Eat healthy while traveling… yes, this is easy… no matter where you travel in the world.
We’re a digital nomad family who, so far, has traveled and eaten healthy in 5 countries.
True, we’re newbies at the digital nomad lifestyle, but we’re not new at eating healthy while traveling in general. I took what I learned from eating healthy while traveling for vacations, and applied it to traveling the world eternally.
And? It works.
My family eats healthy while traveling anywhere with a few food staples and routines.
The first question is: What is healthy food?
For the sake of the article, let’s go with minimally processed, omnivore foods. I think we can agree that cutting out processed foods will greatly improve health no matter if one is vegetarian, vegan, paleo, or carnivore.
I’ve experimented with a lot of diets over the years.
- I’ve eaten a carnivore diet.
- I’ve spent time eating a paleo diet.
- I’ve gone a decade (mistakenly) eating a vegan diet.
Today, we’ll focus on an omnivore diet with a strong bias toward fresh and unprocessed foods as being healthy. However, I will write future articles addressing healthy travel foods for the diet specific: low carb, carnivore, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, and kid specific.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
Cooking is of vital importance for eating healthy while traveling. 💥
Tip #1 for eating healthy while traveling is to COOK YOUR OWN F-ING FOOD! 😇
Sorry if this isn’t what you expected, but the easiest way to accomplish eating healthy while traveling is indeed cooking your own food.
If you’re on vacation, the last thing you probably want to do is cook. I totally understand. That said, our priority is healthy eating while traveling, and that’s why you’re here. (I promise it won’t be painful though. Read on.)
Let me repeat: Tip #1 for eating healthy while traveling is to COOK YOUR OWN F-ING FOOD! 😇
It’s pretty hard to eat healthy while traveling, if it’s all in restaurants.
When I relax my food standards while traveling I end up feeling icky, bloated, or just plain sick sometimes. It’s not worth it.
I want to feel great in my body, sexy in my clothes. I want to have energy. I want my skin to glow. Eating healthy is a requirement for my body to have nice skin.
We all have our priorities for why we want to eat healthy while traveling.
Our goal is minimizing processed foods. 🤨
You have to cut out as many processed foods as you can. It doesn’t matter what kind of diet you follow, major health success equals getting rid of processed foods.
What are processed foods exactly?
Processed foods usually come in packages. Processed foods usually have chemicals in them. These foods are not fresh foods. Processed foods are usually found in the aisles in the middle of the store and not around the perimeter.
There are degrees of processing though. I do not believe that all processed foods are totally bad or off limits.
Here are some processed food tips:
- You could consider pasta as a processed food. Yes, many people think this food is less than ideal. However, I see pasta as an OK food, which I make healthier by topping it with things like butter or meat or cheese or tomato sauce (or all of the above). Make the actual pasta the smaller portion on the plate and instead load the plate with those other things I mentioned.
- I also think marinara in a jar, although you didn’t cook it from scratch, can be healthy if you look at the ingredients. Choose a jar that has no sugar and no vegetable oils (olive oil is good!).
- Canned fish is technically processed, but if you look hard enough you can find options without added oils or sugars. Also opt for canned fish that is sustainable.
- Snack bars can be a good “processed” food, but, again, you must read the ingredients. Is it mostly sugar? Then, pass. Is it grass-fed beef or nuts and dried fruit only? Those are better options.
- Same goes for salami and deli-style meats. They’re not super healthy when eaten daily or as a main source of protein, but they are perfect on occasion especially when compared to less healthy alternatives like cookies, fried foods, and other preservative-heavy foods.
- Look specifically for snacks labeled as gluten-free or paleo or even vegan as those typically put you on the right track. They typically have fewer preservatives and more healthy ingredients.
- Obviously, stay away from the truly extra processed crap out there. “Foods” with words you can’t pronounce, things with vegetable oils (soy, corn, safflower, sunflower seed, canola).
So, we’re reducing the number of processed foods in our diet while traveling (and always, right?). Then, we have to cook our own food, mostly from scratch in order to truly eat healthy while traveling. There is no way around this!
Rejoice! Cooking Healthy Food While Traveling Can Be EASY and Quick.
There are a couple of key actions for making this an easy process that I’m addressing today:
- Make sure you stay in a place where you can cook and/or buy higher quality foods from a local store.
- Find your favorite staple foods and ingredients.
- Get comfortable eating those same things over and over, from town to town and country to country.
- Keep an eye out for healthy options at restaurants.
- Enjoy less healthy foods by combating them with intermittent fasting and/or smaller portions.
Have a Kitchen (or something close to it).
Your best bet is to stay in places with a kitchen, or at least a kitchenette. We rent apartments using Air BnB. Those will most likely have kitchens as well as basic kitchen equipment for cooking (pots, pans, strainers, can opener, coffee pot, tea kettle, cutlery, utinsels, refrigerator, etc).
In a hotel with just a kitchenette? You can also eat healthy while traveling and staying in a hotel, where the rooms include a kitchenette. These usually have a refrigerator, separate sink, coffee pot, and microwave. Clearly, less than ideal, but totally doable and we have done that many times. There are variations but on one trip a kitchenette was all we had plus the blender I brought. Buying things like canned fish, canned soup we heated in a cup from the hotel in the microwave. Or we even ate soups and beans cold from the can. Beef jerky, fresh produce, snack bars, etc are great choices. Heck, if you have a refrigerator and a a microwave, you can even nuke the eggs.
No kitchen at all? No problem, sort of. We have done USA road trips, where I packed my induction burner, pans, chef knife, etc so I could cook in hotel rooms that had nothing but a bathroom sink and wood table for food preparation. Pantry items made with quality ingredients (i.e., no chemicals or crappy oils like canola) will be your best friends in these situations. And, if you’re in one of these rooms without any kitchen equipment of your own, the same rules in the paragraph above (…with a kitchenette) apply here, too.
For instances like this, we planned hotel rooms in locations near health food stores using Google Maps.
Your priority is to eat healthy while traveling, right?
This is most easily and effectively achieved by cooking most of your own food. Hence, you need a kitchen. So, do your best to find accommodations where you can cook.
Kitchen Tools to Pack for Eating Healthy While Traveling
Once you figure out whether you will have a full kitchen, or only a partial kitchen, you can select some kitchen appliances to help you cook. Think of your favorite tools in the kitchen that you use now.
The next thing to figure out is whether you’re traveling by car, train, or plane.
Each option for travel can present its own restrictions based on luggage size, car size, carry-on only, etc. When we traveled in a mini-van across the USA, I brought a ton of stuff because we stayed primarily in hotels.
Once we started staying in Air BnBs, I reduced it to the essentials like my favorite coffee pot, knives, sharpener, battery operated whisk or blender if there was room to pack those things.
One trip from Arizona to Michigan, Oh my god, I packed so much cooking equipment I’m now embarrassed about it. We’re talking coffee pot, coffee grinder, blender, slow cooker, sous vide machine, knives, cutting board, induction burner, utensils, and more. My sweet husband just lives by the motto “happy wife happy life” and he went along with it every time, even if it meant three trips back and forth from the car to the hotel room. That doesn’t even include the big cooler of foods or the laundry basket full of foods and ingredients. 😳
What I pack actually varies with my diet.
If we were doing lots of smoothies, I brought the blender. If we were cooking a lot of meat, I brought a cutting board I trusted, carving knife, meat thermometer, etc.
Look at your kitchen and cooking habits and choose things that will make cooking while traveling the most enjoyable for you.
As a minimalist digital nomad, my packing space is small.
I’m traveling with a backpack for all of my stuff. Ok, well for MOST of my stuff, along with a small space allotted to me in the one suitcase my family takes.
I wanted to bring my chef knife, because not having a good knife in the kitchen is enough to make me cry. However, I didn’t want to check my knife in the luggage for fear it’d get stolen. I also learned that you can’t bring a knife on trains, which we’re using a lot in Europe.
Striving for minimalism, I decided to travel without it.
When I decided to go without my knife, I read the tip to instead bring a knife sharpener. Air BnBs are reputed for having less than stellar kitchen equipment. With a knife sharpener, I could sharpen any dull knives blocking my path to an awesome cooking experience.
In the end, I decided to take my chances and not bring the sharpener either. That would’ve added weight, and I prioritized a lighter backpack over a sharper knife. Not sure I made the right decision long term, but so far so good.
The knives haven’t been too bad with the exception of serrated knives. A good serrated knife is needed for slicing quality bread and I find these knives lacking in Air BnBs. My fix for that is to have the bakery slice the bread for me which has been an option 99% of the time.
I packed one thing: my instant-read digital meat thermometer.
The one item I packed for world travel was my meat thermometer because I had to know the temp of my meat. Safety first! 🙌🏼
So, now you have a plan for where to stay (somewhere with a kitchen hopefully). You noted some kitchen items you might bring to help.
What do you eat if you want to eat healthy while traveling? Let’s get to that now…
Shopping List for Eating Healthy While Traveling Anywhere
Now, you need to go shopping for food that you’ll cook while traveling.
The good news is that you’ll be able to find healthy cooking staples pretty much everywhere you go in the world: eggs, meats, produce, cheese, dairy, bread, etc.
When we first land in a new town or country, we head to the store to stock up.
It’s the first stop the day after arriving. When we’re shopping in a new place, I typically buy more things so I can try different brands and new options. Once we find what we like, we head back to the store to stock up.
Before I list the foods for which I primarily shop, I’ll note that I currently believe in healthy fats and plenty of animal protein. In a perfect world I’d buy grass-fed meats all the time. Sometimes I buy organic and sometimes I don’t. These days it depends on the source of the food. Am I in the USA or Europe? Is the food local and from a farmer’s market?
These are things for you to decide for your family, suffice it to say, I’ll just list main categories that I use.
Let’s categorize the foods for a shopping list:
- Canned fish (sardines – learn how to love them here, mackerel is delicious too)
- Sliced deli meats like salami, ham for adding flavor or having quick picnic style meals.
- Protein powder (I would consider a protein powder like collagen or a quality whey protein. These are great for easy breakfasts or snacks.) Note: I say “consider” because right now meat is expensive for us as we travel around the world. It would be worth a cost analysis to think about adding a protein powder to our line up in order to get more protein in the diet which I helps our family. We retain more muscle mass with protein, and if we’re not eating a lot of beef, because of the cost it, might make sense to add protein powder for extra protein and variety. Currently, without the protein powder we’re getting protein primarily via eggs, canned fish, deli meats and dairy.
- Full-fat cheeses
- Full-fat yogurts
- Whipping cream
- Olive oil and coconut oil
- Fresh produce
- Fresh-baked Sourdough bread
- Whole milk, if a quality source is available
- Boxed soups
- Dried fruits
- Lentils, Beans, Rice
- Snack bars including jerky-style bars
- Marinara sauce from a jar if you don’t fancy a homemade version
- Four Sigmatic Mushroom Drinks
Desserts / Snacks
- Dark chocolate
- Dried fruit
- Dark chocolate covered rice cakes
- Cookies (on occasion) if I can find made with butter and basic ingredients, no veg oils
What can you make with these foods for eating healthy while traveling?
The 2 adults in our 3-person family primarily eat twice a day. We prefer fasting in the morning (til about noon when possible!), by drinking black coffee and/or tea and lots of water. This means less food prep. 😋
Our daughter, on the other hand, likes to eat three meals and sometimes snacks. I usually let her watch a show on her ipad while she eats. It’s her free time. However, I think she asks for more food just to watch more shows. I’m on to her ways though. 🧐
Recipe ideas we like.
The following tend to be the staple foods and recipes we eat in order to eat healthy while traveling. Most are really easy to make. As a digital-nomad-homeschooling-mom who also does the laundry, cooking, and dishes… I demand easy.
- Scrambled eggs made with plenty of butter (optional add in cheese and/or ham and/or chocolate)
- Buttered coffee or Bulletproof Coffee
- Cheese and canned fish
- Salami and cheese, orange
- Sourdough toast with gobs of butter and some sea salt
- Leftovers from the dinner made the night before
- Greek yogurt
- Similar options as breakfast (one trick is finding easy meals to make and rotating them through the days repeatedly)
- Boxed (quality) soup
- Fresh fruit, veggies, cheese platter with a side of chocolate
- Grilled cheeses with quality sourdough bread and cheese
- Granola with Greek yogurt
- Canned fish, fruit, cheese
- Boursin cheese: it can be found almost anywhere so far and will be your best friend (add to pasta, eggs, beef, stew, soups, crackers, toast, everything)
- Meat: ground beef, stew beef, chicken (if I’m feeling energetic and wanting to take on a whole bird)
- Sandwiches and veggies (usually just a bell pepper chopped and/or carrots, cucumber)
- Anything from the breakfast or lunch options
- Canned fish
- Pasta topped with marinara, butter, and cheese (add meat if desired)
- Rice, cooked in broth with butter and cheese added at the end and maybe some diced bell pepper
Snacks / Desserts
- Toast (I’ll take a slice of sourdough toast loaded with butter and topped with sea salt over a slice of cake any day)
- Cinnamon sugar buttered toast
- Dried fruit with Greek yogurt
- Rice cakes with butter and jelly
- Dark chocoalte
YES! Restaurants play an important role while traveling.
- We home cooks need a break from all of this fucking cooking. I want to enjoy time off from the stove, too.
- Culture is food and food is culture. Getting a deep travel experience includes enjoying local restaurants and foods when traveling. But, let’s be real… that doesn’t need to be every meal.
Tips for Eating Healthy at Restaurants While Traveling
There are some healthy choices at restaurants. If you have access to them and the money for them, then by all means have a few more meals at restaurants.
However, I find that most restaurants don’t always use the freshest of foods, and they often use unhealthy processed vegetable oils (think: soy oil, canola oil, rice bran oil), which find their way into cooking pans and most sauces or condiment-type foods.
Here’s what I do…
- I look for menu items that could be minimally processed or foods that don’t come with a lot of condiments or gravy, etc.
- I’ll order a burger and sometimes opt to only eat part of the bun, or none at all, if it looks cheap.
- I order plain burger patties, multiples of them, especially if I’m enjoying a carnivore diet day.
- I stay away from fried foods, obviously. No chips or fries.
- I opt for pizza, probably more often than not, because that’s usually pretty safe (bread, sauce, cheese).
Sometimes though, you’re just going to enjoy a place that doesn’t offer “healthy” options. 🤗
For those times, here are some great tips:
- Drink water, coffee, or tea before eating to fill your stomach a bit so you’re not famished.
- Eat a small portion, which can tide you over long enough to get back home where you can eat something healthier.
- Carry a healthy snack in your bag to help fill your stomach before the meal, so you don’t eat as much food from the restaurant.
- Pro-tip: If you have kids, they’ll always benefit from ordering off the adult menu because that simply has more options. Too often, the kiddie menu is filled with mono-colored brown or yellow foods where the vegetable stars are ketchup and potatoes. You can also split a meal with your kid, or have them order from the appetizer menu for a smaller portion.
- Go hog wild and enjoy whatever the hell you want … and then intermittent fast… see below.
Intermittent Fasting to Stay Healthy While Traveling
I think intermittent fasting can be a great way to boost health while traveling. This hack is especially useful if I had a dinner the night before that was an entire pizza or I gorged on lots of bread, dessert, and maybe even fried food. Simply fasting for 12-16 hours before eating again helps my blood sugar and waist line.
Ever heard of a CHEAT DAY?
Similarly, you can implement a “cheat day” where you just relax and take one day a week to eat whatever the heck you want for the whole day. This could be something deliciously trashy that you’re cooking or eating out at restaurants. Having a cheat day can be super helpful for families because they don’t feel deprived. They know their day is coming. 🙌🏼
In conclusion, eating healthy while traveling is easy.
You’ll feel so much better for doing it. I promise.
It requires a bit of work on your part, but not a ton. And, if you don’t have a kitchen available, then make some smart pantry-style non-perishable food choices, eat smaller meals if they’re unhealthy at restaurants, intermittent fast, drink more water, and call it a day.