Contrary to what some believe, you can eat healthily and save big buying locally and preparing your food when traveling or living in a foreign country.
Here are my favorite and most cost-effective strategies for healthy eating when flying, when you have a kitchen for cooking, for staying in pensions or hotels and eating out and for day-long excursions.
Four basics considerations
#1 Acknowledge that you have some food requirements. Do you require organic produce, dairy products, or meat or have special dietary needs such as gluten-free, diabetic, low fat, vegetarian, vegan, or have allergies?
#2 Pack a few essential items. These may include a small cutting board, spork, plastic ziplock bags, Dr. Bonner’s liquid Castile soap (for washing anything), paper towel, small sponge, and a reusable water bottle.
#3 Drink water. Water is your healthiest and most economical beverage option. Add fresh citrus for flavoring. You’ll want to check that your drinking supply is safe, particularly if you’re traveling in a developing country.
#4 Pack portable snacks for when you get hungry. (suggestions below). You won’t always have food at your immediate disposal, so pack portable snacks. And don’t forget to consume adequate protein when traveling.
Food when flying
Airport security rules prohibit passengers from taking liquids and gels in excess of 3.4 ounces through airport security checkpoints.
Empty your water bottle before going through security and refill it in a water fountain before boarding. This will save you from buying a $4 bottle of water. Water from the beverage cart is your best option. Avoid alcohol, sweet juice drinks, and soda.
On domestic and international flights your first line of defense against unhealthy airline food is to pack portable snacks that don’t need refrigeration. Some examples include a nut and dried fruit mix, string cheese, whole grain crackers, baby carrots or sliced raw veggies, apples/mandarin oranges, or a small container of peanut butter or hummus.
Kitchens and cooking
A priority when searching for and booking reservations is to find accommodations where you can cook.
Vacations rentals, room rentals with hosts, and hostels often have fully equipped kitchens or kitchen privileges for cooking and storing food.
Upon landing in a new location with cooking facilities ask, “Where is the local store with fresh produce, fish, meat, and cheese? And where is the closest supermercado (grocery store) for basic supplies?” It’s a fun adventure shopping locally in foreign destinations. The length of stay in one location will determine your shopping list for food.
Try to buy only what you will eat before moving on to a new location. Here is my list of favorite perishable and non-perishable items:
- Fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, apricots, cherries, plums, local fruit)
- Veggies (red or green peppers, tomatoes, green onions, avocados, potatoes, spinach or greens that you can sautée or local produce)
- Eggs (for omelets or hard-boiled)
- Unsweetened yogurt (add fresh fruit for a sweeter and flavor)
- Olives (especially if you are in Europe or Mediterranean countries)
- Cheese (you can find excellent local cheeses)
- Fish A grill is best for cooking fresh fish. But I often wait to enjoy the local fish when eating out.
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Small bottle of olive oil (I usually carry this with me the entire trip)
- Canned chicken or tuna (easy to mix with omelets, soups, salads, or with pasta and veggies). You can often find rotisserie chickens (half and whole) which is a much better option than canned chicken.
- Coffee (the local coffee in the central and south American countries is the best!)
- Sea salt (I often bring this with me in a small ziplock bag or RX canister)
- Paper towels
Hotels/pensions and eating out
Ask if the accommodation has a mini-fridge for storing fruit and veggie snacks, cheese, or yogurt.
Be cautious about the bread and white rice, staples in many countries, and all empty calories.
And watch out for those bakeries (panaderias) on every corner. They are tempting!
- Seek out independent and local cafes and restaurants. You will eat better and less expensively than at the tourist locations, and you’ll also meet locals and gain a flavor for the locale. Look for restaurants and café/bars filled with locals instead of tourists.
- Take a look at the menu posted outside or online before selecting your restaurant.
Choose meat and fish items that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted versus fried.
- Choose vegetables that have been steamed, sautéed, or grilled.
- Ask for dressings or sauces on the side such as salad dressing, sour cream, cheese, and mayonnaise.
- Often one or two tapas, pintxos, or appetizers and a glass of local wine or beer have been ample for my lunch or dinner.
- Limit alcohol, especially if you are driving or traveling solo. If you are walking or taking public transportation partake in a glass of the local wine, beer, or liquor.
- Pass on the desserts. If you are strolling home a small gelato often satisfies the sweet tooth.
Carry portable snacks and water, or stop by a local supermercado, for when you get hungry or thirsty but don’t want to spend time in a restaurant.
Find a pleasant or scenic location to enjoy your snacks. Stopping for lunch can be a nice way to break up the day and often provides a needed rest. Making lunch your big meal may be more cost-effective.
- Sometimes the best plan is to bring your own snacks with you. Here are a few options that are easy to carry
- Sliced raw carrots, celery, bell peppers, or broccoli – dipped in individual packets of hummus or almond butter
- Hard-boiled eggs (toss some salt or pepper in the bag)
- Hard cheese or meats
- Homemade energy bars (be careful of prepackaged, high sugar bars)
- Nuts and seeds mixes
- Dried or freeze-dried fruit (apricots, raisins, dried mango or apple chips)
- Apples, pears, apricots, avocados, grapes or oranges
- Whole-grain crackers
- Small red potatoes boiled and salted
- Cucumber and cream cheese on whole-wheat bread
- Peanut butter and jelly on rye or whole wheat
- Wraps – Grilled chicken, hummus, lettuce, tomato, peppers, or cucumbers in a whole-grain wrap or pita bread
- Individual oatmeal packets – just add hot water
Foods to Avoid
- Simple carbohydrates or high glycemic foods, such as fruit juices, sodas, refined grain products, or sugary snacks
- Anything deep-fried – OK except fresh calamari!!
- Nonfat desserts and sweeteners, which are loaded with sugars and chemicals
- Anything partially hydrogenated – this includes nondairy creamer, Jiffy-style peanut butter, margarine, and most packaged baked goods
- Excess alcohol
- Airplane food
I’d love to hear your favorite healthy eating travel suggestions. So please comment and share with everyone.
by: Gwen Hyatt