Eating well in today’s busy world can be hard, as it takes a little time to plan and prepare healthy meals. Once you get in a rhythm, though, it’s generally manageable and you feel so much better knowing what you are eating and how it was prepared. (Hopefully, with love in addition to some healthy ingredients!) Eating well on the go, however, is tougher: you either need to rely on what is there, which is often not the healthiest option, or you really need to plan in advance and bring food along.
Many of you have asked for ideas for healthy snacks and meals that you can bring from home, while others have requested guidance on how to make the best choices when you have to eat out. I wish there was a secret I could share that would make it all easy but there really isn’t a magic bullet for eating well away from home. There are, however, some strategies and tactics you can employ that my family and I have used successfully to stay healthy and fit when we’re away from home.
The first tip is no secret, whether you are trying to lose or manage your weight, or simply wanting to eat healthier: eat a balanced breakfast. Breakfast sets the tone for your whole day: eating a healthy one will prevent cravings and sugar crashes that send you looking for snacks mid-day. Studies show that people who eat a high carb breakfast (e.g., coffee and a bagel or doughnut) eat 80% more calories throughout the day, so start yours with a meal complete with healthy proteins and fats.
Eggs, unprocessed/nitrate-free meats, low or no fat dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.), or a breakfast cereal of oatmeal or quinoa will fill you up, give your body the fuel it needs to take on the day, and prevent snack cravings. And if you are traveling, take advantage of the hotel/restaurant doing the cooking and cleaning up and sit down to a hearty breakfast.
When possible, pack your lunch and snacks to take with you, again remembering to ensure that you have protein and fat included to sustain and nourish you. For lunch, 100% whole wheat or whole grain wraps with meat and veggies make a great choice, as do sandwiches on similar bread (sprouted grain bread such as Ezekial is even better). Another alternative is to wrap the ingredients in a lettuce leaf instead of bread. I rarely eat sandwiches but if I do, I’ll usually take at least one of the bread slices off when I sit down to eat: two pieces helps keep it neat and contained for transport, but one is more than enough for me. And sometimes, if I buy a sandwich and it’s on high sugar white or wheat bread, I just eat the inside and toss the bread.
Salads are always a great option, especially when topped with salmon or chicken or other proteins. The trick with salads is to avoid the unhealthy toppings of processed cheeses and creamy salad dressings. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (self-poured) is the best choice; next would be a prepared vinaigrette (while it won’t have the fat content of a creamy dressing, prepared dressings are made with cheaper omega 6 heavy vegetable oils and often contain MSG or other flavorings).
Also consider soup: soup is hearty and filling and can be eaten year round, hot or cold. Plus, you can make a big batch over the weekend and have some for lunch for several days. If soup doesn’t fill you, or you consume one without much protein, try pairing it with half a sandwich. Another option is to have a mix of many small bites. This option is also great for take along snacks and the non-refrigerated choices are good to have on hand in your car or your desk drawer for when hunger sets in.
Examples could include a few 100% whole grain or whole wheat crackers with organic almond or peanut butter, a scoop of cottage cheese, a slice or two of raw milk cheese or goat cheese, or tuna mixed with chopped apple or celery. Vegetables such as broccoli, celery, carrots, tomatoes, or sliced peppers can be dipped in some hummus, a handful of nuts is something you can stash in a purse or briefcase; same with a healthy cereal bar such as a Clif bar (while not ideal, it contains fiber and protein and really holds you over until your next meal). You can also roll up slices of uncured ham or other nitrate free meats or pack a small container of Greek yogurt (we love Fage). Keep a supply of hard-boiled eggs in your fridge to grab and go and have some organic apples, grapes, a banana or an orange around as well.
If you have to eat out, and let’s face it, we all do at times, whether it’s a business lunch, a meal in the airport, or a celebratory dinner with family, there are ways to make good choices and not feel deprived. For lunch, look for a deli (especially family run where they make homemade soups, etc.) or restaurants such as Panera Bread or Au Bon Pain. These are places where you can get soups, salads and sandwiches, keeping in mind the same guidelines around condiments, add-ons, dressings and breads.
If you find yourself at a fast food restaurant, or someplace with limited options, look for either a grilled chicken sandwich or a burger; leave off the ketchup, barbeque sauce or other sauces and go for mustard instead. Lettuce and tomato and onions or mushrooms are fine, but skip the processed cheese and either toss the bun or make it a convertible. Look for other side options besides French fries: if there aren’t any, say no. If you take them, you know you’ll end up eating them because we all hate to throw away food.
If you’re at a sit down restaurant, most will substitute a small side salad or another side of veggies for the starch if you ask. If you must have a starch, choose rice or sweet potato or even pasta. Because of the protein that is bound as the pasta is made, pasta is a surprisingly good choice, especially if you leave the butter sauces off and go with a red sauce, preferably with vegetables. For the occasional special dinner, Italian is not necessarily a bad choice: if you choose a protein main dish with a small side of pasta and avoid the cheese heavy and breaded options. (In Italy, dinner is often a meat main dish with pasta as an appetizer; in other words, a small plate of pasta then a protein as the main course.)
Another good ethnic choice is Japanese. Sushi is often high in mercury and should not be eaten frequently; but as an occasional indulgence you can enjoy. Other choices include steamed rice bowls with meat and vegetables or noodle dishes with the same (but try to avoid soy sauce.) If you are tempted to eat fried foods, one of the better places to do so is often at a Japanese restaurant. To get the crispy tempura batter, or high heat stir fries, they typically use rice bran oil, one of the only oils that can sustain the high heat required for frying without turning rancid. Ask if they use rice bran oil and if they do, and fried is calling you, make it your treat for the week.
One of the benefits of eating out is that you can try new foods and new ways of preparing them. So sample a different kind of fish or food that you typically wouldn’t cook and definitely try new vegetables. Restaurants often have wonderful ways of presenting dark green leafy veggies (my kids and I had braised spinach and kale in garlic and it was a huge hit that we now make at home regularly).
Whether it is a Thai curry, an Indian veggie dish, a puttanesca sauce, or steamed or grilled veggies on a platter, make the veggies the star and eat them along with some non-fried protein and minimize the starches. Look for grilled, roasted, baked or broiled proteins and avoid fried or sautéed to the extent possible (they are likely sautéing in expensive vegetable oils or butter substitutes).
If it’s not a sauce-based dish like curry or marinara for example, ask for the sauce on the side. My favorite dish in the world is eggs benedict and when I enjoy it on a special occasion, I ask for the sauce on the side and I don’t eat the English muffin. I enjoy all the flavor and richness of the dish and indulge completely, but even as I do, I cut out the parts that I won’t miss and I control the portion size of sauce. Most of us are used to asking for salad dressings on the side, but you can also do so for many main dishes.
At the end of the day, it’s important to do the best you can, but don’t stress out too much if you make a less healthy choice: make the decision to add an extra glass of water or 15 minutes to your walk and let it go. And keep in mind that as important as what you eat is how you eat. When you eat on the run, standing up, in your car, at your computer, the body is taking in food under stressed conditions. In that state, it will not be able to absorb nutrients and it will store more calories as fat. Your digestion basically shuts down under stress and eating on the go is perceived as stress by your body. Sit down, take time to eat at a table or on a park bench, chew slowly, savor your meal and take a break from the busyness of your day.
And lastly, while we think about and plan so many things in advance, we often leave food to the last minute. The more you can plan ahead, the more likely you will be able to make healthier choices. This means thinking ahead when you shop, preparing and prepping foods when you get home or on the weekend (chop veggies, put snack size portions into separate containers that are ready to grab and go), and make double batches of soup or meals over the weekend. Freeze individual portions so that you have your own healthy frozen foods, ready to heat and serve.
I found some great glass containers with plastic lids at the Crate and Barrel outlet; they sell them individually or in a set. They work well because they are glass which means that they can go in the microwave if you are in a pinch at the office, they are clear so you can see exactly what it in them and know what you’ve got, and they are more elegant to eat out of if you take them and use them as your dish. It makes lunch on a park bench that much more enjoyable to be eating out of a real container instead of plastic or paper. And yes, I bring a real knife and fork, too!
But you don’t need fancy containers; you can pre-pack snacks into plastic bags and have them on the shelves of your fridge to grab and go for work snacks, snacks for the kids in between school and sports, or something to grab if you come home starving. The key to making good food choices, at home or away, is planning in advance and making sure you don’t wait too long between eating. When you are hungry, you’ll grab what’s easiest or feels most satisfying and that may not be the best choice.
And since most of us drink one-third of our calories, next week, we’ll look at healthy liquid options at home or away, to keep you away from soda, and energy and sports drinks.
To your wellness and health: your true wealth!
Author: Inger Pols is the Editor of the New England Health Advisory and Author/Creator, Finally Make It Happen, the proven process to get what you want. Get a free special report on The Truth About Sugar: It’s Not All Equal at www.IngerPols.com
Photo Source: Microsoft Clip Art