When we are in a hurry, trying to find healthy food is not always convenient. If you need a quick snack or healthy food on the go, our hunger and cravings can overwhelm us and sometimes make way for bad food decisions.
No matter where you are, remember that cooking or choosing healthier foods is possible – all you need is a sensible strategy. As a rule, our food choices should include some type of lean protein, healthy fat, and healthy carbohydrates so that we feel full, energized, and less likely to succumb to the future, which can ultimately lead to overeating.
When you prepare food in advance or are looking for something to eat, when you are not at home, in whatever situation it is, I always recommend my customers to use a set of food parameters when they decide what to eat. These include:
Bearing in mind these parameters, it is also important to know whether you need a snack or real food. By definition, a snack is a light fuel to take you to the next meal, while the meal is designed to keep you full for at least 3–4 hours. When it comes to snacks, I prefer enough protein and fiber, and for my food I will try to include in the diet some healthy fats and carbohydrates as needed.
Knowing that there are so many different circumstances and situations in which we may find ourselves, we will go through several common cases where making food decisions can be a difficult task and how you can make a healthy choice tactically regardless of your environment.
BYOF: on the go
If you know you will run from the airport to the gate, jump between meetings in the office, run around the city, or go to last-minute entertainment, bringing food (BYOF) with you – one of the best decisions you can make. When we are in a hurry, we do not always have time to scan the labels and look at the parameters of the food, which makes it easy to get the first thing that catches the eye, despite its nutritional value.
To avoid these crazy situations, one of my favorite options is to bring a pre-portioned protein powder (vegetarian chocolate-mint flavor) to mix it with water in a blender bottle — you are less likely to overeat from protein shakes. as you could by eating a variety of foods, crackers, chips, cookies and other convenience foods. For those whose offices provide free snacks, this option really saves lives when it feels full and helps avoid an after-dinner recession.
Other quick options that I would like to take with me or have on hand include:
- Almonds or pistachios (or other nuts and seeds), pre-portioned in zipper bags
- Pre-packed dried herbs or beef sticks
- Tuna packs
- Homemade egg coasters
Corner shop: buy the best
If you cannot take food with you, you can dive into the shelves at the nearest store, feeling overwhelmed by all the finished products. Choosing something to eat in this environment can be a daunting task, as many of your options will be filled with sugar or consist mainly of processed carbohydrates. In this case, the best option is to always grab something rich in protein and a good source of healthy fat. A few of my favorites:
- Full Cheese Sticks
- Bold cottage cheese
- Vegetables and fruits + nuts / seeds
- Hard boiled eggs
- Dried grass
If you need food, a reasonable option would be to get a salad in which there is protein such as chicken, beef or fish, and which contains a lot of vegetables. If you go this way, beware of sweet vinaigrettes, as they contain a lot of sugar. If the cards do not have a salad, in some places you can take a hamburger, chicken or fish sandwich and throw a bun. If it comes with french fries, a sub with a vegetarian or side dish.
We also cannot forget about the not-too-far cousin of the corner shop: the concession stand. Here I will choose the fruit, knowing that there will be options that seem healthy (that is, fruit smoothies with sugar, bars with artificial sweeteners or low-calorie popcorn, devoid of nutritional value), but it should be avoided if possible. If you are working with a vending machine, choose nut or seed mixtures, dried or healthy granola or protein bars – all this would be a better option than a mixture for making trails, crackers, chips and cookies.
Restaurants: your playbook menu
Whether it’s a last-minute family dinner or maybe traveling for business or relaxing enjoying a meal with your loved ones, the choice of what to eat in a restaurant can be overwhelming. If customers find themselves in this situation, I recommend sticking to this 6-step approach when eating out:
1. Start with salad
When you travel, it's easy to get rid of the habit of eating enough vegetables. If you eat in a group, probably someone will want to order snacks, which often contain additional amounts of sugar, fats and processed carbohydrates. If you order a salad, ask it to come with snacks. You will eat something to eat while everyone else is loading onto everything else. Choose a low-sugar sauce such as ranch, caesar or blue cheese. If you are not sure about the dressings, just ask your server.
2. Choose your protein
Depending on the type of restaurant you are in, high carbohydrate options may seem attractive, but look for those foods with enough protein, like fish, chicken, lean beef, seafood, etc. If you don’t see the obvious lean choice squirrel, ask your server.
3. Ask for more vegetables
Your main reception usually does not come alone. Parties often include potatoes, bread, rice or other starch. If you want to avoid excess starch, ask for extra vegetables. Most restaurants have various steamed vegetables or similar options. Double them up if you want to make sure you go home feeling full.
4. Skip sauces, sugars and fried foods
A seemingly nutritious product, such as fish or chicken, can contain as many calories as lasagna when sauces and creams are used. Beware of how the food is prepared, and again, if you are not sure, just ask.
5. If you can't find it in the menu the way you want, ask for it.
Still can not find what you want in the menu? Almost any restaurant would be happy to do something the way you want it. If you can grill chicken breast over a salad at Burger King, you can find something useful in most sedentary restaurants.
6. If others have a dessert, is there anything, such as coffee or tea
If you do this while eating, eating what you should, there is still an obstacle on the way to the dessert. If you are trying to eat healthy food and control your weight, the menu most likely does not have a dessert that would fit. If others eat dessert, it’s better to have something in your hand so that you don’t share it with them. Espresso, tea or even a small vase of berries can be fun and keep you from diving into someone else's chocolate cake.
No matter what: do not forget the water
When we are busy, busy, or traveling from place to place, it can be so easy to prioritize things like food and neglect enough drinking water. Every day, we recommend customers to drink half their weight in ounces of water or more if you are active.
Recognizing that most of our time during travel is spent on sitting, it is easier to think that we don’t need to drink so much. If you are flying a plane, remember that it can be very dry, and variable pressure can affect the level of hydration and water retention. One more thing here: always bring or buy water before boarding the plane, since you cannot guarantee the quality of the water that the airline provides. If you are in a car, you may not want to stop so often, or you may be inclined to bypass drinking water. If this is what you tend to do, remember that even a little dehydration can make you hungry when you don’t really need to eat, and can give way to unwanted food.
When all is said and done, do your best to plan ahead when it is possible for your schedule. When you're in a hurry, choosing food options can help you avoid the headache that may arise when trying to find something useful, wholesome, and lead you to your next meal.
If you do not have time to prepare in your schedule, remember that there are many ways to make healthier meals in stores or restaurants if you have the right recommendations and strategies. Our team of registered nutritionists is always here to answer questions, so if you are looking for any advice when it comes to healthy eating on the go, feel free to send us an email at [email protected]
Catherine Knafla, RD, LD – Life Time Assistant Program Manager, Laboratory Testing
This article is not intended to treat or prevent disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. The use of recommendations in this and other articles on the choice and the risk of the reader.