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Tuesday
Mar192019

A guide to eating your best when away from home

When we’re in a hurry, trying to find healthy food options isn’t always convenient. Whether you’re in need of a quick snack or a healthy on-the-go meal, our hunger and cravings can get the best of us and sometimes give way to poor eating decisions.

No matter where you find yourself, remember that preparing or picking out healthier food options is possible – all you need is a sound strategy. As a general rule of thumb, our food selections should incorporate some type of lean protein, healthy fat and good-for-you carbohydrates so that we feel full, energized and less likely to succumb to cravings later on that may eventually lead to overeating.  

When preparing food ahead of time or searching for something to eat while you’re out and about, whatever situation it may be, I always encourage my clients to utilize a set of food parameters when they go to make a decision about what to eat. These include:

  • Free of artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners
  • Contain only natural sugar and little to no added sugar
  • Contain protein and fiber (key nutrients that promote satiety)
  • Be real, whole foods and made natural food ingredients

With these parameters in mind, it’s also important to acknowledge if you’re in need of a snack or an actual meal. By definition, a snack is light fuel to get you to the next meal, whereas a meal is meant to keep you satiated for at least 3-4 hours. When it comes to snacks, I prioritize getting enough protein and fiber, and for my meals I’ll try to include some healthy fats and carbohydrates, on an as needed basis.

Knowing there are so many different circumstances and situations that we can find ourselves in, we’ll go through a few common instances where making food decisions can be challenging and how you can tactical make healthy choices no matter your environment. 

BYOF: Eating on-the-go

If you know you’ll be running from gate-to-gate through the airport, jumping between meetings at the office, running errands around town or attending a last-minute recreational event, bringing your own food (BYOF) is one of the best decisions you can make. When in a rush we don’t necessarily have time to scan through labels and consider the food parameters, which makes it easy to grab the first thing in sight despite its nutritional value. 

To help avoid these type of frantic situations, one of my favorite go-to options is bringing pre-portioned protein powder (Vegan chocolate mint flavor) to mix with water in my blender bottle – you’re less likely to overeat on protein shakes the way that you could by eating trail mix, crackers, chips, cookies and other convenience foods. For those whose offices provided free snacks, this option is a real life-saver when it comes to feeling full and helping avoid the afternoon slump. 

Other quick options I like to bring along or have handy include: 

  • Almonds or pistachios (or other nuts and seeds) pre-portioned in zip-lock baggies
  • Pre-packaged grass-fed jerky or beef sticks 
  • Tuna packets
  • Homemade egg cups 
  • Meatballs 

The Corner Store: buying what’s best 

If bringing your own food isn’t an option, you may find yourself scavenging the shelves at the nearest corner store feeling overwhelmed at all of the pre-packaged options. Picking something to eat in this environment can be challenging as many of your options will be packed with sugar or made up of mostly processed carbohydrates. In this instance, grabbing something that is rich in protein and a good source of healthy fat will always be your best option. A few of my go-to favorites: 

  • Full fat cheese sticks
  • Full fat cottage cheese
  • Veggies and fruit + nuts/seeds
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Grass fed jerky  

If you find yourself in need of a meal, a solid option is to reach for a salad that has some type of protein like chicken, beef or fish and contains plenty of veggies. If you go this route, beware of the sweet-sounding vinaigrettes as they tend to include a lot of sugar. If a salad isn’t in the cards, at some places you can grab a hamburger, chicken or fish sandwich and toss the bun. If it comes with fries, sub with a veggie or side salad. 

We also can’t forget about the corner store’s not-too-distant cousin: the concession stand. Here I will opt for a piece of fruit knowing that there will be options that appear to be healthy (i.e. fruit smoothies loaded with sugar, bars with artificial sweeteners or low-calorie popcorn lacking nutritional value) but should be avoided whenever possible. If you’re working with a vending machine, go for the nut or seed mixes, jerky or healthier granola or protein bars – all of which are going to be better options than the trail mix, crackers, chips and cookies. 

Restaurants: your menu playbook 

Whether it’s a last-minute family dinner outing, or perhaps you’re traveling for business or on vacation enjoying a meal with loved ones, choosing what to eat at a restaurant can feel overwhelming. If clients find themselves in this situation, I recommend they follow this 6-step approach when dining out:

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, Caesar 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.

No Matter What: Don’t Forget Water

When we are busy, preoccupied or traveling from place-to-place, it can be so easy to prioritize things like food and neglect drinking enough water. Each day, we recommend clients drink half of their body weight in ounces of water, or more if you’re active. 

Recognizing most of our time during travel is spent sitting, it’s easier to think we don’t need to drink as much. If you’re on an airplane, be mindful that it can be very dry and the varying pressures can affect our levels of hydration and water retention. One more thing here: always bring or purchase water before you get on the airplane as you can’t guarantee the quality of water that the airline provides. If you’re in the car, you might not want to stop as often and may by inclined to bypass drinking water. If this is something you tend to do, remember that even slight dehydration can make you feel hungry when you really don’t need to eat and can give way to unnecessary eating. 

When all is said and done, do your best to plan ahead when it’s possible for your schedule. When you’re in a rush, having food options handy can help you avoid the headaches that can come with trying to find something that is healthy, satisfying and will get you to the next meal. 

If your schedule doesn’t allow for prep time, remember there are plenty of ways to make healthier food options at convenience stores or at restaurants when you’re equipped with the right guidelines and strategies. Our team of registered dietitians is always here to answer questions, so if you’re looking for some advice when it comes to healthy eating on-the-go, feel free to send us an email at weightloss@lt.life

Katharine Knafla, RD, LD – Life Time Assistant Program Manager, Lab Testing

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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