Easy swaps to keep your diet on track when healthy options are far and few between
What’s the first healthy habit that falls off track when you’re traveling?
For most people, it’s their clean eating. When you’re on the road, removed from the routine of your fully stocked fridge of grass fed meat and organic produce and your cupboard of paleo approved seasonings and virgin unrefined coconut oil, you no longer have 100% control over every single ingredient entering your body… which can be a recipe for digestive distress.
Stuck in a car driving for hours, days, or weeks, through desert, mountains, and grass lands, with potentially hundreds of miles between civilizations, you’re now at the mercy of whatever small town diner or run down convenience store is an easy detour off the interstate.
It’s times like this, when you’re in the middle of nowhere, with few to no options for food, let alone healthy food, keeping your diet clean can seem all but impossible.
When you’ve gone paleo or have removed processed foods, refined sugars, gluten, and/or dairy from your diet, re-introducing these foods to your body, particularly under the stressful conditions of travel, can easily and quickly result in a world of digestive distress. And yes, I’m talking about gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea… all potential side effects of eating that breakfast of biscuits and gravy at Auntie Mabel’s diner because that was the only place to eat for 50 miles and since there aren’t any quality foods on the menu, you might as will splurge and get one of those comfort meals you used to have before you cleaned up your diet… sound familiar?
You might enjoy that biscuits and gravy while it’s hitting your taste buds, but 20 minutes later when you’re back on the road and your gut starts doing backflips, struggling to process the unfamiliar, processed substance you’ve just subjected it to, both you and your passenger will be dying to get out of the car you’ve just turned into a hotbox. I’m not sure about you, but that’s a far cry from my ideal road trip!
So how do you set yourself up for dietary success when you’re on the road with limited options?
Sure, you could go to the extreme by packing a cooler of frozen meals and snacks or fasting for your entire vacation. But in reality, most people aren’t going to do either of those things. Instead, keep it simple with these 6 tricks for eating clean in whatever situation your travels throw at you.
1. ASK FOR YOUR FOOD TO BE COOKED IN REAL BUTTER, LARD, OR OLIVE OIL
I know what you’re thinking: “why would a restaurant cook with anything else?!” But the sad truth is that most diners, cafés, and restaurants use health-harming industrial oils and chemical-laden liquid butter substitutes (often made up of hydrogenated soybean oils), when sautéing or cooking on a griddle because it’s the cheapest option. When you’re traveling and eating the majority of your meals out, exposure to these pro-inflammatory oils can add up, leaving you feeling less than your best. Don’t hesitate to ask your server what they use to cook their food, and if it is one of these industrial oil or butter substitutes, kindly request that the kitchen uses either butter, lard, or olive oil.
2. LOOK FOR PROTEIN OR VEGGIE HEAVY MEALS ON THE MENU
Perhaps you find yourself at a Denny’s in the middle of the desert because it’s the only restaurant for miles and you’re minutes from eating your hand. The idea of eating at Denny’s might make you shudder, but trust me, it’s not the end of the world! Instead of giving in and ordering the Sticky Bun Pancake Breakfast, scan the menu for the protein and veggie-centric dishes primarily comprised of chicken, salmon, beef, eggs, bacon, sausage, and/or veggies. For example, omelets, salads, benedicts, burgers (without the bun), scrambles are common menu items that are a safe place to start! By choosing a meal that’s packed with protein and veggies (even if they’re not grass fed, pasture raised, or organic), instead of ordering that stack of pancakes topped with fake, refined sugar loaded maple syrup, you’ll keep your blood sugar stable and prevent a sugar crash that could cause you to nod off at the wheel and “off road”… not in the good way.
3. MAKE A MEAL OUT OF SIDES
Don’t see a meal on the menu that’s quite your style? Get creative! Compose a meal out of side dishes so you can choose exactly what works for you. This strategy is particularly effective when it comes to breakfast because most diners offer breakfast items a la carte, making it easy to customize a meal of 2 eggs, a side of bacon or sausage, hash browns, and any veggies on the menu.
Ninja tip: It never hurts to ask! Don’t be afraid to ask your server if something’s not specifically on the menu. For example, “sautéed veggies” usually aren’t listed as a side, but if a diner offers a veggie omelet, chances are good there are vegetables somewhere in that kitchen. Or if you see avocado on the menu, but it’s not specifically listed as a side, there’s probably an avocado back there with those veggies. If you ask nicely, most restaurants will sauté a side of veggies for you or give you a side of sliced avocado!
4. TAKE THE SAUCE ON THE SIDE
Sauces can be a hiding place for a lot of undesirable ingredients… refined sugars, industrial oils, gluten-containing flours, milk or heavy cream. It’s hard to know what exactly is in that concoction of saucy goodness and how it could throw off your digestive system. For example, if you’re grabbing a plate of Memphis ribs and want to play it 100% safe, ask for your meat “dry” (aka no sauce!). Or if you have to try the BBQ sauce because it’s the only time you’ll be in Memphis eating authentic Memphis ribs, order the sauce on the side so you have control over the amount of sauce you’re consuming.
5. SUBSTITUTE VEGGIES FOR GRAIN-BASED SIDES
So you’ve identified a couple protein-based entrees that are a great option, like the salmon fillet or the 5oz ribeye steak, but on the downside, they come with a side of bread and/or pasta. This is an easy fix. Look at the “Sides” menu to see if there’s a veggie alternative like a side salad, steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato, etc, and simply ask your server to make that swap!
6. USE TECHNOLOGY TO SEARCH ALONG YOUR ROUTE
Gone are the days of struggling to hunt and gather our food. Instead, we have technology like Google, Yelp, and the “Find Me Gluten Free” app to make sourcing healthy food a breeze, especially when traveling! Simply search keywords like “paleo,” “gluten-free,” or “natural foods” in your area and you’re bound to find something you can eat!
One of my favorite techniques for finding quality food to fuel my body without having to go hours off my road trip route is Google Map’s “Search along route” option. With your route programmed into Google Maps, hit the up arrow in the lower right-hand corner (see image above). This will cause a small menu of options to rise up from the bottom of the screen, one of which will be a magnifying glass with the phrase “Search along route”. Select this option and on the next screen, type your desired healthy eating phrase into the search bar. This will bring you back to your map, but with a number of little boxes identifying different businesses that match your search criteria, along with the total time it will add to your road trip! Choose what business is the best fit for your diet and schedule, select it, and Google will add it as a stop on your route!!
Eating healthy on the road isn’t always easy, but with these simple tricks, you can tackle whatever middle-of-nowhere-diner food your travels throw at you with confidence, and fuel your body with clean foods to keep your digestion and travels on the smoothest route possible!