New cities, famous restaurants, experimental dishes, adventurous cuisines and an extremely generous dining budget are what every culinary connoisseur’s dreams are made of. Such is life when you travel for work.
You’re in Philadelphia so you need to try a cheesesteak.
You’re in Chicago and you must have a slice of deep dish.
When in Buffalo, wings are a necessity.
Calories consumed in Vegas stay in Vegas, right?
You get my point. Everywhere you travel, whether it be for work, or for pleasure, will present you with tasty temptations that you know aren’t exactly the healthiest. But it’s not healthy to deny yourself completely either. So how do you find that middle ground? What is this elusive balance that everyone talks about?
I wish I could tell you I had all the answers. But like everyone else out there, I constantly struggle on the road when it comes to feeling a little guilty about my choices. It’s especially hard after weeks on end eating out at restaurants, getting drinks with coworkers, and feeling like I could just eat lettuce for the rest of my life!
But here’s the thing. There is no need to feel any guilt as long as you are consciously making decisions throughout the trip that are both indulgent and intelligent.
Yes, it’s important to treat your body right and to fuel it properly. I’m assuming it’s not your custom to guzzle down deep dish pizza for breakfast lunch and dinner. But indulging in a slice (or 3) while you’re on your first trip to Chicago is an indulgence that you have every right to take!
This is where some preemptive food-research (the best kind of research there is) can come into play. Before your head out on your trip, figure out what the favorite local foods are and decide what you definitely need to chow down on during your trip.
I always factor in at least one donut shop, duh. In Toronto it might be poutine while a trip to Nashville calls for some fried hot chicken. Knowing before you go means that you have consciously made the decision to indulge – it’s an experience, and an enjoyable one at that – and there is absolutely no place for guilt!
It also means you can read up and find the best spot to get the dish you’re looking for. Nothing is worse than a disappointing meal when you’ve planned for it!
SPACE THEM OUT
You probably don’t want to have an entire day of indulgences because then you’ll have a stomach ache at night and nothing left to look forward to!
You’re out at dinner and the waiter launches into a long spiel about their world-famous something or other that’s been written about by Anthony Bourdain and is an absolute must order. You hadn’t planned on eating deep fried bacon with a cheddar cheese dipping sauce but hey – it’s a must order. Sometimes, there are things ya just gotta go for!
*This is an entirely fabricated scenario, though deep fried bacon in a cheese dipping sauce couldn’t ever be bad, could it?
Now that we’ve covered the indulging part, let’s talk about the being intelligent part. It’s not as fun, but I promise it will help keep you feeling balanced during your travels.
ACCEPT THE LOSS OF CONTROL
This first piece of this puzzle means that acknowledging that your eating habits on a trip are not going to be the same as they are at home. You won’t have your kitchen or farmers market or your favorite chopped salad spot for grab and go lunches full of nutrients. Sometimes, the best option might be a Caesar salad with croutons AND parmesan cheese (gasp!) But once you relinquish that control (and you don’t really have a choice) all that’s left to do is make the most intelligent choices that you can (and want) to make.
THE NEXT BEST CHOICE
I’ll be honest – a lot of times you won’t feel like making the intelligent choice. You’ll be at a restaurant where everything on the menu sounds phenomenal and a salad just sounds sad and boring. Don’t order the sad and boring salad because then you’ll be sad and boring too. Order “the next best thing” and try to find that sweet spot between making your taste buds happy and giving your body something that is at least somewhat good for your insides.
When you’re eating a catered lunch with only a few options or you’re out with your department at a pre-determined restaurant, there’s often not much you can do to make it a “healthy” meal. To be a little harsh – you need to deal with it. It’s really not the end of the world.
Here are a few instances where I’ve found intelligent, healthy choices to be the most possible while traveling for work.
You could easily eat McDonald's and other fast food while you're flying - it's convenient, easy to grab, and it's there - tempting you with it's shiny neon signs and scents of freshly fried fries.
OR you could come prepared with snacks that you're able to carry-on with you you. A bag of cut up veggies, healthy popcorn, granola bars, fruits, sandwiches, salads - you can get through security with all of it! (Just don't pack a yogurt - I've had many a Chobani confiscated at security!)
If you show up to the airport empty handed, have no fear! Many airport shops are now stocked with tons of healthy snacks. Plus it's a work trip, so you can splurge on some healthier options even if they aren't exactly cheap. KIND bars, Justin's Peanut Butter, Biena chickpeas - load up on healthy snacks so you're not tempted to grab the M&Ms, Cracker Jacks or Big Macs.
When I'm on the road, we're usually working out of trailers or other untypical office spaces. People are running around all day and work up quite an appetite. One thing that we always have is a snack table.
And that snack table sits there and tempts you alllllll day. With Snickers and trail mix and granola bars and Goldfish and popcorn and Doritos and every snack you could imagine.
I once took a Munchkin, cut it in half, and made it into a Peanut Butter Banana sandwich. The snack table clearly won that day.
To combat the temptation to grab a handful of Brookside chocolate covered blueberries every 10 minutes (THEY ARE TOO ADDICTING) - I have two tips.
1) Give yourself set snack times throughout the day. Yes, like you're in Kindergarten again. Try to get into a consistent schedule. For example, if you eat breakfast at 9, have a snack at 11 and lunch at 1 (followed by a bite of something sweet if you have a sweet tooth) and another snack before dinner. Knowing you can eat a snack at a certain time means you'll be less likely to pick and graze throughout the day. (I said less likely, not that it won't happen!)
2) Keep the snack healthy. Just because it's "snack time" doesn't mean it's time to eat a sleeve of Oreos disassembled and made into peanut butter sandwiches (something else that I've done). If the snack table has nuts or trail mix, go for that instead of the candy bar. If there's popcorn, choose that over the bag of chips.
Ideally, each trip I make a stop at a grocery store and stock up on my own healthy snacks that I squirrel away and keep separate from the snack table. I always try to have some type of bar (my favorites are Epic Bars and Quest Bars), rice cakes and peanut butter, baby carrots if there's a refrigerator in our office space, and something sweet like coconut or banana chips.
Make the snack count. You want it to actually nourish you and keep you satisfied!
Recently, my coworkers and I stopped at a deli on the way to the office and ordered bagels. I ordered a bagel with hummus, tomatoes, cucumbers and sprouts. I had also taken a hard boiled egg from the free hotel breakfast.
I wasn't really looking forward to a crappy bagel from Michigan so when I got to the office I created this master-piece: A rice cake with the hummus, tomato, cucumber and sprouts from the bagel along with a hard boiled egg. A lot healthier than eating the entire bagel, and still entirely delicious!
CHOOSE RESTAURANTS WISELY
There are certain types of restaurants that are going to be a lot easier to make healthy choices at. Mediterranean, for example. Or a seafood spot. Big pasta dinners and Southern style restaurants might not be as good of an option unless you're OK with making lots of special requests or ordering the lone salad item on the menu.
When I'm traveling for work there are a few key terms that I use alllll the time while I'm Googling the shit out of restaurants in the area. They are:
1) Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants
Whether you're vegan, vegetarian, or a meat-lover - I always try to scope out restaurants that are at least friendly towards these dietary restrictions. I've found that it usually means a menu focused on healthier ingredients, fresh vegetables, and creative menu items.
2) Fast Casual Restaurants
No, I'm not suggesting that Chipotle every day is a good way to stay healthy on the road. But there are quite a few health-food spots of the fast casual variety. In New York, I know all those spots - Dig Inn, Hu Kitchen, Sweetgreen, Cava Grill, etc. But it's always my mission to find their counterparts in other cities.
These places are my jam not only because they make eating healthy a breeze and are delicious - but they don't require a full meal service after a long day!
3) Farm to Table
This is probably my most frequently searched term. This is the best of balance, in my opinion. Farm to table restaurants aren't necessarily 100% healthy in their menu options, but you never feel guilty about eating food that is made using organic, fresh, locally-sourced, real ingredients. At least I sure don't!
Finding a farm to table restaurant near your next work trip is the go-to move, I'm tellin' you!
DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT ALONE
If everyone is going out for a big Mexican fiesta and you want to check out the all-organic locally-sourced cafe down the road - don't be afraid to eat out alone and do your own thing! Bring your cell phone and a book and you're good to go. Sometimes, especially on work trips, the time alone is much-needed. Eating out alone isn't awkward. I promise, just try it.
DELIVERY IS YOUR FRIEND
If you're constantly strapped for time while you're on the road, most cities have delivery services like Seamless, Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Postmates that can bring the good stuff right to your hotel room door! It's like having an endless room-service menu and I do it all.the.time. I've even had things delivered to me before I leave in the morning so I can start my day with an acai bowl (#HighMaintenance).
A lot of the healthier places may be out of the way from where you're staying but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy them. Thanks, technology!
DRINK A LOT OF WATER
And tea! These will help keep you full and flush out all the salt and toxins you aren't used to consuming as frequently at home. Plus, being hydrated is key to staying healthy while you're on planes, in hotels, and sharing cramped office spaces with coworkers in the middle of the winter.
I don't typically drink a lot of water, but when I'm traveling, I drink at least double my normal water amount. And I have 1-2 Emergen-C's EVERY day.
KEEP YOUR COFFEE COFFEE!
Coffee every morning on a work trip becomes a nice routine, a comforting start to the day, and ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to make it through the long hours. But don't fall into the trap of ordering dessert for your drink just because work is footing the bill. Keep your coffee order, well, coffee!
None of this Frappuccino, Mocha Choca latta ya ya (heh) nonsense.
My go-to order is a grande Americano with an extra shot and some coconut milk (I told you, coffee is absolutely necessary).
PREEMPTIVELY SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH
Keep a few options in your hotel room for a sweet treat before bed, if that's your style (it's definitely mine). This helps me to pass on dessert when I'm out for dinner because I know when I get back I can have a piece of dark chocolate or a handful of kettle corn before calling it a night.
This is a big one. It would be easy to have a glass of wine out with dinner every night on the road. You feel like you need it, you deserve it, you want it. But I try to save the drinks for times when I'm out with a group or the nights that the drinking might carry on to after dinner.
To me, it's not worth it to have a glass of wine by myself at the restaurant or to have one at dinner if I know everyone is immediately going back to the hotel to crash into bed after the meal.
Healthy-ish is the name of the game when you're on the road. Sometimes, food can just make us feel better when we're stressed and a little homesick and if that means eating a Pop-Tart (or vowing to sample every new flavor with a co-worker, true story) then so be it.
You're never going to eat 100% healthy when you're on the road. It's impossible given the fact that you're not cooking for yourself.
But if you mentally allow yourself to enjoy the indulgences while still making intelligent decisions whenever possible throughout you're trip, you'll find that healthy-ish balance and feel a lot better when you return home.
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