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Traveling, Eating Out and Eating Well

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

 Structured meal plans work well for people as long as they are on a set routine. But what happens when routines are thrown off by business travel, vacations or just dinner out? Is there a way to enjoy a business meal or a dinner date without falling off your nutrition plan? The following is a list of tips to help you make better decisions while dining out. I’ve also included a personal example of a recent trip.

1. Start with a salad
When you’re traveling, it’s easy to get out of the habit of eating enough vegetables. If you’re eating in a group, it’s likely someone will want to order appetizers, which are often loaded with extra sugar, fats and processed carbohydrates. If you order a salad, ask for it to come with the appetizers. You’ll have something to eat while everyone else is loading up on everything else. Choose a dressing low in sugar, such as ranch, Cesar or blue cheese. If you’re not sure about what’s in the dressings, just ask your server.
2. Choose your protein
Depending on the type of restaurant you’re at, the high-carb options might sound appealing, but look for those meals with a sufficient amount of protein like fish, chicken, lean beef, seafood, etc. If you don’t see an obvious lean protein choice, ask your server.
3. Ask for more vegetables
Your main entrée usually doesn’t come alone. Sides often include potatoes, bread, rice or other starch. If you want to avoid extra starch, ask for extra vegetables. Most restaurants have a variety of steamed vegetables or similar options. Double up on them if you want to make sure you go home feeling full.
4. Skip the sauces, sugars and fried foods
A seemingly nutritious option like fish or chicken can be as high in calories as a serving of lasagna when sauces and creams are used. Beware of how the meal is prepared, and again, if you’re not sure, just ask.
5. If you can’t find it on the menu the way you want it, ask for it
Still can’t find what you want on the menu? Almost any restaurant would be happy to make something the way you want it. If you can get a grilled chicken breast over a salad at Burger King, you should be able to find something healthy at most sit-down restaurants.
6. If others are having dessert, have something, like coffee or tea
If you make it through the meal eating what you should, there’s still the dessert hurdle. If you’re trying to eat healthy and manage your weight, there probably isn’t a dessert option on the menu that’s going to fit well. If others are eating dessert, it’s a good idea to have something in your hand so you’re not tempted to share with them. Espresso, tea, or even a small bowl of berries can be satisfying and keep you from digging into someone else’s chocolate cake.

A Personal Story

I don’t have to travel too often, but this past week, I needed to be out of town for work Tuesday afternoon through Friday evening. I can’t say it was perfect, but I also didn’t feel I veered too far from my normal way of eating. I thought I’d share what I ate as an example of the suggestions above.

Tuesday Afternoon
4:30 pm, MSP Airport: Chicken salad with Caesar dressing from Chili’s to-go, skipped the croutons. Dark Roast coffee from Starbuck’s.
6:00 pm, in-flight: Package of peanuts & club soda
10:00 pm, Irvine, CA: Salad with some blue cheese dressing, pork chop, mixed vegetables and a glass of red wine.

6:00 am: Shake in hotel room made with whey protein and water
8:00 pm: Ready-to-drink protein shake and an Ostrim stick (ostrich jerky) from the local fitness center
12:00 pm: Lunch at a Persian restaurant. I wasn’t familiar with the food, which was ordered for us. I had some smaller tastes of a few of the items such as a yogurt dish, an eggplant dish and the rice. I ate more of the protein, which included some lamb, beef, pork and chicken, along with some of the vegetables which were ordered. Dessert was an espresso.
6:00 pm: Salad with Caesar dressing, skipped the croutons. Mixed vegetables and a filet steak with iced tea. Stopped by Trader Joe’s for a bar of 86% organic dark chocolate on the way back to the hotel. Had half of it that night.

4:00 am: Shake in hotel room made with whey protein and water, along with my other supplements before a 6:00 am flight.
9:30 am: Chicken salad with Cesar dressing from Quizno’s at airport in Salt Lake City during layover with a bottle of water.
12:30 pm: Stopped at a truckstop diner on way to meeting in Missoula. Chicken salad with iced tea.
7:00 pm: Amazing meal at Finn & Porter in Missoula. A few clams, salad with some blue cheese dressing, grilled asparagus, grass-fed filet steak and red wine.

5:00 am: Shake in hotel room made with whey protein and water, along with my other supplements.
8:30 am: After working out at a local fitness center and walking for about an hour to downtown Missoula, had an omelet with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, onions and sausage.
1:00 pm: Small package of almonds and a cup of coffee (unfortunately, there’s no restaurant at the Missoula airport like I thought there would be) before 2:00 pm flight home.


It isn’t always easy to make the right decision when you’re eating out. The variety of options and courses make it tempting to indulge. There’s also the voice in the back of your head that says “It’s only one meal” or “You deserve it.” Others who may not share the same goals as you can also try to talk you out of eating well. The truth is, shortly after the meal is over, the satisfaction from an unhealthy meal is gone. However, the satisfaction of making the right choice of food while enjoying a meal among friends or business people lasts long after the meal is over. Eat well. Live well.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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