How to eat healthy while traveling

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Traveling in the new year? That usually does not go well with the dreaded news years resolutions to finally eat healthy and lose some weight. Airport, train stations, and rest stops are not known for their healthy food options. While it is getting better (think apples and bananas at Starbucks and around most food stores at airport terminals), things can get pretty dire pretty fast.

More than once this year I have been stuck in an airport terminal after everything had closed, or before anything had opened. Almost worse is when that is irrelevant, because all options available are not just unhealthy but also not even really that tasty. I am a firm believer in eating excess calories and fat only when I really love something and it is well made. I’ll rather indulge at my favourite restaurant, than at an airport burger shack serving cold fries.

When traveling, your best bet is to prepare in advance and pack or plan ahead. Here are some tips to keep your travel as healthy as you’d like it to be:

  1. Airlines offer gluten free, low fat, low sodium options, and other options that fit special dietary requirements. It remains airline food though, and when I pack my own food I often just opt out of the food on the plane altogether. However, recently I ordered a fruit plate on Air Canada (one of the special meal options), and it worked out great. I never like airplane food, but when it’s there I usually do eat it. To avoid the additional unappreciated calories I went with the fruit plate and packed some snacks ahead of time. The fruit plate was fresh and it was entirely healthy. I don’t think many people order it because even the crew member giving it to me was impressed with it. The extra nice surprise was that for breakfast I got a banana and a plum, instead of a sticky slice of faux banana bread (the airline version of which I hate).
  2. Make some of your own granola bars and pack these for on the way.
  3. Cut up veggies and take them along. The night before a flight I like to chop up cucumbers, carrots, and sweet peppers. These all keep quite well, and I can grab them out of the fridge just as I am leaving home.
  4. Fruit travels well and is an easy snack to grab and eat on the go. My favourites are green apples and pears.
  5. Boiled eggs make a great snack as well. I pack them well in ziplocks bags and eat them fairly quickly.
  6. Sandwiches are a classic. You can make healthier sandwiches than the ones you can buy at the airport. Use whole grain bread and some cooked turkey, chicken or beef with some lettuce and whatever else strikes your fancy. Nut butters make a nutritious and vegetarian alternative.
  7. Mini salads are a refreshing snack on the plane as well. You can use up a lot of left over vegetables in your salad, or cut them up as finger food. Dip is a bi trickier because that is considered a liquid, but you can throw a little bit in a corner of your salad container before leaving home or eat your salad before going through security.
  8. Smoothies are great snacks before going through security as well. I have a long trip from my home to Heathrow airport, so I take something along for the tube ride and by the time I make it to the airport I am done with my smoothie. Better yet, I take it in a reusable bottle and I rinse it out at the airport to fill it up with water after I go through security. Water bottles are expensive at the airport, and it is important to hydrate when you fly. The problem is, the tiny cups of water they give you on the plane do not add up to sufficiently hydrate you if you were on the ground. Let alone at thirty thousand feet with any moisture being sucked out of the air around you.

Take into account restrictions on traveling with any food. Assume you need to consume everything you take with you before arriving at your destination. For example; you cannot bring fresh fruit and veg (or meat and dairy) into the USA and Canada. Many other countries have similar restrictions. You are, in most cases, fine to take it on the plane and eat it on your way. One example of an exception here is traveling to the USA from Toronto. You clear American customs in Toronto at the airport, meaning you cannot take any food passed security. This is a bit annoying, but you can have a quick bite before going through security. And,…never forget your reusable water bottle!


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".

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