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Eating well on the road

Whether you’re vacationing or travelling on business, keeping your eating habits on track will pay off while you’re away and when you get home.

It’s important to eat well while travelling, on both work-related trips and holidays. Whether it's business or pleasure, you’ll want to keep your energy up and your stress levels down. But it can be hard to make good choices when you’re eating at restaurants, catered events, buffets and drive-throughs.

“There are health drawbacks to not eating well,” says Helen Emanoilidis, RD, a clinical dietitian at Women’s College Hospital. “People go on vacation to relieve stress, and if they end up eating terrible or unhealthy foods, it may increase their weight, which may increase their stress level.”

There are things you can do to make eating well during hotel stays a little easier. Here are some of Emanoilidis’s tips for meals on the road and better nutrition on the go.

Travel tips

“I think the best approach is to keep it as simple as possible,” Emanoilidis says. Don’t abandon all of your regular eating habits just because you’re away. “What would you have at home?”

  • be prepared: if you know you’ll be somewhere where there’s little choice – like on an airplane or in a hotel room – plan ahead and get some healthy snacks (almonds, single-serving cheese) at the airport news kiosk or a convenience store
  • when booking hotels, ask for a room with a kitchenette so you can make sandwiches and snacks for yourself
  • take advantage of local grocery stores
  • buy a box of high-fibre cereal and stash some low-fat milk in the minibar fridge
  • if there are places you travel to regularly, scope out the area and know what’s available so you don’t have to succumb to fast food
  • enjoy yourself, but build boundaries to guard against unhealthy eating


Hotel continental breakfast:

  • avoid sugary high-fat pastries (would you eat pastries for breakfast at home?)
  • if fresh fruit and yogurt are offered, that’s a good combination with fibre, protein and good sugars
  • single-serving cereal with low-fat milk is another good option
  • if starchy foods are the only options, a whole-grain bagel is a better choice than a pastry

Hotel breakfast buffet:

There are always some good options at the breakfast buffet, including:

  • hot oatmeal and fresh fruit
  • eggs and toast
  • egg omelet with lots of vegetables

On the road:

  • stopping at a gas station can be easier than getting fast food: they have yogurt, low-fat milk, and often sell single-serving cereal in packaging that converts to a bowl
  • fast food chains can be more challenging, but still have some good options
    • there’s usually some kind of parfait: yogurt, fruit, granola
    • some offer egg burritos, but keep it simple: egg, wrap, some vegetables or some fruit on the side


Stick with the kinds of foods you’d choose at home: things like soups, salads, sandwiches – but limit the things on top (dressing, sauces, etc.). “You can turn something healthy into something that’s got a lot of fat and sodium and calories in it,” Emanoilidis says.

  • if you’re going to fast food places, try to go to ones where you have some control, such as places where you can build your own sandwich
    • choose whole-grain bread, cheese, vegetables
    • avoid added fats and sauces
    • salads can be found pretty much everywhere now, but be aware of what’s in them: once you’ve added candied nuts, croutons, cheese, bacon bits and dressing, it may be the fat and calorie equivalent of a burger
    • same goes for soup: avoid cream soups, and toppings like bacon bits, sour cream and croutons


Look for healthy options, and don’t assume that travelling means eating every meal in a restaurant. Take advantage of the prepared foods counter at grocery stores, where you can usually get cooked chicken and salads. You may be able to find options that are more nutritious and more economical than eating at a restaurant every night.

At a restaurant:

  • order alcohol by the glass and water by the bottle/carafe; try to limit yourself to one alcoholic drink
  • look for vegetable-based salads and soups; avoid cream soups, cheese in soups and salad
  • ask for dressing on the side
  • look for entrees with more vegetables, less heavy sauces and fats
  • be alert for terms that indicate unhealthy choices, such as buttered and fried
  • ask how things are prepared, about fat, butter and salt content
  • for dessert try fruit, or get some fresh fruit to eat later in the evening
  • consider splitting dessert, or only eating half of the serving
  • try to limit dessert to twice per week

On a cruise:

Cruises are notorious for the constant supply of unlimited food they offer. Keep in mind that if you were at home, you wouldn’t be constantly eating or snacking all day, so there’s no reason to do so while you’re away.

  • to avoid the temptations of the buffet table, make a point of eating at the ship’s restaurants that serve plated portions


It’s pretty easy to find healthy snacks while travelling: almonds, string cheese and other single-serving cheeses, yogurt and fruit are widely available, even in convenience stores and gas stations, and the news kiosk at the airport.

Remember, what seem like holiday treats can add up to poor nutrition, and that won’t enhance your trip.

“Our waistlines aren’t on vacation,” Emanoilidis says. “You can feel miserable upon getting home. And the last thing you want is extra stress after a vacation.”


This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 22, 2012

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