Best of the Bad: The Best On-The-Go Options, According to Nutritionists
With limited restaurant options and the need to dine on the fly, eating healthy when you're traveling can be tough, but it is possible.
Fast food and fast casual restaurants tend to have lots of high-sodium menu items, which can increase fluid retention when you're already feeling swollen from a plane ride, explains Registered Dietitian Grace Goodwin Dwyer.
As a general rule, the best combo whether you're at a burger joint or a taco standis lean proteins and nutrient-rich veggies, which will help keep you full and ward off those snack attacks that might lead you to a vending machine.
We asked nutrition experts to help us navigate menus at common types of restaurants. Here's what they would order.
Focus on grilled or roasted lean protein, says Christine Bendana, a culinary nutritionist based and founder of the website PrepYoSelf.com. "Nowadays burger joints have a variety of protein options like grilled chicken that can contain fewer calories than the usual beef burgers or the crispy breaded items," Bendana says. Also, be sure to skip high-fat toppings such as bacon slices and extra cheese. Instead, add some fiber by including the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions.
If you do go the burger route, stick to one patty or go for a small burger or order one from the kid's menu.
Make your burger joint order more healthy by asking to keep the special sauces, which are often mayo-based, on the side. You can also request a whole grain bun or lettuce bun. When you're choosing sides, scan the menu for side salads with light dressings, seasoned veggies that are grilled or steamed. "If you can't pass on the fries, stick to the smallest portion size to satisfy the cravings," Bendana says.
A chicken taco with a soft or hard shell is a great choice, says Registered Dietitian Amanda W. Izquierdo. "This simple option provides you with lean protein and less sodium than some of the other options on most taco menus," she says. "Plus, because of their size, it's easier to practice portion control when you're eating tacos than if you ordered a larger entree like a burrito." To round out this order, add some fajita veggies and lettuce on top. If you like beans for the added fiber and protein, stick with black or pinto beans since refried beans are cooked in a fat source and typically have salt added to them, Izquierdo says.
A turkey, avocado and cheddar on whole wheat is Izquierdo's go-to deli order. Turkey is a lean protein and also tends to have less sodium than ham or roast beef. "The whole wheat bread offers you fiber, which can help you feel fuller for longer," she says. An dietitian-approved hack: Swap out heart-healthy avocado for mayo. Then, pile on the veggies like spinach, onion and peppers. If you're taking your sandwich to go, and don't plan to eat it right away, you might want to avoid the tomato slices, Izquierdo says, because they have a knack for making your sandwich soggy.
If you're at a fast-casual Asian restaurant, go with a veggie-and-protein combo, suggests Goodwin Dwyer. Some protein options could include seafood, tofu or chicken. Avoid ordering a big serving of noodles, which can make you feel sleepy or lethargic an hour or two after lunch, she says. Rice is a better alternative. Also, going for a grilled option and requesting light sauce will help you avoid bloat. If the restaurant has sushi, pick a roll that has fresh ingredients like fish, veggies and avocado instead of those that are crunchy or creamy, she suggests. Edamame is a healthy protein (ask to hold the salt!) and a soup is comforting and full of fluids to help prevent travel-related dehydration.
Steer clear of the sugar-loaded specialty coffees. Instead, Goodwin recommends going with a latte with normal or soy milk, which have protein and fat that will help nourish you. Unless you have allergies or dietary restrictions, avoid almond and oat milks because they lack nutrients, she points out. Also, scan the a la carte items, Goodwin recommends. Oftentimes coffee shops have granola bars, yogurts and a pack of nuts that will help you give you energy without weighing you down.
- When you are arranging your travel, do your research and see what nearby restaurants are available with healthy options and review their nutritional information online and plan your meals, Bendana says.
- Pack some health snacks, Bendana suggests, like fresh fruits, veggie sticks, cheese sticks, hummus or a trail mix with nuts and seeds. This way, if you run into a flight delay, you'll have a healthy choice on hand and won't need to hit up the vending machine that's loaded with chips and candies.
- Most importantly, be conscious of your choice of beverages, and be sure to also pack a lot of water. Most of the time, dehydration can cause the sensations of hunger which can lead to overeating or unnecessary snacking, Bendana explains.