How to Eat Healthy While Traveling to See Family

A young couple sitting in the airport lounge, eating healthy meals.
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Healthy eating fuels your body, and spending time with family boosts your mind and spirit. But while it seems like a perfect formula, it’s often difficult to mix these two ingredients.

The best laid plans for eating well, even when you’ve developed a strong daily routine, can be easily derailed during family celebrations and gatherings—especially if being a part of the festivities means traveling. Learn how to enjoy yourself without overindulging with a few simple tips.

Be Prepared to Eat Well on the Road

Whether you’re hitting the interstate or flying the friendly skies, eating well can be a challenge. While today’s airports are chock-full of restaurants, snack stands and gift shops, whole foods can be hard to find. Delays and tight connections can also force you to skip meals or eat on the fly.

If you’re behind the wheel of the family “roadster,” you may feel more in control of your stops and starts. However, unforeseen traffic, detours or even the weather can throw you off your schedule.

Thinking ahead and packing accordingly can help make your journey more comfortable and give you healthy on-hand options for snacks (and even meals when necessary).

Pack a Cooler

Fill a cooler (or insulated carry-on tote if you’re flying) with your family’s favorite healthy foods. These may include items like fresh or dried fruits, nuts, sandwiches, pretzels and protein bars. And since staying hydrated is important while traveling, have at least a quart of water for each person in your group when driving, or the maximum permitted amount when flying.

If you’re nervous about airport security, here are some general rules:

  • Beverages are permitted as long as they’re less than 3.4oz/100ml and in their original, unopened containers
  • Solid food items are permitted in small quantities as long as they’re wrapped and can be easily separated from other carry-on items at security checkpoints

For more specific questions, you can visit

You may also find it helpful to pack an extra bag for peels, cores and other litter.

Navigating Continental Breakfasts

Many hotels offer complimentary coffee and continental breakfast, which can save you both travel time and money. While it may seem daunting to approach an all-you-can eat breakfast spread when you’re trying to stay on track with your healthy eating plan, take heart.

Most hotels have designed their menus to include healthy food selections. Sure, you may still see the notorious Belgian waffle, but you’ll also likely find fresh fruits, whole grains, yogurt and more.

If you’re concerned you’ll be tempted to overeat, think about making a to-go plate. Grab your healthy selections and head back to your room to enjoy your meal.

If you’re serious about your coffee, low-calorie sweeteners are usually provided. Fat- or sugar-free creamers, however, can be harder to come by. Plan to bring your favorites.

Find Healthy Options at Restaurants

You’ll pass many restaurants on your journey. While you may not be familiar with all of them, the good news is that most (even the fast food chains) offer, at the very least, a few salads or other healthy choices. When in doubt:

  • Ask for dressings, sauces and toppings on the side
  • Hold the bread
  • Request nutritional information to accompany the menu
  • Stick to lean proteins and greens
  • Watch for the crowded parking lots (must be good if everyone is stopping)

Stay the Course on Your Way There

You’ll no doubt be tempted to stray from your plan when your schedule, body clock and routine are all feeling “off.” But the better you manage your food choices during the journey, the more flexible you can be during your family gathering. Stick to the plan right up until your arrival, so you can be as flexible as possible when you’re in guest in someone else’s home (and enjoy a slice of pie).

Have a Plan of Attack for Your Extended Stay

It’s not uncommon to eat differently from the way you grew up. When heading home for family celebrations and holidays, you may have to adjust your eating habits somewhat. Here are a few suggestions to help you maintain a healthy diet and pleasantly surprise your family.

Take a Trip to the Local Grocery

When you arrive, offer to pick up some groceries. Grab anything your family may need as well as some of your healthy go-to items. Be sure to buy enough for everyone to share and invite your family to try your favorites. They’ll appreciate the gesture (and it may spark some good discussion about how you eat and why).

Offer to Cook a Few Meals

When you do the cooking, you control the menu. Talk to your family beforehand to see what they think. If they’re in agreement, choose things you would normally eat at home while also considering what they might like. This is an opportunity to show that healthy food can taste great (and doesn’t have to be boring). It can also give your host a night or two off from cooking.

Be Flexible

Unless you have a strict dietary requirement—in which case your family probably already understands your limitation—be prepared to bend a little. Remember your family has worked hard to prepare for your visit and are likely serving their favorite dishes for you to enjoy with the hopes you’ll love them too. They mean no harm; they just may not understand your eating plan. Eat what’s available while choosing the best possible options for you.

ALL Things in Moderation

Eating well the majority of the time sets you up for living well, and allows some wiggle room for the moments you want to indulge in a special treat, like your cherished times with your family. When you’re eating well throughout the week, a few slices of pizza on Saturday night won’t cause any harmful health conditions. And when you’re eating healthy for the majority of the year, a piece of grandma’s pumpkin pie after your Thanksgiving meal is a-okay.

Back Home

When you’re back home, reassess your wellness and eating plan. That may entail:

  • Doing a gut check of how you’re feeling physically and mentally
  • Noting of the changes in your eating habits and activity level while you were away
  • Monitoring your blood pressure, etc.
  • Weighing yourself

If you didn’t do as well as you’d hoped, be kind to yourself. You worked hard before your trip and you’ll work hard again now. And while it’s easy to dwell on the repercussions of straying from your plan, be mindful of the positive outcomes of your time with your family.

If you had the opportunity during your trip for a conversation about your healthy lifestyle choices or to cook for your family, think about how they reacted and what you can make when they come to your place. When you can be gracious in the face of food challenges, everyone will look forward to the next visit.

Then, you can break out the tofu and kale and take the steps to make yourself feel great and it back on track.

Get Nutrition Support

We’re here to support your healthy eating habits. Learn more about our wellness services and connect with our primary care doctors who can help you plan for success on your next trip.

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