Holidays were designed to be all about family, food, friends, and, in the case of Thanksgiving, football. However, there is a huge caveat that millions of Americans have to deal with before they can fill their plates and partake in the festivities. It’s called traveling, and for many who pride themselves on their healthy habits at home, holiday travel can be riddled with more chutes than ladders when it comes to eating along the way.
As someone who logs over 4,000 miles a year to celebrate just one holiday with my family, the following tips are my personal road rules: Guidelines I’ve created (with feedback from registered dietician Jillian Buboltz, also a member of the 4,000+ club) and combined to ensure I stay on track while traveling.
Road Rules: Holiday Travel Healthy Eating Tips
1. The Golden Rule
I avoid foods that are golden, as that color usually indicates a past date with a deep fat fryer. Instead, I aim for brightly colored fresh foods—even if it means I have to take the time to pack them myself.
Jillian says: My husband and I take a few 8-hour road trips to Delaware each year to celebrate the holidays with his family. Even if I’m bringing a bunch of luggage and gifts, I always make room in the car for a cooler to store fresh snacks like fruit, veggie sticks, hardboiled eggs, and cheese.
2. Keep a Cache & Assess Your Stash
There’s a pocket in my backpack where I store a handful of non-perishable snacks so I’m always prepared and never have to refuel at the wrong place. Periodically, I check the inventory and make sure that it hasn’t become a collection of the free candy my bank hands out.
Jillian says: I keep a stash of dried apricots, almonds, and LARABARS in my glove box. In emergencies, this keeps me from stopping at a gas station and making an unhealthy choice. Make sure your stash is composed of items that are not prone to melting!
3. Respect and Stick with Your Standards
Even when I step off the plane and I’m starving, I’ve trained myself (time-permitting) not to settle for the first establishment in the nearest terminal’s food court. As my ancestors did thousands of years ago, I hunt for premium proteins and high fiber foods that will tie me over until well after take-off, but not fill me up too much because I know my mom will be expecting me to arrive with a holiday-sized appetite.
Jillian says: Just as I would on a daily basis, when I travel during the holidays I try not to consider the neon signs and restaurant chains. If I must eat fast food, I look for those chains with brochures that feature nutritional information.
4. Observe the Season (Within Reason)
Pumpkin-flavored anything is my pitfall when it comes to holiday travel. Fortunately I don’t like eggnog, otherwise the seasonal temptations would be overwhelming. Instead, I look for the smartest limited-time-only menu offerings. For example, a salad with turkey and cranberries can be just as seasonal but twice as satisfying.
Jillian says: To get in the holiday spirit without throwing healthy eating habits out the window, try homemade spiced mixed nuts and roasted pumpkin seeds. Also, don’t forget about in-season produce like apples and figs. If you’re driving for the holidays, you may even luck out and find a farm stand along the way.
5. Don’t Say No to H20
Especially during the holidays, I want to make it to my final destination as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean that I deny myself bathroom breaks. When I fly, I always go through TSA with an empty water bottle which I refill prior to boarding. Yes, I am that traveler who prefers the aisle seat and actually uses the lavatory.
Jillian says: Water is the best fluid to drink while traveling. It promotes hydration and minimizes the risk of eating extra calories and sugar—a risk that is extremely heightened during the holidays. Simply account for an extra stop or two when calculating travel time, and aim to drink 8oz. of water per hour when traveling.
Jillian Buboltz, MPH, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Coach at O2 Fitness