How to Survive Eating on the Road: A Guide for Business Travelers
Eating healthy while traveling can be a monumental task. Tight schedules, short connections, stress, a lack of a routine, no access to a kitchen, “I’m in the vacation mode” mindset, a lack of healthy options, and too many tempting options. While splurging when on vacation is okay and completely normal, it shouldn’t become a lifestyle, and for those who travel frequently for work, splurging on calories CAN turn into a lifestyle.
Time and time again, if you look at the health of business professionals, the people who travel most frequently as part of their jobs tend to be the least healthy people in the company. Making a point to stay on track during work trips is important to maintain balance in your life and we’ve put together a list of tips to make working away from home, client meetings, and work events easier to navigate around a caloric budget.
To eat healthy on the road, you can’t just look at one piece of the puzzle (i.e. client dinners) you have to look at each of them because each part of your travel affects the other. Our goal is to help take you step-by-step through the travel process, from before you leave for the airport through returning home. There are many things that go into planning for a business trip but an often over looked aspect is planning the specifics of what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat. They call business trips, business trips for a reason, you’re focused on making the sale or servicing the client, the last thing you’re thinking about is what you’re going to eat. Creating a plan for what you’re going to eat on your trip will allow you to feel great during your trip and to focus on what matters, the business at hand. Below if the step-by-step list we feel is important in helping you plan for your next trip.
Create a Plan Before You Go
Eating on the Run (airport survival guide)
At the Office
Happy Hour Strategies
Navigating Client Meals
Food at the Hotel
When You Get Back Home
Create a Plan Before You Go
You’ve booked your tickets, hotel, and rental car. Your bags are packed and you have your itinerary. Now, what are you going to eat? You can’t afford to leave this up to “I’ll figure that out later” because nine times out of ten when push comes to shove, you’re going to make a poor food decision. I mean, let’s face it, how many times have you traveled where you think you’ll have more time to eat than you actually do? You likely will not have time to eat three square meals and if you do they won’t be evenly spaced throughout the day. The number one piece of advice that we’d like to give you, is to BE PREPARED. We recommended keeping a number of healthy snacks stowed away in your carry on or your luggage. If you can make it to a grocery store to get some of these snacks before you leave, that will keep you from over indulging on convenience store snacks. An added bonus of making it to the grocery store before you leave is that you can grab a healthy frozen or refrigerated meal (depending on how long you’re traveling) for the day you get back, which will be talked about in more depth later on.
Research Places to Eat - Knowing where to go and what to eat when you’re unable to cook for yourself is important when traveling. Doing a bit of research into the places around where you’ll be working and staying can make eating on your own much easier. Many restaurants provide their menu online, so looking into them before you go out to eat can make choosing a healthier option much easier. This is also key when having client meals, mentioned below.
Day One of Your Trip - First, we must consider the day you leave. How long will you be traveling: is it a quick flight to a nearby city or a long day of travel with layovers in different places? If you know you’re not going to have much time throughout the course of your travel day to eat, then plan for a big breakfast, but if you know that you will have plenty of downtime between flights and when you arrive at your destination, plan to eat a few light meals throughout the day.
Eating on the Run
If your business trip includes a road trip and you don’t have time to plan, below are some tips to keeping your snacks healthy at gas stations.
Focus on refrigerated + fresh foods.
Avoid the “chip aisle”.
Look for healthy snacks that include protein/fats (they’ll keep you fuller longer).
Check calories – some healthy foods can be high in calories, so keep an eye on the nutritional information as well as portion sizes for items (i.e. 2 servings in 1 package).
Low or no calorie beverages – sparkling water, unsweet tea, coffee etc.
Chew gum - you cannot eat/drink and chew gum at the same time.
If you’re flying, have a layover and/or are planning to eat at the airport, we’ve compiled a list of healthy restaurants in all the major international airports around the United States, which you can find below. They are sorted by airport and each restaurant shows its cuisine, where it’s located, type of meals they offer, if the calories are listed on the menu, the price range, and if the restaurant is considered healthy or if they only have certain menu items that are healthy. This handy guide can help with those long days of travel where one usually resorts to quick, unhealthy options.
At the Office
After your initial travel to a new city, you’ll probably end up getting right to work (unless it’s an all-day travel day.) This means working in a new office that might not have the same eating culture that you’re used to. Below are some things to consider when it comes to eating at a different office.
Bring Your Own – Not everyone is going to eat healthy in the office and some places might not have good options lunch or snack wise. If you’re unsure what will be available to eat, pack your own food (if you have time). This allows you to stick to a healthy diet even when the rest of the office is eating from the vending machine. If you’re unable to make food, stopping at a local grocery store on your way in is a good place to find pre-made lunches that are healthy.
Treat Day – Sometimes offices will have doughnuts or pizza (especially when they have out-of-town visitors) which are really tempting and perfectly okay. Just be aware of the calories and how much you’re eating of them. If you can, bring a small salad with you that can help cut down how much of the “treats” you eat. If you end up only being able to eat the food offered, lighten up your other meals throughout the day to avoid eating too many calories overall. It’s also okay to eat a smaller portion but cutting it in half.
Catering – It may not be open to suggestion, but if so, offering up healthy choices for catered office lunches or events can not only help you, but can help your co-workers as well. Many catering services have a wide variety of options so even if you’re suggesting a company that has healthy food, the chance they have items for everyone is pretty good. Our suggestion is to check out ezCater – a web and phone-based app that lists catering options based on your location. It offers filters for cuisine (even healthy options), price point, distance, and ratings/reviews.
Happy Hour Strategies
After a long day, for special events, and for visiting employees, work-place happy hour is a common occurrence, an event that can really rack up the calories. It can be hard saying no to happy hour in a different office, so below we’ve created a few tips to avoid drinking all your evening calories and/or lowering your defenses and splurging on a high calorie meal you wouldn’t normally order.
Don’t Drink or Order a Virgin Version - Drinking isn’t a necessity when attending these events but if you’re worried about getting pressured into having a cocktail, drink a glass of water or diet soda in a cocktail glass. Most bartenders will happily make you a light beverage sans-alcohol that looks like you’re drinking a regular drink.
Have a Light Beer - There are a large array of different breweries, brands, and types of beers so most places have low calorie options which means even after having a few beers, your calorie budget won’t go out the window. For example: Stout and IPAs are usually high in calories, around 200-300 per 12oz whereas beers with “light” (Bud light, Corona light) in the name tend to be only about 100 calories per 12oz.
Keep Your Mixers Light - Drinking five vodka-red bulls or jack-n-cokes means you’re not only consuming calories from the liquor but also from the mixer. If you pick lower calorie mixers, like water, club soda, or diet soda, your overall calorie intake will be much lower.
Drink Slowly - There are plenty of ways to do this, ordering liquor on the rocks to sip on or ordering tall drinks that come with more mixer taking you longer to drink. Drinking slower will allow you to enjoy the extent of happy hour without over consuming calories (or “overconsuming”).
Alternate Water and Alcohol - For every alcoholic beverage you consume, drink a glass of water. Happy hours are only so long so if you’re stuck in a conversation while drinking a glass of water, you simply won’t have time to drink too many alcoholic beverages.
Navigating the Client Meal(s)
Many times, traveling for business means meeting with clients and client meals (lunch or dinner) which is a good way to get to know them in a casual setting. However, as everyone knows, restaurant meals tend to be high in calories and without proper planning, your calorie budget for the day can go haywire. Keep the following in mind if you know you’ll be having client meals while on your business trip.
Do Some Research – If you know the restaurant that you’ll be eating at, check online for the menu – most restaurants post their menu – and figure out what is the healthiest thing you can eat ahead of time. This makes the decision when you’re at the restaurant a bit easier. Some restaurants have calories listed on their menus which is really helpful when ordering, however it is very difficult to order the salad when that cheeseburger and fries are staring in the face. It can be hard at some places to find a suitable low-calorie meal, so there’s nothing wrong with enjoying an appetizer or just a few lower calorie sides. Other restaurants will have lower calorie or healthy sections – those should be your go-to.
Plan Ahead – If you don’t know where you’re going or they don’t offer a menu a head of time, plan to eat lighter meals the rest of the day. This ensures that you won’t over eat if you end up at a place that doesn’t offer lower calorie items. Also – suggest walking to where you are eating, if it’s within walking distance, this gives you a bit of exercise and allows time for chit-chat with clients or partners.
The Menu – Most dishes on menus are described for the guest, this should make finding healthier items easier. Look for items that are steamed, poached, broiled or grilled because this means that the items are usually cooked with less fat (or healthier fats) and tend to not have other high calorie ingredients (cream, breading etc.). If the restaurant seems to only have fried or breaded items, ask your server if the chef can make you a grilled item. Most restaurants also offer lower calorie side dishes (side salads, steamed vegetables) which can be replaced for higher calorie ones (French fries, onion rings, etc.).
Portion Sizing – Some restaurants have large portions sizes meaning calories are going to be fairly high. If there isn’t a way to make the dishes healthier (salad vs fries, grilled vs fried) reduce the amount of your meal you eat. Ask your server to box up half of it and take it back to your hotel (if there is a mini fridge). This not only reduces your overall intake for the meal but can also give you another meal (dinner or lunch the next day).
Beverages – stick to diet sodas, water, or unsweetened tea. If the rest of the group is drinking (and you don’t want to explain why you’re not) order a liquor with water, tall, or ask your server if they offer lower calorie beers (McUltra, Light beer) and drink them slowly to avoid ordering multiples.
Food at the Hotel
Where you stay when you are traveling for work, be it a few short days or an extended stay, can greatly affect how you eat while you’re not at home. Knowing what you’re going to have for accommodations during your stay can help with making a plan allowing you to figure out how to stay on track. Some hotels only offer so much as a coffee machine, some offer a full-blown kitchen with utensils, and many are in between. We’ve created a guide to help you know what you’re going to get depending on where you’re going. The guide offers hotels – top level to lower level – from the 5 major hotel chains around the world offering you a glimpse at the amenities each brand offers.
If you have kitchen amenities available, locating the nearest grocery store to pick up food to cook for the week can really save you money and calories. Plan out meals and make a shopping list before you go, so you won’t be taking out a large chunk of your down time to plan, shop, and cook. If you do this often enough, you should be able to find a couple of “go to” meals such as a quinoa salad, tuna salad or chicken salad that becomes your main course and helps you establish a nice travel routine.
When You Get Back Home
As mentioned above, travel days are long and tiring, but the returning day can be even worse. When you finally get home after a long day of flights, you have to unpack, do laundry, plan for the following day (if during the work week), and the last thing you want to do is go to the store and cook yourself a healthy meal. This causes many people to resort to take-out or delivery after a trip, but it can be avoided if planned ahead of time. Before heading out for your trip, plan to have a healthy, easy to cook meal waiting when you get home, it’ll save you from over consuming and eating unhealthy take-out food. Below are some ideas:
Long Shelf-Life Foods– There are plenty of healthy, perishable foods that will last for a good while in the fridge. Buying these before your trip will mean no trip to the grocery store when you get home. Examples of these include eggs, cheese, smoked fish, lunch meat, onions, potatoes, squash, carrots, cabbage, celery, apples, and citrus fruits. Combine these with rice, pasta, or canned items (sauces, vegetables, beans) to create an easy, but healthy meal.
Bagged Frozen Meals – There are a huge variety of frozen meals, individual or family sized, that are healthy and perfect for a low effort dinner. With multiple cuisines, types, and sizes, finding something that suits you shouldn’t be a problem. The only suggestion when it comes to choosing, is to check the sodium content as some frozen dinners can be high in salt.
There you have it. Traveling can cause a huge rift in your weight loss/weight management plans, but it doesn’t have to. Making a plan for where to go, how to eat and drink, in and out of the office can make a huge difference in your caloric intake. Making a goal to lose weight/not gain weight shouldn’t be something that gets turned off just because you’re not at home. It is possible to keep your calories in check on the road. The more you practice some of these steps, the more routine they become, and the easier they will be to implement into your travel routine. Although we weren’t able to cover everything in this guide, we hope that we’ve helped you at the very least get a good start.