This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
Eating healthy while being on the road is challenging, especially if you travel frequently or with kids. In this article, I will share my top 8 tips and explain how to eat healthy while traveling.
Eating healthy when you cook at home is relatively simple. Finding healthy food choices when you can pick the restaurant is usually also doable. But if you are traveling and can’t control when and where to eat, things get a little bit more dicey, especially in foreign countries.
I travel a lot, both domestically and internationally and cannot always rely on having access to healthy sources of food. That is especially true when I don’t have time for a proper meal. For instance, if I have to head to the airport right after a meeting. In such cases, it is all too easy to make unhealthy food choices, just for the sake of satisfying my appetite.
Over the years I have developed simple solutions to those problems that I would like to share with you. As a result of my strategy, I have not made unhealthy food choices for over a year while being on the road. So let me show you I eat healthy while on the road by following these tips:
Take the stress out of finding healthy food options
Think outside of the box
Figuring out what’s healthy and what isn’t can be tougher than you may think. But below are some general rules that I follow when picking food and drinks.
When selecting food, I look for clean and simple options and usually stick to the following categories:
That sounds relatively straightforward, but more often than not, it’s a struggle to get just that and none of the “extras” that render food unhealthy, such as sugar-laden dressings or sauces, etc.
PS: The above food categories happen to be the pillars of the Paleo diet. If you don’t know what that is, check out this beginners guide.
As a result, I try to be as specific as I can be when ordering my food. For example, if I decide to get a steak I make sure only to get:
Regarding drinks, I stick to water, tea, coffee or the occasional adult beverage (usually red wine).
Considering that my “do eat” list of foods is relatively short, it should not come as a surprise that my “do not eat” list is long because it contains everything else. On a high level that includes:
The list above represents hundreds of individual ingredients that I try to stay away from. Unfortunately, said ingredients are literally in almost every ready-to-eat meal and often also in the food you find in restaurants.
So what can you do to avoid making unhealthy food choices, either intentionally or unintentionally?
To make my life easier while traveling, I have developed an easy-to-follow strategy that includes these tips:
When I plan a trip, I try to figure out in advance how the food situation might be at the destination. If I go to Las Vegas and stay at a hotel on the strip, I know that I won’t have any issues finding good food. But if I travel abroad or to a rural area, I try to find out if the hotel I’ll be staying has a restaurant, and if so, if it offers food that meets my expectations. If not, I’ll pack extra meal replacement drinks or snacks that can cover me until I find other food sources.
I once stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott in Akron, Ohio last year while attending a conference. That’s when I learned that Courtyard’s don’t have an actual restaurant, only a snack bar. Fortunately, they had eggs for breakfast on the menu, but that day at 6:30 am their egg delivery hadn’t arrived yet, and the only alternative they could offer was a liquid egg mix that did not fulfill my “clean eating” requirements.
The moral of the story is to plan and to look at the menu of the hotel’s restaurant you’ll be staying before you leave home. If your hotel room offers a minibar, you could also plan a trip to a nearby grocery store and load up on perishable items that are easy to consume, including:
Some folks buy these things at and bring it on their trip in a container or even a small cooler. But frankly, I don’t want to go through that hassle. If worst comes to worst and I don’t find any decent food at my destination, I rely on non-perishable snacks, meal replacement drinks or freeze-dried meals.
However, I do think, ahead of time, about the exceptions I am willing to make on my trip. For example, I may make an exception with rice if I can get good Sushi at my destination but I will stay away from wheat and other processed grains, especially if they have gluten. By deciding ahead of time, you reduce stress and are less likely to make bad choices when having to decide on the spot.
Ample meal replacement drinks have dramatically transformed my travel experience in the last few years. I discovered Ample when I compared Ample to Soylent in the summer of 2017 as part of an article I was writing. Since then, I always bring Ample when I leave home for a trip because it means, I don’t have to worry about what food I may or may not find at my destination.
Unlike a protein shake, meal replacement drinks, such as Ample, can completely replace a meal because they contain just the right mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
As a result, I always have a couple of bottles of Ample in my suitcase for those cases where a regular or healthy meal might not be an option. What I like most about Ample is their ingredients and that it comes in the form of a powder, yet pre-bottled, so I only have to add water.
The ingredients of Ample are clean, healthy, and Paleo compatible, with the only exception of the Whey (milk) protein concentrate. I follow the Paleo diet relatively strictly, but I am OK with Whey as a source of protein as long as it is of high quality.
The significant advantage of Ample meal replacement drinks for travelers is that they come as a powder, so you can conveniently take the bottles through airport security. As a result, it only takes a few ounces of water to get a bottle of Ample ready to drink.
I regularly skip meals when traveling by plane and instead ask the flight attendant to pour water into my Ample bottle so I can shake it and have my meal ready to drink. On countless occasions, the flight attendants were curious and asked what I was drinking. So I explained to them the concept and told them where they could buy Ample.
Ample is available in three formulas:
Ample has been a lifesaver for my family and me on countless occasions. And I even use it at home sometimes when I have an early flight or before a CrossFit competition, because it is easier to digest than a full meal. I highly recommend giving Ample a try, especially for traveling.
On a side note, the Ample drink is also one of the airplane snacks for toddlers I would recommend. Our two kids are two and fours years old and love Ample! If you want to give Ample a try, use discount code MK15 and get 15% off your first order.
Freeze-dried meals are popular among outdoor enthusiasts, but most options you find at REI or similar stores are anything but healthy. The good news is, for those of you who prefer solid over liquid food, there is another option: Paleo Meals To Go! Founded by Dawn Anderson and her son in 2013, Paleo Meals To Go now belongs to the Wild Zora brand. I tested their meals on various occasions, including a transatlantic flight to Europe a year ago and found their freeze-dried meals both convenient as well as healthy.
Preparing a freeze-dried meal is simple! In a nutshell, you add hot water and let it stand for about ten minutes to allow the ingredients to rehydrate:
On an airplane, ask the flight attendant to pour hot water into the pouch and then let it stand for a few minutes.
Since Paleo Meals To Go is now part of Wild Zora, you can leverage the same MK15 discount code and get 15% off your first order.
Healthy snacks may sound like an oxymoron, but there are indeed healthy, non-perishable snack options that you can leverage if there are no other food sources available.
Before a trip, I usually fill my backpack up with my favorite road trip snacks, including meat and veggie bars from Wild Zora and chocolate and sea salt bars from RXBAR. Additionally, I often bring KIND bars, unless I travel by plane on Delta Airlines, because they recently started handing out KIND bars onboard!
Chosen Foods, the maker of my favorite avocado oil mayo recently launched travel-sized mayo pouches that don’t require refrigeration. You can get a pack of 8 for a few dollars on Amazon.
It’s easy to find snacks that are sweet and high in carbs, even if they are healthy. It’s rare to find healthy snacks that contain vegetables and that I don’t have to keep refrigerated. That is one of the reasons why I like Wild Zora meat & veggie bars so much. The other reason is that they are simply delicious!
If you like to give Wild Zora Meat & Veggie bars a try, make sure to use discount code MK15 to get 15% off your first order!
KIND got some undeserved flak from the FDA last year because of outdated guidelines that say a snack food can’t have more than 3g of total fat or 1g of saturated fat per serving while using the word “healthy” on a label. Needless to say, those guidelines are factually incorrect when it comes to fat as scientists have long established the benefits of fat.
Instead, what you should watch out for are carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI) and mainly added sugar. Fortunately, KIND offers a variety of snack options that contain little sugar, have a low GI, are gluten- and dairy-free but are high in healthy fats (from nuts).
My favorite is the flavor Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt, and it has the following ingredients:
Almonds, dark chocolate flavored coating (palm kernel oil, chicory root fiber, sugar, cocoa powder, soy lecithin, natural flavor, salt), peanuts, chicory root fiber, honey, walnuts, glucose syrup, rice flour, unsweetened chocolate, sea salt, soy lecithin, sugar.
*Ingredients marked in bold are not Paleo-approved.
As you may have noticed, not all the ingredients are compatible with our Paleo lifestyle but considering the small amounts contained in those snacks and the fact that snacking is the exception and not the rule in our household; I’m ok with that while being on the road.
An alternative to traditional KIND bars is pressed by KIND® fruit and veggie bars!
Unlike other KIND bars, the pressed fruit and veggie bars do not have any added sugar at all. Of course, they contain sugar from the fruits, but no more than what you would get when eating the fruits directly. And unlike when drinking fruit juices, the fiber from the fruits and veggies in those bars slows down the conversion of sugar into glucose. As a result, the bars have a low so-called glycemic index (GI).
I love RXBAR protein bars, specifically the Chocolate Sea Salt flavor. It’s one of our favorite “desserts.” What differentiates RXBAR from other snack bars is that they are 100% Paleo compatible while containing a lot of protein. Our favorite flavor, chocolate and sea salt contains only the following ingredients:
The last ingredient is essential, and it’s what truly sets those guys apart from the competition! As a result, one bar has about 210 calories (80 from fat) and contains 12 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 24 grams of carbohydrates (15 grams of sugar). The source of the carbs, and specifically the sugar, are from the two dates.
The bars are so tasty that I could eat more than one, but we treat RXBAR protein bars like we treat fruits and enjoy them in moderation.
The above snacks are my favorites, but there are a ton of other healthy snacks that I have tried over the years, including:
You can find many of the healthy snacks above at Whole Foods, Costco, or Amazon. But there is also a more convenient way to discover new snacks and to get them delivered to your home with Paleo by Maileo! It is a convenient online store and delivery service I have used in the past, and if you want to try them out, use code SNACKATTACK to get $5 off your first delivery.
Unless I fly first or business class, I try to avoid plane food like the pest. The only reason why I might consider eating the food in business or first class is that Delta Airlines usually offers steak as an option. If so, I would have that but without any of the “extras.”
In economy, even the “plain” chicken is usually smothered in sauces that make me bloated before I have taken even the first bite. The good news is, thanks to Ample, skipping an onboard meal is usually not a problem.
On a side note, I would recommend buying a bottle of water after you have passed through security, and before you boarded the plane. That way, you can mix your Ample without having to wait for the flight attendants to come through with the beverage cart. You might even consider buying one of those collapsible water bottles and filling it up at the airport at one of the many water fountains.
I usually fly with Delta Airlines, and they offer bananas and KIND bars, at least when you fly in a Comfort+ seat. So I usually load up on both and save my snacks for later.
I barely find a place where I want to eat a meal as-is. Instead, I almost always have to substitute side dishes or ingredients. The good news is, waiters in the US are used to patrons with special dietary restrictions. Waiters abroad are not always accustomed to that and may look at you funny when you ask to get steamed broccoli instead of potatoes with your Schnitzel.
One of the most important, yet easiest, meals for me is breakfast because a good breakfast can go a long way to keep me energized, even if I have to delay or skip lunch. Also, it is usually uncomplicated because I am entirely satisfied with eggs and a bowl of fruit and you can get eggs almost anywhere. Even in the crappiest places I have been, they had eggs. I only make sure to get actual eggs and not some liquid-egg-lookalike. I also make sure that the cook doesn’t add milk, cheese or anything else to my eggs – especially if I order scrambled eggs.
If I eat at a place where they prepare the eggs to order, I may even ask if they could use olive oil instead of whatever vegetable oil they would use otherwise.
The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what you want. If you do it nicely, chances are the restaurant will try to accommodate you.
In those cases where I do not have access to healthy food options, I try to remember that I am not going to die because of skipping a meal.
Quite the opposite is the case! Intermittent fasting is healthy and should be part of your life anyway. For example, if I have an early morning flight home from a conference, I don’t have time for breakfast, and I have run out of Ample, I will skip the meal and won’t eat until I land.
That gives my body a break from food of over twelve hours. So I recommend embracing such opportunities from time to time; your body will thank you!
Staying healthy on the road, and especially when traveling for work or with kids, is not easy. But I hope the tips above gave you an idea of how to eat healthy while traveling and what food to pack for when you are on the road. I have successfully relied on a combination of Ample meal replacement drinks and Wild Zora Meat & Veggie Bars for over a year and highly recommend you give it a try.
Now I want to hear from you! How do you stay healthy while traveling? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
I was born and raised in Austria. I speak German, English, and Spanish. Since moving to the U.S., I have lived and worked in the greater Atlanta area. In my twenties, I was a professional 100m sprinter. These days I do mostly CrossFit. I'm a technologist and Apple fan. I love science and don't believe anything unless there is proof. I follow a Ketogenic Paleo diet and intermittently fast every day. I'm married and have two trilingual kids. My goal with this blog is to share what I learn so that you can spend time on something else. Check out my latest Diet, Fitness, and Technology articles.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.