How Do I Find Real Food While Traveling?

Travel food

Let’s face it. Whether we’re racing through the airport or driving for hours down a long and lonely road, for some of us, the downside of traveling is the series of increasingly questionable food choices we make on the go.

A pit stop at Panda Express before security? Check.

Grab some “trail mix” (M&Ms and salted peanuts) on the way to the gate? Check. (Oh, wait. They have Sour Patch Kids—I’ll only eat a few! Check.)

Pop some quarters into the vending machine on the fourth floor? Check.

Sit down for a free continental breakfast of donuts and sugar-bombed yogurt? Check.

Pull off the highway for a sweet carbonated pick-me-up? Check. (Oh, wait. They have Twizzlers—I’ll only eat a few!)

Check, check, and check.

Before you know it, you’ve put more junk in your body in the first two days of your trip than you’d normally eat in months. Jet-lagged, exhausted, rushed, harried, bored, and frustrated people don’t tend to make the best food choices. But there’s good news. It’s not as hard as you might think to eat real food while you’re traveling. In fact, you only have to do one thing. Be prepared.

Next time you travel, follow these simple tips for keeping it real on the road:

First—water. Drink it. Drink it before you leave and while you’re there. Keep extra water bottles in the car and definitely bring a bottle on the plane with you. (Buy it after you go through security, unless you want the TSA to toss it in the trash for you.) Keeping hydrated helps you avoid sugary beverages and minimizes jet lag. It’s also plain old good sense.

Second—breakfast. Sounds easy, right? Yet sometimes in the middle of a busy vacation or business trip, breaking your fast is easier said than done. Make the effort. Breakfast will prepare you for a full day, and it’s relatively easier to find healthier food choices at breakfast than other times of the day. If you’re able to bring food on your trip, go for hard-boiled eggs, whole grain bread, and nut butters. If you find yourself at a restaurant, a garden or Denver omelet are both good choices. The point is to give yourself enough energy to avoid snacking later on—unless the snacks are fresh, healthy food, of course.

Third—Bring. Your. Own. Food. The sad fact is this: it’s not easy to find real food while traveling in America. If you’re unprepared and find yourself with nothing to eat, you’ll eventually break down and eat junk. You just wouldn’t have many other options. But as long as you have your own real food on hand, you won’t crave those mini Oreos your flight attendant is handing out. You won’t think about pulling off the highway to see what culinary delights the gas station has to offer. And you won’t find yourself at the hotel vending machine in the middle of the night, wavering between the Nutter Butters or the bag of chips. That’s just sad.

Save yourself. There’s a whole world of real food out there, and as long as you’re prepared, you can take almost all of it to go. Here’s just a small sampling of ideas:

  • Cuts of meat. Think chicken, prime rib, leftover steak slices, or any other cut of meat. Roast it or grill it, serve as is, make a sandwich or stir fry. As long as it’s organic and grass-fed, you can’t go wrong.
  • Cheese. Cube it up for the kids or get your favorite raw milk cheese sliced for you at the store.
  • Bacon. Preservative-free, cooked bacon makes a great sandwich addition or snack.
  • Bread. You’ll need some bread slices for those sandwiches, preferably homemade. Sourdough is a great option as it’s healthier and keeps longer.
  • Fruit. Think fruit that travels well, such as bananas, grapes, and apples.
  • Raw nuts and seeds. For truly optimal nut goodness, see the recipe for crispy nuts in Nourishing Traditions.
  • Raw nut and seed butters. Peanut, almond, and sesame butters are all great sources of protein and healthy fats. And feel free to mix and match—they blend together well.
  • Olives. Easy to pack and heart healthy, olives are also known to have many anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Raw vegetables. Think carrots, cucumbers, and celery. Rinse them, peel them, slice them, and pack them up. And don’t forget your salad greens.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. Eat them whole or whip up some egg salad.
  • Condiments. Here’s the secret sauce. The successful Real Food Traveler knows that condiments liven up any meal while packing a low-calorie punch of flavor. Mustard, sugar-free ketchup, hot sauce, sriracha, salt and pepper, pickles, raw honey…the list of condiments goes on and on.

Want more ideas? Make homemade trail mix or granola. Pack sprouted pumpkin seeds. Brown or wild rice. Cherry tomatoes. Organic popcorn. There are entire Pinterest boards to draw inspiration from. Enjoy your travels—and keep it real.

Heather Wilkinson

Heather Wilkinson is Senior Editor at Selene River Press.

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