On the road again

By Marcia Kyle | May 31, 2009

For the millions of Americans who hit the road in quest of a week or two of fun, adventure or simple relaxation, why not combine travel with wise food choices? All it takes is a little planning and you can enjoy a vacation that incorporates eating out once a day with your own snacks and mini-meals.

Most of us enjoy taking a break from day-to-day food preparation, but statistics show that Americans are stopping at fast food restaurants in record numbers during the work week. Why not vow to take a vacation from fast food? All you need is a small cooler, a few ice packs and foods from my "travel pantry."

What to pack

First let's start with what you can purchase before you leave home: individual servings of bottled water, a loaf of whole wheat bread or a box of whole wheat crackers, a jar of natural peanut or almond butter, individual boxes of dry cereal, a 1-pound bag of mixed dried fruit and a 1-pound bag of walnuts (unsalted, found in the baking section of the grocery store), several pounds of your favorite fruit, 4-ounce individual fruit cups packed in water, and some disposable spoons and knives. Canvas bags with a few pockets are sturdy; one can double as a shopping bag during the trip.

What to drink

A study at Cornell University showed that children who drink more than 16 ounces of sweetened beverages a day consume 244 extra calories, an excess that may contribute to childhood obesity. Sweetened beverages are defined as soda, fruit punch, bottled tea or drinks made from fruit-flavored powders, such as grape and lemonade. My travel pantry purposely excludes sweetened beverages and includes water as the only option (yes, children and even adults will drink water when thirsty).

Take charge of the beverage order for your children when dining in a restaurant by ordering milk. Did you know that beverages offer the highest profit margin for restaurants? A soft drink costs a few pennies to make in a soda fountain, but is priced as high as a bottled drink. Think how much it costs to make a cup of coffee or iced tea and you soon realize that the price of a glass of milk is of more value when it comes to nutrition and calories. An 8-ounce serving of skim milk has 86 calories and 300 milligrams of calcium, compared with a 12-ounce soda at 150 calories and zero nutrition. The new popular sweetened coffee drinks contain more than 300 calories.

What's for breakfast?

During the trip, figure out at which meal you will have the most time to sit down so that you aren't stuck with fast food. I like to make breakfast my meal out when traveling so plans for the day aren't interrupted. Order a scrambled egg, whole wheat toast and fruit. If leaving from home or a hotel, pack a single-serving box of whole grain cereal in your bag, add a handful of walnuts, dried fruit, and top with yogurt and eat on the road. Research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to be heavier. By starting the day with a meal, you may prevent overeating later in the day.

Roadside lunch

We all need to break up time on the road, so why not combine those necessary pit stops with a roadside lunch? Most highways now offer rest areas with picnic tables and room to throw a Frisbee. Now is the time for a peanut or almond butter sandwich on whole wheat, a piece of fresh fruit, a bottle of water and a few minutes of family playtime. It might even make you look forward to the drive.

What to order

Allow yourself some wiggle room when dining out. If you have chosen wisely at breakfast and snack time you can indulge now -- and that is an important part of enjoying your vacation. I like to use the Ten Percent Rule: if you need 2,000 calories a day, 200 calories (10 percent) can come from anything you want (1 scoop of chocolate ice cream in a sugar cone has 200 calories). Just remember to stick to a healthy eating plan for the remaining 90 percent.

Learn to steer clear of high-fat menu items -- descriptive words like batter-fried, creamed or scalloped, and sauces such as hollandaise and béarnaise signal trouble. Choose foods that are braised, broiled, roasted, grilled, steamed or poached. When eating Italian, select pasta with red sauce instead of cream or white sauce.

Buffets are my personal pet peeve. You pay more for the cheapest foods and are setting yourself up for overeating. Even salad bars can spell trouble if the salad is drenched in dressing or mayonnaise. Order just what you want and steer clear of meal deals that offer a large order of fries and soft drink. A sandwich with a garden salad (dressing on the side) and a glass of skim milk make for a satisfying lunch. One of the most memorable experiences my family had on our last trip was a healthful detour that included a stop at a U-pick-it farm. We ate berries fresh off the bush, reconnected with nature and got a much needed stretch break.

Here's to a healthy and fun-filled vacation. See you on the road.
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