It’s that time again! The holidays are upon us and we are off to join friends and family to celebrate and bring in a New Year. At the center of every celebration is likely a feast or at least a great cocktail hour! The question is – can you handle all the food, booze and deserts that come across your palatte? Do you struggle when you travel to keep your diet in line?
Perhaps you are already adept at adapting your diet and eating outside the mainstream. If you are anything like me, you don’t / won’t / can’t eat just anything especially when you're on the road. It’s not even about food snobbery . . . It’s because your body can’t tolerate processed food. Your food allergies and sensitivities are real. And, let’s be honest, because you’ve made so much headway in your dietary shifts this year you aren’t about to sacrifice progress with a Burger King splurge.
Needless to say, any barrier to food choice is a huge hurdle when you are traveling. In my practice as a culinary nutritionist, I support my clients to get real about their limitations, get creative about their options, and get savvy about navigating food restrictions on the go. Here are my 5 simple and smart tips for making it through this year’s holiday travel schedule by all modes of travel.
1. Consider Your Mode of Travel.
Whether you are flying, driving, training or busing your way to the holiday festivities this year, all modes of travel require a little forethought when it comes to BYOF (bringing your own food) or navigating options on the go.
The quality of food in airports depends on A LOT – terminal, time and location. Bringing snacks and food with you also depends on security clearance. The TSA considers nut butters, yogurt, hummus, etc. as liquid, but you can stash 3 oz. containers of them in your bags. Wrap everything in ziplock bags to avoid leakage. You can also bring solid food with you – see tips below, or navigate the vendors who are getting more allergy sensitive (i.e. gluten free bagels, snacks, etc.). Be sure to ask airport staff who know the place well for the food hot spots near your gate.
The Train Station:
Most large train stations on the East Coast don’t have a ton of healthy food options aside from DC’s Union Station . . . Nevermind the choices on the train. However, most large city stations have a salad bar and/or soup option to grab before you board. If you show up with food be sure to choose easy to consume, not so smelly, and easy to throw away containers. Don’t forget plenty of napkins and eating utensils.
Busing is truly a survivalist environment. Traffic will dictate the length of your ride, and rest stop stops are unpredictable. You are also smashed up against your neighbor. But there is no security check or limitations for the food you can bring on board. Bring food that’s easy to consume (no assemblage), not overwhelmingly smelly, and not at risk for sloshing out when the driver slams on the breaks. Options include: crackers/veggies and hummus or white bean dip; soup in a thermos that you can drink rather than eat with a spoon; oatmeal or yogurt; a one-pot meal or rice and something; fruit & power snacks (nuts, paleo cookies/bars, nut butter, etc.).
I will discuss this more in tip #4 below, but bringing a more sophisticated diet-friendly stash is key for hopping in the car. Consider also if you are also going to be staying some place where you can store food/snacks that you bring with you. My husband and I will often travel for up to 2 days to get home to Georgia from Brooklyn. We bring things that need to keep cool and things that are shelf stable, leaving us with a cooler and a box/bag dedicated as a mini-pantry.
2. Have snacks. Will travel.
· Sliced Apple/Pear/Orange/Veggies: Slicing makes these easy to eat and minimizes mess. They are also easy to prep the night before, and they will keep well. Pack in a throw-away Ziploc. If you are squeamish about browning fruit, squeeze a little lemon juice on the apples and pears. They will survive about 12 hours without refrigeration.
· Nuts/ Nut Butters/ BYO Trail Mix: Nuts and butters are quick protein/ healthy fat sources to stabilize blood sugar levels. They are also shelf-stable. They essentially don’t need to be refrigerated if they aren’t exposed to heat or direct light, which causes rancidity. (At home, always keep bulk seeds and nuts in the fridge for longer shelf life.) Roasting also risks rancidity. Buy raw nuts from a fresh, reliable, organic source at home; add some unsweetened dried fruit/coconut slivers/dairy-free chocolate chips to make your own mix! Pack enough for your whole trip to get you through any in between times and your ride home.
· Avocado/Cheese and Crackers: Slices are key here. Prep cheese slices and sliced avocado make it easy to assemble snack sized bites. Slice the avocado in half, keeping it in its skin. Then slice the flesh into slices or cubes, and put it into a small Tupperware. Once you get up in the air or when you find that side salad you can buy, you’ve got a little something extra to boost you. Pair with crackers, veggies, fruit or bread.
3. Early departure? Bring breakfast.
· Bring the eggs. Yes, eggs. Boiling a batch of organic, happy-hen eggs in advance of your trip or any typical workweek is a helpful think ahead strategy. Most fast-food eggs are a composite egg patty. Not entirely real food. The real thing will support your endocrine system and stabilize your blood sugar. They will keep for about 4-5 hours without refrigeration. Couple boiled eggs on the road with fruit, oatmeal, a cup of soup, hummus and veggies, or a side salad.
· Pack a Breakfast Burrito Bowl. Think boiled eggs or chicken and/or just beans over brown rice, salsa, avocado, fresh or sautéed spinach. Be cautious if you are flying to avoid too much liquid – be sure the rice gobbles it all up, and pack in a throw-away to-go container. Enjoy once you’ve gotten through security to keep the bagel gods away.
· The never-fail PB&J: I know a PB&J is old school and a bit cliché. Yet, it also takes 3 minutes to make, and can prevent the allergen prone, stomach cramp inducing, not aligned food options on the road. It’s simple. It’s clean. And you know what it’s made of. The alternative . . . not so much! You can also replace jam or honey with sliced banana, providing more fiber and nutrition.
4. Pack a Pantry for the Car.
I love a good road trip. My husband is a vegetarian and I’m gluten free. Together, we have major issues not only with the fast-food market, but finding good quality food to eat on the road. Here are my fave tips for building a pantry that suits everyone’s needs:
a) Bring lots of diet-friendly snacks and whole fruit.
b) Pack a small cutting board and pairing knife.
c) Load a cooler with low-maintenance prepared food like picnic salads, i.e. quinoa salad with veggies, olive oil and lemon, chicken salad, lentil salad, etc. The theme is to be able to eat them alone or on crackers/bread easily in the car or the side of the road.
d) Throw in individual yogurts that can be easily consumed on the road.
5. Travel like a gluten free Girl Scout, aka “Come prepared!”
I eat a gluten free diet, and enjoy some cheese and meat. I almost never leave for a “friends and family” trip without a stash or the assurance I can purchase gluten free crackers/bread/pasta or veggies that will substitute, i.e. cucumbers/apple slices for cheese/dip, collard green wraps in place of buns, and spaghetti squash for pasta. It’s hard to ask your host to think and purchase all of these things. It also really sucks to be left out of cocktail hour or the main course. Just think ahead and take the stress away from yourself and your host.
You’ve got a lot of ideas here to get you started. Many ideas overlap, and, as you can see, it’s all about being prepared with the right food to get you through the stress of traveling. Have an incredible holiday season, and here’s to getting where you’re going with dietary dignity!