It can be very difficult to eat real food while you are traveling. Fast food is so tempting because it is fast and easy. However, as a family of people with celiac disease, we have discovered that eating real food while traveling is not as difficult as it may seem. (Fast food and even most restaurants have no options for us.) So what is a person or family to do?
If you can, pack food from home. Not only are you more likely to eat healthy food, but it will cost you less money. You can make up vegetable or fruit salads, cold pasta salads, sandwiches, finger foods, snacks, etc. from home, stick them in a cooler and have a meal ready to go. There are even some leftovers that are tasty without reheating, like chicken, turkey, roast beef, ham and the like. Some people even like cold pizza. (Not us.) Plus, you can bring travel cups of milk, juice and water from home that will save you money and time, while providing peace of mind that you are feeding yourself and your family nourishing, real, whole foods.
With a few tools, you can eat several meals on the road without having to compromise your desire to eat real, healthy, nourishing food. These tools can include a cooler (ours plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car), a sharp knife and cutting board, a can opener, aplastic strainer for washing fruits and veggies in the sink, paper plates, plastic silverware, a tablecloth (to cover an eating surface), plastic zip bags and disinfecting wipes (for wiping off eating surfaces before you eat). You might even consider packing a toaster oven, crockpot or hot pot for reheating packed meals.
Make a batch or two of homemade muffins filled with fruits, nuts and wholesome goodness. These travel well and make a terrific breakfast, snack or dessert.
Granola or granola bars
There are a plethora of recipes for making your own granola or granola bars. Here in my favorite. Granola travels well and milk is easy to come by. Pack individual servings of granola in plastic zipbags and add milk when you are ready to eat it. If you are traveling with kids, pour it into a large plastic cup or bowl for easier handling. Even dry granola can be a tasty munchie. Making your own granola bars does not take much more effort than cookies. Wrap them up in foil, parchment paper or the like, and bring them along.
Use whole grain, and/or homemade bread. If that is not an option for you, consider making rollups using tortillas, lettuce leaves or spinach leaves. My family has discovered that there is so much more flavor in a BLT if it is wrapped inside a web of spinach leaves. Fill your sandwich with cold turkey or roast beef, peanut butter and jelly or anything else that tempts your palette.
Use veggies you have in your fridge to create a salad base. Then add leftover chicken, roast beef, bits of cheese, etc. to create a beautiful thing to eat. Pack your salad dressing in a tiny plastic zip bags that you can squeeze onto your salad and then discard. Salads can even be packed into a zip bag to make the whole thing disposable when you are finished.
Make a batch of homemade cookies. Make several batches. Breakfast cookies are great for traveling. Fill an oatmeal based cookie with raisins, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, peanut butter, etc. Be creative. Create snack cookies that have chocolate chips and nuts. If you have time to make several batches, do it. Eating from home is healthier AND less expensive.
If packing meals from home is not an option, let me suggest that instead of stopping at a fast food place, you consider stopping at a grocery store. (And packing the aforementioned tools.) There are SO many more healthy options available at a grocery store and with a little thinking and planning, you can eat a healthy meal. Here are a few ideas:
Fresh fruit and veggies
Consider carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, clementines, kiwi, grapes, watermelon, cantalope, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, broccoli, celery, avocado, pears, peaches, and grape tomatoes. Even asparagus is good cold and raw. Add a little salad dressing for the veggies or peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter) for apples or celery. Use the aforementioned strainer to wash your fruits and veggies in the bathroom sink or in the water fountain. Then use the cutting board and knife to get them ready to eat, if necessary.
If you desire a sweet treat, but cookies are not an option (no gluten free cookies in our grocery store), we love to use Nutella. Nutella on fresh fruit is amazing. My favorite is bananas, but apples, strawberries and even cantaloupe is great. Try it. I think you will like it!
Cheese is being packaged more conveniently all the time. You can now purchase cheese sliced, cubed and in sticks. It provides calcium and protein, and can make those hunger pains subside quickly. Cheese is great with a selection of raw fruits and veggies. Add some healthy crackers or pretzels for crunch (and carbs) and you have a complete meal. Use your packed cutting board and knife to slice your way into a cube of cheese and enjoy! You might even try a new flavor of cheese.
My daughter recently discovered that plain cream cheese spread on a cracker (gluten free) at our house is a tasty treat. Then she started adding plain meats, avocado and several other fun things to create a “mini-Dagwood”. This can be done without the cracker, too. Use sliced cheese as the “bread” portion of the sandwich and fill it up with goodness.
Most stores today offer whole roasted chickens. These make a terrific meal if you have time to sit down at a picnic table (or in a hotel room) to eat. The deli will often provide forks, knives and napkins, too. Add raw fruits and veggies and some healthy crackers or pretzels. Yum!
Salads are also becoming easier to find. The produce aisle often has a good selection of salad blends to choose from. We prefer straight spinach. Then, add some protein (cold turkey, roasted chicken or roast beef, cheese or cottage cheese) and some colorful veggies and maybe a little salad dressing. I prefer my salads without salad dressing, so I can savor the flavor and blending of the veggies.
Olives and pickles
My kids will eat an entire can of black olives in one sitting and ask for more. Olives are full of nutrition and an easy snack to bring along. They also enjoy pickles, which are easy to find, even in small jars.
Nuts and Seeds
Consider almonds, pistachios, cashews, mixed nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or a mixture of these. They are packed with protein along with a mixture of vitamins and minerals. They travel well and are terrific on a salad or just by the handful. My family enjoys a trail mix composed of raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and mini chocolate chips. I put them in snack size plastic bags for ease of use and disposal.
Yogurt and cottage cheese
Most stores offer several different choices. Yogurt and cottage cheese are available in small containers that are easy to consume in a single meal OR purchase a larger container and use it up over several meals. All you need is a spoon. Be sure to read the label. Many yogurts are now adding things that should not be in yogurt- like high fructose corn syrup.
Raisins and other dried fruits
Dried fruit can be a terrific way to get fruit into your diet without the hassle of worrying about a squished banana or peach. We make our own dried fruit by putting fresh fruit on the dehydrator, but there are SO many options available at the grocery store. We have seen raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries, bananas, apples and pineapple options at most stores. Dried fruit is great mixed with nuts and maybe even mini chocolate chips to make eating it by the handful an easy meal.
Eating on the road does not have to mean you eat hamburgers and french fries for every meal. You can eat healthy, easy meals with a little forethought and packing the appropriate tools. I will warn you that doing this for several days in a row can get a little old, so be creative. If you can pack leftovers or pre-cooked meals from home to reheat in the motel microwave or packed hotpot, crockpot or toaster oven, then the options become more varied. Precooking and packing plain rice and/or noodles can provide even more variety. A cooler, even a little one, can make a big difference.
If you have more ideas, post them in the comments section. I would love to hear them. Happy eating!