Friday, August 6, 2010

Food on the Road

We're about to head on another road trip, so I thought I should take a few moments to write a bit about food away from home. Between trying to lose weight, trying to teach my kids good eating habits, AND trying to eat real food, travel can be a challenge. When we went to NY last weekend, I was certain that I would gain weight. By the time of my weigh-in this week, I had lost 2 pounds, and I'm pretty sure I didn't do that between Sunday and Wednesday. So what's working for us?

Road Trip Snacks
Being in the car for a long time can be really boring, and often we're in the car when we would normally eat. The kids end up asking for snacks, which can trigger me to think I NEED a snack. Snacks actually help me not overeat later, so I just need to make sure that the snacks we have are reasonably healthful and diverse.

We try to take fresh fruit and veggies with us. This time of year, plums are plentiful in New England. We also happen to have bananas because both kids have had their on again, off again love affairs with them. For me, a banana is quite filling for a snack. In the past month, the kids have enjoyed cucumber sticks (peel a cucumber and slice it such that the pieces look like sticks), so we usually have some of those. We pack some of their favorites like Vinta crackers and Annie's Bunnies. The crackers are not my favorite snacks for the kids, but I think I need to be practical on a road trip. Another item we pack for the kids is Trader Joe's fruit bars like these. They come in several flavors: strawberry, blueberry, fig, apple. Again this is not the ideal snack since it is a processed food, but we set some limits about them and tend to offer the real fruit and veggies first.

For my crunchy "fix," I pack Ak-Mak crackers, which I think are the most awesome cracker EVER. I wish my kids would get excited about these, but I'm selfishly glad they aren't yet. ;) They're all mine... *evil cackle* Anyway, they are low in Weight Watcher points for a pretty good serving size, and I like the taste and texture. I've seen them in regular grocery stores as well as Trader Joe's.

Snacks on the road are part of the story for successful eating away from home. But of course that's not all of what works for us.

Smart Eating Out Choices
There are some foods I simply avoid or limit when I'm away from home. Truthfully, those foods are probably the same ones I limit when I'm at home, but somehow it seems more challenging to limit them away from home. Here are some examples:

Chips with salsa or dip - I don't avoid these entirely, but I take only a few chips and then back away from the dish very consciously. Road trips where the end destination is a family gathering usually means some kind of hors d'oeuvres or "munchies" before the meal, so I try to limit how much crunchy stuff I have. If there is an interesting dip or salsa, I try a chip or 2 with that interesting topping and then I back away. I look for the vegetables or I leave the food altogether for any non-food activity.

Deep-fried or cream-based meals - If I have the choice, I order or choose some food prepared in another way. If I don't have the choice, then I am very aware of the portion I'm having, and I try to fill half of my plate with fruits and vegetables.

Salads that aren't green - Potato salad, macaroni salad, Ambrosia/5-cup "salad"... all very yummy, and all not so great for my weight loss goals. As for whether I want my kids to eat these foods, I certainly let them try a small portion of anything being offered, but I don't make these rich foods the centerpiece of any meal. I let my kids know when something is a treat/special, and I don't force them to eat these foods especially if they say they don't like them (Caleb claims not to like potato or mac/pasta salad). I usually give myself a very small portion (think about 1/4 c at most) and only eat it if the first bite tastes good.

Desserts -
When we're on the road, especially for family visits, it's hard to say no to desserts. I have slightly different rules for me than for my kids. I eat desserts which seem worth it. Chocolate is worth it to me, especially as a homemade baked good. Store-bought baked goods probably aren't worth it. Ice cream is hit or miss as I have become an ice cream snob. For the kids, they have a small portion of dessert because I don't want to make any food off-limits or taboo to them. From a very young age, I tell them that dessert is not an everyday experience and that some foods are once-in-a-while foods. I let them know what foods are good growing foods, and I've been rather blunt about risks of eating out of proportion. My kids get really excited about watermelon as well as cupcakes, and I've seen both of them choose the fruit over the baked good. Maybe there is hope for them not to have quite the food struggles that I have. They know that we don't have baked goods and ice cream at home most nights, and I think they might start to make the association that dessert when on the road is something different from eating it all the time at home.

Restaurants - I haven't mentioned restaurants yet. Maybe it's because restaurants remain hard for me. For my kids, they don't read yet, so I can limit their choices to better options on the kids' menus. For me, I look for options with lots of vegetables but not necessarily salads. I look for foods which I know will fill me up more than a sandwich or a huge plate of pasta. Isn't it funny how eating a ton of pasta makes you feel full while you're at the restaurant but then you're hungry not long after leaving?

When we bought food on the streets of Manhattan, I looked for foods that were easily identified as "REAL FOOD" and not processed much. Yes, I had some of the hot pretzels we bought for the kids - several glorious delicious bites, in fact. For lunch, I saw burritos made fresh with grilled chicken and lots of veggies, rice, salsa, and other toppings. The kids had quesadillas; Aaron had chicken souvlaki, and I had one of the best burritos I've ever had. Sure, I could have bought a hot dog or some fried chicken or who-knows-what else on 6th Avenue. And no, the burrito probably wasn't the absolute best option for me that day. However, for road food, it was great. The portion seemed reasonable; it was delicious; it filled me up.

Anyway, I hope some of these late-night ramblings give you ideas for your next road trip. I remember stopping at all sorts of fast-food restaurants when on road trips as a kid. Other than the mall food court in Danbury, CT, I don't recall the last time my family went for fast-food on a road trip. It doesn't seem hard to me to avoid the drive-thru with my family, and maybe you will consider avoiding fast-food on your next trip.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I'm a food industry reporter for the Wall Street Journal and am working on a story about snacking. I'd love to chat with you for the article. If you'd be interested in talking about this topic, please e-mail me at so that we can arrange a time to speak. Many thanks.