Having recently returned from a camping trip away, I found myself thinking a lot about how to eat healthfully while traveling. Here are a few tips and tricks I have learned along the way that apply to any kind of traveling, including car trips and other means of public transportation, but flying in particular. 

Plan ahead. If you find yourself hungry at an airport without food, unhealthy food choices high in calories and fat will be particularly appealing (French fries, pastries, candy bars, potato chips, etc.). Often the only options include pub food, fast food, coffee bars, or snack shops, none of which are the best sources of a healthy meal. Nevertheless, if you are stuck without food, there are ways to make healthier choices. Snack stands will often stock nuts and trail mixes. These can make a good snack in a pinch, but not an entire meal. In terms of restaurants, most will have a salad option. This is a good place to start, especially if it includes some protein. Avoiding fried foods is also important. If you are eating meat or fish, choose options that have been grilled, poached, or baked. Anything battered usually has been deep fried, so stay clear. Sometimes side orders of steamed or stir-fried vegetables are available. If you are eating at a coffee bar, your options will be more limited. While the yogurt parfaits are a healthier option as compared to pastries, do not be fooled into thinking they are a health food. The yoghurt is usually highly sweetened, as is the granola that comes with it. A better option would be a sandwich and a piece of fruit.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy preparing food and like to be on the thrifty side, you might plan ahead the day before your travels by preparing adequate food for the following day. This gives you complete control over what you eat, which is important for those on restricted diets or for people who simply want to eat as healthfully as possible. Thankfully, airports allow you to eat your own food, and going through security should not be an issue unless you have liquids in your bags. Semi-liquid foods like yogurt, however, may be a no-no. Check with your airline when in doubt.

Where to start when packing food? One easy option is to pack up last night’s dinner leftovers. If you prefer smaller portions or eating lighter, think about foods that you can mix and match. I like to start with protein. Travel-friendly protein sources include canned fish and seafood (tuna, salmon, shrimp) or chicken. Fish now comes in pouches as well, which may fit more easily into luggage. Beef and bison jerky or pemmican are good choices, too. Look for products from grass-fed animals, with no added nitrates, sugar, or other chemicals. Nuts and seeds, as well as nut and seed butters, are also a good source of protein as long as you do not have food sensitivities. Nuts and seeds have a few other considerations to be kept in mind (topic for a future article), but they are usually tolerated well if enjoyed in small quantities. Hard-boiled eggs and hard cheeses are also a good source of protein and travel reasonably well. Other options like yogurt, beans or lentils are great, but should be kept in a cooler.

While eating adequate protein on the road is important, so is eating plenty of vegetables. Again, if you are packing along leftovers, make sure vegetables play a leading role. Otherwise, raw vegetables make particularly good travel foods. Think carrot sticks, cucumber slices, bell peppers, Romaine hearts, grape tomatoes, among many others. If you like your vegetables with dips, guacamole, hummous (chickpea spread), and tzaziki (tangy yogurt dip) are delicious and nutritious choices. Bagged spicy greens like mustard or arugula are also fun to have along. Pre-baking potatoes or sweet potatoes the night before, or packing whole-grain crackers or tortillas, depending on what you tolerate, can be healthy sources of carbohydrate to round out your meals. 

Fruits can also be particularly refreshing on the road and make a healthy snack or dessert. Think apples, pears, oranges, grapes and kiwis. (Kiwis can be sliced in half and eaten with a spoon like a grapefruit.) Dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, cherries and apricots are another sweet option and can be combined with nuts and seeds and dark chocolate for an occasional treat. Just remember that they are high in sugar, so moderation in portion size is key.

Don’t forget that bringing your own food to an airport requires extra space. Make sure your carry-on is large enough to fit a good amount of food. Zip-top bags are particularly handy, as are small plastic containers with snap-on lids or screw caps that are leak-proof. Don’t forget napkins, silverware, and small packets of salt and pepper. Or, you can bring a soft cooler (with an ice pack inside) as your smaller carry-on bag to keep your food extra fresh. This has the added benefit of preventing your food from getting mashed from the weight of all your other items. Last, don’t forget hydration, which is especially important when flying. Bring a refillable water bottle with you to be both environmentally friendly as well as thrifty. Keep it empty until you pass through security, then fill it up once you are on the other side. 

Eating well while traveling does take some forethought and time, but it is well worth the effort. Instead of arriving at your destination starving, or perhaps a little queasy or bloated from airport food, you can begin your new adventure or greet the person you are visiting with a satisfied belly and a happy heart, knowing that the food you prepared yourself has nourished both your body and spirit.

The information provided in this article is intended for general use only and is not to be used in place of medical advice from a licensed health professional.