I love food and have been told I'm a bit of a “food snob”. I like to eat food that is prepared well and tastes great. If that's being a snob, then so be it. But I know I'm not alone. I meet more and more people who want to know the origins of their food. Most of us try harder these days to eat healthy. That can be difficult enough when eating at home—because so much of what we eat is filled with additives or chemicals—let alone when we travel. Here are five ways I've discovered that help me eat healthy on the road.
I sat in on a workshop a while back offered by Scott Tyson of 180 Degree Farm in Sharpsburg, Georgia. Tyson had a beautiful story of love and hope, but most of all he discussed the importance of eating good food. Real food. Healthy, organic, clean foods made or grown without pesticides, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics.
That workshop hit close to home. I've had to change the way I eat after discovering that I have a sensitivity to processed foods. I do great at home, but it's often a challenge when I travel. Tyson's workshop got me thinking about sharing what I've discovered about healthy eating on the road. While it might take a bit more effort than running through the airport and grabbing a burger or stopping alongside the interstate to visit a drive-up window, it is not only possible but rewarding to eat healthy on the road.
Whether you are traveling for summer vacation, off to visit relatives for the holidays or frequently travel for work, you can find healthy snacks and meals on the road with a little preparation and planning.
1. Pack a cooler for road trips
If you're off on a road trip, take time to pack a cooler for the car. Fill it with fresh fruits, veggies (carrot sticks, cucumbers, radishes, grapes and celery sticks work well), cheese, yogurt or other easy-to-eat healthy snacks. You can also keep the cooler stocked with water and juices. Remember to take the cooler out of the car each night and replenish the ice often.
2. Visit the local grocery store
If you need snacks or meals on the road, you can usually find a local grocery store that offers everything you need. This will likely mean getting off the major highways and exploring the backroads. Besides having the chance to experience real life in whatever state or country you're visiting, you should be able to find fresh fruits and veggies, healthy snacks and even healthy prepared foods at the local grocery store. Most stores today offer organic options if you prefer and some serve entire meals prepared fresh in the store.
Even if the only thing you can find is a convenience store, it may still pay off for you. There is often fresh fruit close to the check out. It might not be locally grown or as flavorful as what you'd find at a market, but it's far better than munching on a bag of chips or a pack of candy.
3. Find a farmer's market
Towns across the globe have a variety of markets. I still have yet to find a farmers market I didn't like. They are ideal for picking up fresh ingredients. You might also ask the locals shopping in the market to suggest a good restaurant where you can get a healthy meal. If you're traveling in Europe or Asia, markets are usually open daily from early morning until just after lunch. There's nothing better than hitting the market for fresh strawberries, fresh-baked bread, local cheeses, juicy tomatoes and whatever local fruits or vegetables are in season when you visit. Although the US doesn't have the same tradition of local markets that you will find in other parts of the world, there are often markets on the weekends or select weekdays.
Some of my favorite memories over the years have been picking out items from the local outdoor market and taking them to a river bank, picnic table or park, opening a great bottle of wine and savoring the fresh breads, cheeses and fruits. Not only was I eating a healthy option, I created some lasting travel memories.
4. Avoid fast food joints and major chains
Fast food joints dot every landscape around the world today, so it might seem the easiest option when you're traveling. After all, there's no guess work involved when you stop at the golden arches. But the food is filled with additives, preservatives, chemicals and fillers. Even many of the sit-down chain restaurants use prepared foods that contain preservatives and chemicals. Instead, look for the local café, funky little diner or farm-to-table restaurant. Even in airports today you can find some amazing food. Here's a story I wrote earlier about the gourmet options at airports around the globe. One great example is the recent opening of The Original Farmers Market—an L.A. fixture for 80 years—at LAX Terminal 5. You can find other great options at most major airports.
With the advent of smart phones, it is easier than ever to check out what's in the neighborhood. For example, the Zomato (formerly Urbanspoon) website or phone app lets you search by meal, type of cuisine, newest restaurants, top picks from locals, picks by food critics and even bargain meals. Not only will you be eating healthier if you find a local restaurant, you'll also be supporting those mom and pop operations that are a vital part of local economies.
5. Look for food festivals and special events
Especially during the summer season, you can likely find a local festival serving up a selection of foods. Sure, you're likely to find those giant turkey legs, but odds are you can locate a festival that celebrates the local economy with samples from area chefs. Not only will you get some great eats, you'll have a chance to see how the locals play.
Whenever and wherever you travel, slow down a bit and check out what's available locally. Don't pull into the first fast food shop you encounter. Instead, opt for a healthy snack of fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible. Your body will thank you.