Staying healthy while on the road

Published 11:07 am Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Dietician’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

During the warmer months in the Midwest, there tends to be an increase in travel. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or a cross-country trip, one common factor is often large amounts of time spent in a vehicle.

Emily Schmidt

Emily Schmidt

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One of the major obstacles that I frequently hear from patients is that it’s difficult to maintain a healthy diet while on the road. One of the easiest parts of a road trip is going through the fast food drive-thru and grabbing a quick meal. Even when stopping at sit-down restaurants, it still tends to be difficult to make more health-conscious choices.

Additionally, long drives can get a little boring especially if the scenery is less than fascinating, and snacks and beverages become an easy distraction. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to keep things on the healthier side even when the options don’t seem the greatest.

First, focus on improving beverages. An easy way to accumulate a lot of unnecessary calories and sugar very quickly is through what you’re drinking. Instead of grabbing bottles of soda, lemonade, sweet tea or other calorie-filled beverages when you’re filling up the gas tank, grab a bottle of water or a calorie-free beverage. If you crave a bit more than plain water, opt for flavored water. Other options such as black coffee or unsweetened tea will typically not contribute calories, either. Ultimately, the best way to truly quench thirst is with good old-fashioned water, so you’ll most likely end up feeling your best and properly hydrated while also making a healthier choice.

Limit snacking in the car. Rather than constant grazing across the miles, keep a stash of healthy snacks in the vehicle and ration them out (pack a mini cooler for items requiring cold storage). Try to plan one healthy snack between meals, ideally when you are beginning to feel hungry. However, don’t wait until you’re extremely hungry, as we tend to overeat and make less healthy choices when our hunger is out of control. Examples of healthy snacks appropriate for the vehicle might include a handful of unsalted nuts, string cheese, granola bar, piece of fruit or snack bag of veggies. If you’re going to treat yourself to something like chips or candy, limit the portions. Choose smaller, pre-portioned options (snack size versus family size) and keep calories for one between-meal snack to around 100 to 200 calories.

Make a stop at the grocery store when possible. If you have the option of stopping at an actual store to purchase some food, you have a much greater chance of being able to choose something healthy. Before heading to the nearest park or rest area for a quick picnic, load up a basket with fruits and vegetables and ingredients like whole grain bread, sliced natural cheese and lean, lower-sodium deli meats for sandwiches or something equally convenient. Make sure to stock up on some healthy snacks for the road while you’re at the store.

Make healthy swaps at restaurants. Instead of indulging in a double cheeseburger, french fries and an ice cream shake or sugary beverage, allow yourself one indulgence and keep the rest of the meal a bit healthier. A single cheeseburger, small baked potato and diet beverage or simply water would help you save a large amount of calories, solid fats and sugar.

Although many obstacles may stand in your way while you are in the car for two, five or even 20 hours, there are plenty of ways around them. Don’t forget to still treat yourself, but remembering the definition of treat (an occasional indulgence rather than frequent and in excess) is the most important part. Safe and happy travels, and don’t forget to the pack the cooler!

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She grew up in Rose Creek and enjoys cooking, reading and spending time outdoors with family.