How to eat healthy on long haul flights, trains and road trips

Airplane food, road trip snacks, pit-stop meals – eating while you’re travelling on long haul flights and days-long drives can be tricky.

What should you be eating to avoid all the sodium, sugar and empty calories offered up on airplanes, trains and car rides?

“Maintaining healthy eating habits while travelling can be a challenge. From airplane meals to roadside restaurants and gas station snacking, many temptations can derail the best of intentions,” Susan Macfarlane, an Ottawa-based registered dietitian, told Global News.

“The worst part of [travel] from a nutrition perspective is you’re stuck. Whatever snacks they have on board, whatever food they decide to serve you, you can’t really get up and go to the next plane, can you?” Christy Brissette, a registered dietitian and founder of 80 Twenty Nutrition, said.

Here are their tips on what to eat and what to avoid while you’re travelling:

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Plan ahead

Be one step ahead of the game by figuring out what your food options are. Airports list restaurants online, while you can strategize over where to stop for food on road trips.

“When I flew to Australia, I contacted the airline ahead of time to request a special meal. I’ll usually ask for a vegetarian meal for dinner so I’ll get plenty of vegetables and a fruit plate for breakfast so I’ll get some fresh fruit and yogurt,” Brissette said.

READ MORE: 7 ways you’re sabotaging your ‘healthy’ breakfast smoothie

Always assume your options will be limited and loaded with sodium while being low in protein, fibre and nutrients.

“You can usually look up the menu and nutrition information for restaurants in advance so you aren’t stuck guessing,” Brissette said.

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Pack your snacks and meals

You know what’s within reach on flights and road trips: pretzels, cookies, and other processed snacks.

“I always bring healthy snacks when I travel for the plane ride, any unexpected layovers or delays, and sometimes extra to bring to my destination,” Brissette said.

READ MORE: 7 high-fibre foods that help with losing weight, feeling full

Protein is the trickiest part of eating on the go. Your airplane meals are often carb-heavy without many nutrients.

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“That’s why I typically bring nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, roasted chickpeas, and edamame and some bison jerky,” she said.

Brissette also makes a sandwich from home: whole grain bread, a lean protein such as roasted chicken, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and sprouts.

“That will be my meal and I can have some of the healthiest parts of the meal if one is served on the flight,” she explained.

READ MORE: Trying to lose weight? 10 tasty foods you’ll like and can eat guilt-free

Figure out what the restrictions are for food on the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s website, Macfarlane said.

She offers these suggestions as snack and meal options:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Bite-sized vegetables (from home so you aren’t paying airport prices)
  • Whole grain pita or crackers with hummus
  • Sandwiches or wraps
  • Grain salads
  • Pasta salads
  • Green salads
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Low-sugar granola bars or protein bars
  • Popcorn
  • Dry oatmeal (you can add hot water in flight)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Kale chips
  • Roasted chickpeas

These snacks can be packed up for road trips, too.

If you’re eating on board

If you’re stuck ordering in-flight, you have some options too.

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Many airlines offer a low-calorie menu, Macfarlane said.

READ MORE: Here’s a hierarchy of the healthiest sources of protein

“Choose an option that provides 300 to 400 calories and includes a source of lean protein, whole grain, fruit or vegetables. Be mindful of sauces, as these are not always included in the nutrition information,” Macfarlane said.

If you’re presented with a pasta or chicken entrée at mealtime on your flight, opt for the chicken.

“Then you can have the protein and salad or any vegetables that come with the meal. Bypass the roll and the dessert if you’re trying to limit your calories,” Brissette said.

Stay hydrated

Brissette always brings a refillable water bottle on her flights so she doesn’t have to rely on the small glasses of waters they offer during their rounds.

READ MORE: 9 diet and weight loss mistakes you’re making

She also packs herbal tea bags so she can have a warm beverage without the caffeine. Try to steer clear of caffeine, which could further dehydrate you or cut into your sleep on red-eye flights.

Try not to drink away your calories either, Macfarlane said. Keep an eye on liquid calories, as flights or trains often offer guests free complimentary drinks.

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Splurge, but don’t go overboard

There’s something about travel – and vacations – that make us indulge a little too much.

“Many people go into ‘vacation mode’ where they give in to cravings for snack foods, treats, alcoholic beverages and indulgent meals without considering the food’s nutritional attributes,” Macfarlane said.

READ MORE: How to lose belly fat

That’s OK, Macfarlane said, as long as you return to healthy eating habits once you get home.

Her concern is the “all or nothing” thinking when it comes to healthy eating. She prefers moderation all around.

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