Healthy Eating…On the Road

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on January 17, 2011

In the past 5 weeks, I have logged over 4,000 miles in the car. A trip to Texas. A trip to Georgia. And a trip to Chicago and Minneapolis. 4,000 miles.

(Just typing that makes my rear end hurt.)

So while I was logging all these miles, I burned approximately 2 calories per hour. Except for the hour that I was driving “white knuckled” through some snow showers in Wisconsin. That hour, I burned about 8 calories.

(Just typing that makes my thighs swell a bit.)

Whenever I could squeeze in a little exercise, I would…but not the same amount that I get on a regular basis. So I found it especially important during these sedentary days to watch what I was eating. I have no trouble eating well when I’m at home…but when I hit the road, it’s much more of a challenge. When traveling for a day or two, you can take snacks and meals in a small cooler.  But when traveling for 4-5 days at a time, you end up facing “fast food” on the road.

Here are a few lessons learned.

1. Subway, Subway, Subway. I will say that I’ve eaten more Subway in the past 3 weeks than I did all of last year. Why? Because I CHOSE to eat there for most of my lunch and dinner meals while I was driving from one city to the next.  Subway has such a great variety of low cal and low fat sandwiches and salads, that I never found myself getting “sick of it.”  While I was in a city, I’d chose another restaurant that served salads and other light food fare. It was a CHOICE, and I did my best to choose wisely for each meal.

2. Limit the sugary treats. When you roll up to the pump to refill the nearly empty tank, sit back in your car while you wait for it to fill up. And if you have to run inside to use the facilities, walk as fast as you can past the sugary treats. Don’t even look at them. Just fly right past them and right back out the front door. Avoid them at all costs. Because inhaling 300 delicious, chocolate-y calories just doesn’t do well for the thighs and hips when you’re only burning 2 calories per hour!!!

3. Sunflower seeds. These are a fabulous snack because they are filled with protein and are salty enough to make you thirsty. (See #5.) Plus, they keep your mouth busy while driving. But, of course, find another nut or seed alternative if you are on a low sodium diet.

4. Water.  So salty sunflower seeds will certainly ramp up your thrist glands, but water is essential for something else. It’s key to staying “regular.” (Yes, we’re going to talk about “that” for a minute.) Your pipes quickly go into shutdown mode when you get out of your comfort zone and are away from home. It’s true.  No denying it. But water and fiber will help keep those pipes working well while on the road.

5. Move, move, move. Jump on a treadmill at the hotel.  If they don’t have one (as several of the smaller hotels that I stayed in did not), hit the stairwells at the hotel.  If they doesn’t work for you, walk briskly up and down the hallways. You have no excuses.  You’ve got to move, move, move!

What about you?! How do you eat healthy when on the road?!

Photo Credit

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy B. January 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm

First of all, I’m actually writing this on my computer in my car, on my laptop with my broadband card as we drive from Florida to Georgia after yet another long weekend visiting family. We do this a lot.

As a military family we spend what seems like a lot of time either traveling to our new home, inevitably FAR away from where we were to start with, or visiting family, since none of them live near wherever the Army puts us. All of your travel tips are spot on! But I have one more to add:

With the exception of when we travel in the south (at which time this California girl INSISTS that we eat at Chik-Fil-A), the keystone of our healthy traveling is packing our own lunch. We pick a place where we can eat something healthy for dinner (NOT fast food) and we eat lunch meat and carrot sticks or whatever else is in the cooler for lunch. You can always restock quickly in the morning at a grocery store near your hotel, after that stint on the treadmill. And bonus! Money saver.

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RITA SMITH January 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

When I travel these days it is usually by myself or with my older sister and we always pack lots of fruit and veggies. When we stop for lunch it is usually at a rest area that has a musume type display…..we take pics walking and munching on the aboved mentioned…….we not only learn a little about the state we are entering but we also get some much needed exercise……we also collect pamlets and other papers for our travel scrapbooks………it makes for great backgrounds for the pics………….just remember to get more than one of each…….but of course that is off the subject………..luckly I am a big soup eater and most everywhere you can get a good healthy soup even if you have to heat it in a store microwave…………..

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Erin January 18, 2011 at 7:29 am

I know you’re trying to make a point, but I didn’t want people to take you too literally — driving a car actually burns closer to 200 calories an hour for the average person, rather than 2. ;)

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gt0163c January 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

As a frequent traveler both for business and pleasure, I’ve learned a lot about trying to stay healthy while on travel.

1. Go to the grocery store rather than the fast food place for meals. Some grocery stores have sandwich counters similar to Subway. Even if they don’t, you can usually get an individual roll, enough meat and cheese for a sandwich and some fruit for about what you would pay for a fast food meal (sometimes less).

2. You can cook a lot in the microwave and coffee pot. My personal favorite is black beans, brown rice, salsa and cheese. Canned black beans, rinsed well in the hotel ice bucket. “Instant” brown rice of the microwave it in the pouch variety. Combine with a small jar of salsa and microwave for a few minutes. Add cheddar cheese if you’d like. To get smaller quantities of cheese, look for the individual cheese sticks or cheese slices packaged for lunches. A can of beans, package of rice and small jar of salsa makes two hearty servings.

3. You don’t need exercise equipment for exercise. Even hotels that offer a fitness center don’t often have a very good one. So having some other options for exercise is great. And that’s where body weight exercises come in. Push ups, sit-ups, dips, jumping jacks and the like can be done in a hotel room or in the grass next to the parking lot (but check the area first to make sure that traveling pet owners haven’t walked Spot and not cleaned up well). For the more hard core, burpees and mountain climbers can kick it up a notch. If there’s a park nearby, box jumps, modified pull-ups (or the real thing if you can do them) and lots of other similar exercises can be done using benches and playground equipment. Stretchy tubes or a jump rope take up very little space and can also be a big help in staying fit on the road.
If you’re not comfortable pulling together your own workout, talk to someone who does Cross Fit or some of the boot camp classes, look up exercises on YouTube or get a set of FitDeck cards. If you have a relationship with a personal trainer or staff member at your gym, you might also talk to them about specific exercises you can do with little or no equipment.
Some hotels have relationships with local fitness centers so that guests can use their facilities free. Ask when you check-in. Or, see if you can talk your way into a free or cheap plan to use the gym just while you’re in town (works better with Ys or independent gyms if you can find a sympathetic manager).

4. Learn to juggle – Seriously. It’s not a great workout, but it gets you up and moving, can be done anywhere even for just a few minutes and is a great way to meet people. I’ve spent many evenings in hotels watching MASH reruns or whatever’s on the History Channel and juggling. Beats just sitting there watching tv.

5. If you’re traveling with a group, whenever you stop, take out a frisbee, ball or even just a rolled up pair of socks and have a quick toss. If you’re on your own, do some jumping jacks, push ups or jump rope for a few minutes. Anything to get the blood moving.

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Brandis January 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I also want to add to what the above poster says about body weight exercises- another good choice would be yoga and mat pilates moves. They require no equipment and will keep your muscles limber.

My problem at filling stations isn’t the sweet snacks, it’s salty. And the only salty snack I don’t like is sunflower seeds. I try to stick to bottled smoothies (in lieu of meals- they’re too filling and too high cal for snack) and yogurt almost exclusively when I’m on the road almost exclusively because of what you talk about in number 4… traveling always upsets my system, especially when I’m traveling unaided with my two kids. Sticking to a semi-solid real live food diet during travel days (and keeping up the yogurt while I’m at my destination) makes a huge difference.

I can’t believe you were in Minneapolis and I didn’t know it! I need to pay better attention:)

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Emil January 18, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I’m with gt – we hit the grocery stores rather than fast food. Even a daily half-hour trip will yield a healthier daily diet. Invest in a good cooler, shop the perimeters, make an effort to choose something different every day. One of our go-to travel foods is cabbage. Plain, green, 39-cents-a-pound cabbage. We tear off the leaves, roll them up, and crunch away. Or stuff them with chicken salad – yum! And a meal you can definitely feel good about feeding your family.

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Shauna January 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Don’t discount the dollar menu at Wendy’s! A small chili ($1.29) and a Caesar side salad ($1.29) can be had for less than $3 and they are very willing to give you a cup of ice and water with a smile if you don’t have my jones for Diet Coke. As a diabetic, my food intake slides slightly to the protein end of the spectrum, and I’ve found their chili fills me up and gives me a great blood sugar reading two hours later. Anyone who says you can’t eat cheap AND healthy at Wendy’s isn’t really trying.

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Antoine Shiflet February 18, 2012 at 5:57 pm

If you like hiking, mountain climbing, or just traveling and camping out, then sleeping bags come in extremely handy. Sleeping bags are comfortable readymade beds. Pretty simple to set up. You may just lay it and you’re prepared to make use of it. But note that not all sleeping bags are the identical.

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