vegetable of the day or fruit, DO IT. Fruits and vegetables are those nutrient dense foods that provide much needed nutrition. French fries just add fat and calories.
- Watch out for seemingly healthy options. Some salads have as much fat and calories as a Big Mac. Try to scout out the menu and nutrition information before heading out OR check the menu for it when you get there. If the information is not easily available, avoid dishes that contain key words like creamy, fried, smothered, mayo, etc. These dishes typically are higher in fat and calories.
- Watch the sauces. The sauces can easily add hundreds of calories and additional fat grams. You can get the sauce on the side. This way you can be the judge of how much goes on. The same goes for dressings. Get them on the side so you can put on a minimal amount. Look for dressings that are oil or vinegar base (like your vinaigrettes and Italian dressings). Avoid cream base dressings (Caesar, Ranch, Blue Cheese, etc.)
Eating out regularly does not mean you have to completely throw off all hard work you have put into being healthy BUT it does take a little work and planning (and will power) just like at home. Follow the above simple substitutes and you will not have to fear the restaurants the next time you have to hit the road.