We get a lot of questions from readers who want to know how to eat healthy on the road.
Many of you travel for work, and we know how tough it can be when you’re relying on restaurants to meet your nutritional needs.
As a writer I travel a lot too, and I face similar challenges. And so I thought it might be helpful to take you through the strategies I used on my most recent work trip.
I was in Namibia last month, doing a bit of exploring for a travel magazine. Road trips like that always mean very long days, little to no food while on the move, and eating what I can find at the start and end of each day. Sleep also takes a backseat to sitting up at night in the tent writing my notes.
A schedule like that will completely derail your fitness plans unless you’re armed with a solid plan.
I got lucky this trip because the Land Rover I was given was fully kitted out. Cooking gear and fire starting equipment stowed away in a built in drawer and in several kit bags stacked in the back. I also had a fridge that ran off it’s own separate battery.
But none of those things are of any use if you don’t take advantage of them. That means sticking to your plan even when you’re tired and rushed.
Whenever I passed through a town, I did two important things: 1) filled up those long range tanks with diesel, and 2) purchased fresh meat for that evening, eggs for the next morning, and whatever veggies I could get my hands on. If I wouldn’t see another town for X number of days, I adjusted the quantities accordingly.
Getting into a routine is important for any fitness plan. And my routine was always the same. Find a nice spot to camp. Pop up the roof tent. Start a fire to build a nice bed of cooking coals. And sip an ice cold Windhoek beer from the cooler while preparing the vegetables and setting up the rest of my camp.
You can see from the photos that I was cooking at night. That wasn’t part of the plan but it happened a lot. Namibian distances are vast, and I like to wander off track. I never took the easier routes according to the outfitter’s plan. What can I say, I hate being told what to do…
With that sort of schedule I pretty much always made camp at sunset. Yeah, cooking at night was a pain because of the huge moths. But the unbelievable field of stars in the desert made every dinner a celestial show.
On the night these photos were taken I was camped in Damaraland, where I grilled fresh springbok steaks and veggies. The meat was delicious and didn’t need any seasoning. For the veggies, I just washed and peeled, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled on a little salt and pepper, wrapped it in foil and shoved it into the coals. And we washed it all down with a silky smooth bottle of South African wine —for the antioxidants and bioflavonoids, of course 😉
This was the pattern for meals we cooked ourselves: whatever fresh veggies we had access to, paired with oryx, kudu, springbok or zebra on the grill. Lots of protein and very few carbs. It was easy to eat healthy with such an abundance of fresh food. Namibia has the most incredible free-range meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.
We also wrapped a couple potatoes in foil every few days and shoved them into the coals to bake. That’s what we had access to out there in the wilds. And with a little butter and salt they were just the thing.
Want to save some time in the morning? Stick a pot of hot water on the coals and boil eggs for next day’s breakfast while you’re sipping that last glass of wine under the stars.
Eating healthy on the road doesn’t get any easier than that!
Voice from another room: “Sure, that’s nice for you Mr. Real Job Avoider! But the rest of us don’t have a kitted out Land Rover with a fridge in the back!”
Fair enough. But you probably have access to a lot more than you think…
Most business hotels have a mini bar in the room. You can empty that out — by placing the items in a laundry bag or a drawer, not by drinking them! Or better yet, ask the housekeeping staff to remove them. Voila! Your very own fridge.
If you’re driving, bring along a small cooler. I used to do that back in my miserable temp worker days, when I had to share a room with a colleague on the road. We stopped at a grocery store every day after work and bought enough healthy foods for our dinner and the following day’s lunch. And we prepared it in our room using the underside of the cooler lid as a table.
We ate a lot healthier than the other guys in our group. And we saved half our per diem cash by avoiding restaurants. Fat off your waistline AND extra money in your pocket. Not a bad deal.
Not driving or don’t have access to a cooler?
No problem. Stop at a convenience store and buy one of those disposable styrofoam coolers. It’ll keep your food cool overnight if you shop day by day. No, styrofoam may not be all that environmentally friendly. But sometimes you’ve just gotta make the most of the tools you have access to.
If you have a rental car, you’ve got even more options. When I’m on the road in North America, I look for Whole Foods or a similar grocery store. If they’ve got a salad bar, I stock up and eat there. If not, I can usually find packaged salads near the deli section. Grab one of those, a pack of cherry tomatoes, cheese (a small block, cottage cheese, or even Greek yogurt), and some sliced smoked turkey and you’re all set to eat a healthy meal in your room.
Yes, it takes a little effort. But it’s much easier than you think. And hey, you’ll even save money.
Here are couple more strategies I used in Namibia when staying at the occasional lodge…
Be careful with that continental breakfast!
Those free continental breakfasts that are included with your room can be a minefield of sugary carbs.
Avoid that tray of sweet pastries and those plastic dispensers of breakfast cereal. A morning sugar surge will send your eyeballs spinning in strange directions, and it’ll leave you feeling like crap for the rest of the day. That temporary energy will also abandon you right when you need it most. And the last thing you want is a sugar crash while fighting the steering wheel through Skeleton Coast sands.
Instead, stick to a small portion of eggs, a little cheese, and grab whatever veggies they have on offer. Even better if they’ll do up an omelet — there’s no better start to a day on the road than a cheese omelet loaded with spinach!
If you’re still hungry after that, maybe take a little yogurt and fruit. But eat those proteins and veggies first so you don’t go crazy on sweeter fare.
Plan snacks in advance
Arm yourself with snacks in advance. That way you won’t go crazy on junk like chocolate bars and crisps if you stop for fuel and your defences are down. Healthy snacks will also keep your energy levels on an even keel. And that’s important if your road trip is a stressful one, whether the demands are largely physical or mental.
I kept a cooler on the floor in the back seat of my Land Rover. I filled it with bottles of cold water in the morning, straight from the fridge. It didn’t always keep things cool by the end of a long desert day, but it did keep the dust off at least. For snacks, I chose biltong (dried meat). It’s a staple food in Namibia, and you can find several types at any deli counter. It was the perfect healthy protein snack to gnaw on as I navigated that beast through washed out roads and over teeth-rattling corrugations.
So there you have it. My top tips for eating healthy on the road, brought to you from the wide open spaces of the Namib Desert.
Got your own favourite tip for taming that business trip bulge? Share it with me in the comments below!
All Photos © Tomoko Goto 2011