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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Ann Arbor, MI!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

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The Picky Eater’s Healthy Travel Survival Guide

Summer is coming!

And if you’re anything like me, that means lots of sun, hanging out with friends and family, outdoorsy activities, and travel. The husband and I are going to be traveling quite a bit over the next few months, which we already started by our trip to Vancouver.

So before you head out – for a vacation, business trip, spring break, or weekend getaway – read up on these healthy tips for eating smart while you’re on the go!

Healthy Travel Tip #1: Pack Mini-Meals for Your Main Travel Days

I always like to pack food and take it with me to the airport – that way I’m not searching for something healthy amongst the random fast food options, and I’m never hungry and stranded on an airplane either (oh and for the budget conscious, this is a much cheaper option).

It takes a bit of prep work before you leave, but it’s so worth it when the guy next to you is eating a greasy overcooked burger and fries and you have your healthy mini-meals to keep yourself going!

Here are some of my favorite travel snacks/mini-meals that I always pack for my trips:

Peanut or Almond Butter Sandwiches on Sprouted Wheat Bread with Blueberry Preserves: This is a great one-dish meal that doesn’t spoil, travels well and is super easy/fast to make.

Sandwich on sprouted grain bread made from 2 Laughing Cow Light Cheese Wedges (or 1 slice of your favorite cheese), 1 roma tomato (sliced), salt & pepper: another great go-to sandwich – slightly more perishable than the PBJ, but a good option for a shorter flight or if you know you’ll be eating the sandwich within a few hours of boarding the plane.

Steamed Mixed Vegetables, seasoned with salt, curry powder and other Indian spices, or salt & freshly ground black pepper: This is a great snack and a way to make sure you’re eating veggies when you travel! I like to steam the veggies in the microwave, season them, and pack them in a disposable plastic container to take on the plane. You can also cook them on the stove and then pack them, it just takes a bit more time in the morning or the night before.

Healthy Travel Tip #2: Keep a Stash of Snacks with You

You have two options here:

  1. Pack a healthy snack bag – I fill my carry-on purse with non-perishable items (nuts, healthy bars) and fruits that don’t spoil easily (like apples, bananas, etc.)
  2. Get it once you’re there – this only works if you’re staying somewhere with a grocery store near you and a fridge in your hotel, but if you are – you can get a bunch of items like ready-to-eat fruits and veggies (e.g. celery/carrot sticks & hummus), milk, 0% greek yogurt, light string cheese snacks – all of which are great options if you’re in need of a quick breakfast or a snack in between vacation activities.

Here are some of my go-to healthy snacks:

Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, berries: Any fruits that are easy to eat, not too messy and don’t get squished easily are perfect options. I usually stick to Fuji Apples because they’re high in fiber and filling as a snack, and they’re pretty durable too.

Packets of instant oatmeal (plain), or your favorite healthy cereals (I like Kashi Heart to Heart and Barbara’s Puffins Original) in a ziploc bag: This can be a great snack or breakfast – you should be able to find boiling water in any airport (or even on an airplane) to cook the oatmeal, or low fat milk to eat the cereal with.

All-natural, low glycemic protein bars (like dried fruit/nut bars): Get one with no more than 200 calories, and at least 4g fiber and 6g protein. Lara Bars are a good choice, as are Odwalla High Fiber bars, CORE Foods bars, Awesome Bars, etc. 

Trail Mix: Make sure you get the kind without any added oils or sugar (I like a combination of raw cashews, raw walnuts, raw almonds and raisins in the “Go Raw” Trex Mix from Trader Joe’s). And I like to separate them out into mini portion sizes (1/4 cup each).

Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds: Great for satisfying your sweet tooth, with a bit of protein, fiber and an anti-oxidant punch

Healthy Travel Tip #3: Scope out Healthy Options While You’re Out!

“What would The Picky Eater eat?”

If you aren’t able to pack food and have to rely on the maze of airport options – here is my list of healthy on-the-go picks (at most airports and definitely in most cities)

For Breakfast

  • Starbucks is always a good option, especially for a healthy breakfast. A non-fat tall latte has only 90 calories and tons of protein, and you can also get  oatmeal (get it without the sugar or dried fruit), whole grain wraps (their spinach and feta wrap is high fiber and under 300 calories), and fresh fruit. Their fat free multigrain bagel has 300 calories, 6g fiber (without the cream cheese). 
  • Au Bon Pain can be found at many airports, and they also have healthy breakfast options similar to Starbucks
  • McDonald’s has oatmeal (get it without all of the sugary add-ins though), and apple slices and low fat milk as well.
  • Dunkin Donuts has an egg white veggie flatbread that has 280 calories, 3g fiber and 16g protein – not bad!
For Lunch/Dinner
  • Subway is a great pick (choose wheat bread, tons of veggies on your sandwich, no mayo or oil – choose mustard, salt & pepper instead)
  • Au Bon Pain has customizeable sandwiches (think the Subway strategy here) or great salads / soups too (their garden vegetable soup has only 80 calories for a small)
  • Starbucks also has a line of pre-packaged meals that are all under 500 calories – they come in fresh daily so it’s great especially if you really need a grab-and-go option
  • Delis that allow you to customize your sandwiches work well – think of them as a good alternative to Subway
  • Taco Bell – opt for the bean burrito or anything on the “Fresco” menu
  • Mexican Restaurants like La Salsa, Andale, or Baja Fresh have great options – look for soft corn tacos, or the “bowl” option filled with black beans, veggies, salsa for a satisfying treat (omit the sour cream & guac, avoid anything fried, and go light on the cheese)
  • Even McDonald’s and Burger King have been offering a few healthy options – you can get salads (order the dressing on the side and use it very sparingly – dip your fork in it and eat your salad, don’t pour it on your salad). McDonald’s has apple slices and smoothies that you can order without the frozen yogurt as well.  
  • Some airports have all natural frozen yogurt – like Red Mango or Pinkberry. The small size with fruit mix-ins is a great option for a healthy snack or dessert.
Healthy Travel Tip #4: Know Your Healthy Food Rules

A few simple things to remember when you’re ordering out:

  • Avoid anything fried, or breaded and fried. Opt for baked or sauteed lightly in oil (stir fried often has too much oil)
  • Get the dressing on the side! Raw salads are awesome, but if you pour the dressing all over it you’re adding tons of fat and up to 400 calories
  • Fresh is always best: fresh fruits, fresh veggies – anything without added sauces, etc. are good
  • Stick to water vs. soda, juice, smoothies, or sugary drinks
  • Try to substitute as much as possible: wheat bread instead of white, egg whites instead of regular eggs, half the usual amount of cheese, etc.
But the most important rule is: have fun and don’t stress out about eating healthy too much. If you indulge a few days, it’s not a big deal – just get back on track the next day. The point of vacation is to relax, so make sure you do! Happy travels everyone!

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34 responses to “The Picky Eater’s Healthy Travel Survival Guide”

  1. I often (every week) run into Einstein Bagels at airports, but only recently started going there when I found out they have a good ‘light’ menu for breakfast and lunch – Bagel Thin Eggwhite sandwhiches, and plenty of lunch options.

    • Oohhh great recommendation! I just went to their website and they have a TON of healthy options – the bagel thin eggwhite sandwiches (<300 calories, 5g fiber) being one of them! They also have a veggie soup that's only 100 calories, a honey whole wheat thin bagel with only 139 calories and 4g fiber, a fruit cup, and you can pretty much get any sandwich on a "thin bagel" which is a great option. Thanks for sharing Vivek! 🙂

      • That’s exactly what I did this morning at the airport — Einstein Bros’ honey whole wheat bagel with peanut butter! It was a really early morning flight but I usually try to pack snacks like an apple and string cheese, granola bar that you can crumble into a yogurt, or raw almonds and dark chocolate. Also good to note — when I am flying I avoid foods with a lot of salt or I end up with cankles and sausage fingers from water retention.

        • Those are great tips, thanks so much for sharing Val! And that Einstein Bros’ honey whole wheat bagel with peanut butter sounds SO good! 🙂

  2. Great list! Since I first went to Italy by myself 8 years ago, I’ve been packing healthy snacks. When I travel, I tend to forget about eating until I am absolutely starving and lightheaded. This is SO not like me because I think about dinner at breakfast. So I always keep Luna bars with me. Seriously, I’ll pack a dozen of them before I leave. That way if I get trapped I have something.

    As for the meal, I haven’t done it, but I’ve got a flight one month today, so I might just try.

    • Thanks so much Jenn! Travel is tricky because you can be out all day, or on a weird schedule or jetlagged – all of which makes it hard to stay on a regular/”normal” eating schedule! I love packing “meal” bars – they’re non-perishable and great if you’re in a bind. Let me know how packing a meal goes for your trip next month! Where are you headed btw? Somewhere fun I hope! 🙂

  3. Packing snacks is the smartest thing! That goes for anything, even if you spend long days working away from home or a kitchen. Baby carrots and dried fruit are a favorite.

    • Absolutely! I always take snacks with me whenever I have an entire day out (so most work days and some weekends too!) Love baby carrots – sometimes they come with individual serving size packets of hummus which are the best!

  4. Thank you very much for your tips! I am trying to lose weight and I will have to travel for four days next week. I was thinking a lot how to keep on dieting and your Guide was a very pleasant surprise…

    • Totally! That’s one of my favorite things about summer – the AMAZING fruits!! 🙂 Farmer’s market here I come!

    • aw haha – well let me tell you – after that PBJ has been in my carryon bag for a few hours, it doesn’t look like that either! but it stil tastes delicious 🙂

  5. There is nothing better than being prepared with snacks! Especially when travelling! Thanks for this great list! I have never seen those Core Defender Bars before and that trail mix looks great! Well I might have a hard time sharing these snacks- I might just eat them all myself! 🙂

    • I completely agree, it just makes traveling so much easier and less stressful! The CORE Bars are great – they are seriously like a meal in a bar, 100% natural (only like 5 ingredients in each bar), and keep you full for HOURS. I have a hard time sharing too, so I always bring extra just in case! 🙂

    • Hi Era,

      If you’ll notice in my post – I point out that these are healthier options than the normal airport fare, and are alternatives if you’re stuck at the airport with absolutely nothing to eat. And actually, McDonald’s does have salads which are literally raw veggies and the dressing always comes on the side – so that is healthy (the veggies aren’t organic but it’s still much better than eating junk food), and they do have oatmeal in the morning which is just a packet of instant oats that’s cooked with hot water and served with fresh blueberries (you can get it without all the sugary add-ins which makes it a decent option if you have nothing else). Taco Bell does have the Al Fresco menu which is lower in fat and calories and still has the fiber and protein from their beans & veggies. None of it is organic, but again, it’s much better than eating fried foods or candy at the airport or starving. The airport is a limited space, and often people are stuck there for hours (especially on international flights), and sometimes a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell are the only options for food. In those situations, I’d recommend choosing the options I outline in this post vs. starving. We can’t eat perfectly all the time – it’s about balance and choosing the best option for you in your particular circumstance at the time. Hope that helps you understand what I’m advocating for in this post. Thanks!

      Anjali

  6. This is great! Another good tip is to drink ONLY water (unless you’re traveling third world, in which any soft drink or bottled option is a better way to go!) the entire trip; not only will it save you caffeine, calories and sugar, but drinking only water is great for sensitive stomachs and avoids any funky stomach bugs from milk that’s been left out too long at the bfast buffet or specialty drinks that haven’t been prepared properly.

    • That’s a great point! Drinking water is a good way to avoid empty calories as you mentioned 🙂 And if you are traveling in a 3rd world country, you can still drink bottled water or boiled water (just not tap water!)

  7. I love that you have information for the traveler! We are going on a river rafting trip at the end of this month. I have been trying to decide what healthy food I can take that my kids will like. Some of this stuff looks perfect for what we will be doing. Thanks for sharing!!

  8. Thank you for these great suggestions. I love that these are not only healthy but great for travelers on a budget like me. You can still be healthy and enjoy foods all these new and exotic foods. It is also a really good idea to always carry a water bottle with you to stay hydrated.

    • No problem Hannah! And great point about the water bottle – that is one of the best ways to stay hydrated and healthy!

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