Eating Healthy on the Road – Avoid Processed Junk!

What to do when you’re traveling and need to stop for a bite to eat, and the healthiest thing available is a microwaved veggie burger from a fast food joint?  I find myself in this dilemma all the time, frustratingly enough.  For the majority of us, healthy and organic fast food places just aren’t an option because they simply don’t exist across most of the country.  It’s especially hard for those of us who are vegetarian or vegan.  We find ourselves snacking on a wilted, flavorless salad or a package of french fries for lack of anything else.

Until more restaurants pop up that are both healthy and fast, your best choice is still to pack your own food.  The idea is to choose healthy items that will hold up to travel.  What you choose does depend a bit on how far you’re going and whether you’ll be able to replenish the ice in your cooler (or if you’ll have a cooler at all).  Fruit and nut bars, crackers with sliced hard cheeses, dried fruit, veggie sticks and dark chocolate hold up well and will give you the energy you need.  Sure, airlines offer those little packs of pretzels and peanuts, but remember – they’re loaded with preservatives and other nasty stuff.  You’re better off having control over what you’re eating.

I packed my own meal last year for an international plane trip, and once I saw the nasty little plastic tray of unidentifiable ‘food’ the airline called a vegetarian meal, I was really glad I did.   I made myself a little Caprese sub – fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil on a baguette – and packed it in a small soft-sided cooler.  I also had some almonds and fruit in my carry-on bag.  Remember the TSA rules about liquids – you won’t be able to get anything over 3 ounces past security, even peanut butter or salad dressing.  Packages under 3 ounces can be included in your quart-size bag of liquids.  Bring your Sigg or other reusable container (empty) and fill it when you get past the gates.

Some suggestions for full-on meals include pasta salad, hummus wraps, pita pockets full of veggies and cheese, or bagel sandwiches.  Some travelers go gourmet with cucumber, dill and goat-cheese stuffed croissants, or soba noodle salad with mushrooms, green onions and ginger-lime dressing.  These ideas sound a lot better than the boring meals offered by the airline already, don’t they?

Another idea is to pack a Japanese obento, or bento box.  Though it’s a bit large – and plastic – the Laptop Lunch Kit is popular with travelers for its modular design and reusability.  Options for bento boxes are virtually limitless – you could go with traditional Japanese food, or just fill them with whatever you like.

Hopefully these tips will help you out next time you’re on the road, whether you’re just driving a few hours to visit family or jetting across the globe.  Happy travels!

Photos by Flicker users sporkist and Joi

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About Stephanie Rogers
Stephanie Rogers is a fashion- and beauty-obsessed freelance writer with an abiding love for kale and organic wine, living in Asheville, North Carolina.


  1. Check out this investigation on airline snack foods by Charles Stuart Platkin, The Diet Detective. Although it was done in 2006 the airlines have not revised their food — all processed and high calorie.

  2. Another great way to avoid lousy food on a long trip — cook up a batch of burrito mix (black beans, cilantro, red onion, corn, whatever!) and bring some avocado and wraps – this can hold you for up to 3 days if you keep the mix in a cooler.

  3. When I have to go back to the US, I will only fly Lufthansa and they — believe it or not — have great, healthy vegan meals. I still pack a few things to take along with me but on a 10 hour flight, sandwiches tend to get a bit soggy…

  4. Whenever I travel to another city (in the US at least) I try to find out where the closest Whole Foods of indie health food stores will be so that at least we can hit the (hopefully organic) salad bars. Its especially difficult when you’re gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, corn-free and would like to avoid hormonal meats.

    I travel with nuts, spirluna tablets, oils (especially coconut), avocados, and other supplements and produce to fill in the blanks when I cant get adequate protein or decent veggies.

  5. Is there a way to tell an airline you don’t want a meal? I just think of the overhead of preparing gross meals (the packaging, the transport) that aren’t being eaten and going to waste. I wish airlines would let you select no meal and then not have to even worry about it (especially if you’re fasting). On domestic flights this is no longer a problem, but I’m thinking of international flights where there are three meals prepared for you.

  6. Meena – Yes – at least for Delta, in my experience. That’s what I did when I didn’t want to eat any of their meals.

    Kim – the burrito mix is such a good idea! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that 🙂 Yum.

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