By Carla Schick
The summer travel season is virtually upon us. When we're on the road, what can we eat that satisfies our stomachs without adding to our waistlines? Here are some summer travel food tips.
Let's face it: The majority of fast food is high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. So, when we're on the go and the only options are the local fast food joints, what can we eat that's reasonably healthy? Dietitian Jessica Schulman recommends aiming for grilled chicken sandwiches, premium salads with low-fat dressing, or even a small (2-ounce) burger with lettuce and tomato. Instead of fries, try a baked potato with low-fat dressing or ketchup. Grilled vegetarian sandwiches, chicken fajitas and black bean burritos also are tasty options that won't make us want to loosen our belts.
Over the last few years, sit-down restaurants have made it easier for patrons to grab hot meals on the go, including healthier options. Now, instead of experiencing restaurant-quality food inside the restaurant, many places like California Pizza Kitchen, Chili's and The Cheesecake Factory offer curbside to-go service. But buyer beware: Restaurants are notorious for their large serving sizes. Dr. Schulman tells us that restaurant portions are at least two times — and sometimes eight times — larger than standard serving sizes. For instance, one slice of Dulce de Leche Caramel cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory has 1,080 calories, while a slice of homemade cheesecake has about 450 calories. So, when buying food from a restaurant, a good tip is to divide the meal in two and put the other half into a to-go container for later. And feel free to share that piece of Cheesecake Factory delight. Your hips will thank you.
For many of us, the foods that ruin our resolve to eat well are the in-between meal snacks. There's something about the lure of a Snickers bar or that bag of Cheetos that just pulls us in. What is the solution? Be prepared. Dr. Schulman says that convenience foods can be packed with our luggage and may come in handy when we're looking for something to munch on. She suggests packing items like instant oatmeal and dehydrated soups (low-fat and low-sodium varieties, of course) that can be prepared in a hotel room with hot water from a coffeemaker or water that's been microwaved. Fresh fruit that can easily be peeled, whole grain crackers and trail mix also can help us to avoid the high-calorie, high-sugar candy bar. Most hotels provide a small in-room refrigerator and microwave.
Therefore, when you arrive at your accommodations, why not stock up on a small supply of whole wheat bread and crackers, mozzarella cheese sticks, fresh fruit, juice boxes and bottled water, yogurt, nuts and hummus.
Many in the IG community have to eat special diets in order to manage diabetes, celiac disease or sensitive food allergies. To accommodate special food needs, there is a website called HomeAway that recommends staying in a vacation rental because most have fully equipped kitchens where you can cook your own meals. Before arriving at your destination, research to see if there will be any local farmers' markets where you can purchase fresh produce.
It also may be difficult to find gluten-free foods on the road. The best recommendation is to be prepared and bring your own snacks. If you happen to be staying in a vacation rental or hotel, stock your refrigerator with a small supply of gluten-free breads, crackers and oatmeal, in addition to fresh produce. If your travels take you out of the country, it's a good idea to bring a laminated card that lists your special diet needs, including allergies, intolerances or other restrictions in the country's native language. And, in case of an allergic reaction, don't forget to pack antihistamines, epinephrine needles or any other medications that you'll need.
When we're on the road this summer, let's remember to pack our healthy snacks, order grilled instead of fried and trim down our portions. Happy traveling and eating!
For more food travel tips, read the IG Living article "Eating Well on the Go: No Longer the Road Less Traveled."