Road Trips and Eating Right

I’ve recently been visiting my girlfriend in Malibu, California and we decided to take a road trip along the coast, eventually ending in San Francisco. It was a beautiful trip along the Pacific Coast Highway with stops at a bunch of different fishing villages, beaches, redwood forests and mountain towns. The scenery was truly breath-taking.

But one thing we need to worry about whenever we venture far from our familiar surroundings is what are we going to eat. Highway rest stops feature less and less real home cooked foods in favor of quick and easy fast foods of little nutritional value. Spending a lot of time in a cramped car is enough to throw off moods and digestion even without the drastically detrimental changes in diet. So how does one maintain healthy eating habits when on the road?

I’ve assembled a few tips to help you keep food compromises to a minimum without having to hunt around for something healthier.

1. Pack a lunch: Bringing along food of your own is a great way to make sure you’re still getting all the nutrition you need. Although it may not be possible to bring enough for all your meals, a couple of snacks are certainly doable. Try fruit, nuts or homemade healthy snacks. Bring a cooler along and get really creative.

2. Plan ahead: Knowing where you’re going to stop along the way means being able to do some research before on what restaurants or food stores are available. It may take some of the spontaneity out of the trip, but knowing you can get a nutritious meal on the road means not having to rely on chance. Guidebooks are a great resource, as is the internet (of course). Try some food review sites like yelp.com or chowhound to get the scoop from people with experience eating in your locale.

3. Choose towns or cities instead of settling for roadside pit stops: If you haven’t planned ahead, get off the highway and into places where people actually live to find a place to eat. Stops on or just off of the highway are mostly fast food joints and convenience stores. When you get into an actual community the chances of finding a place that serves fresh vegetables goes up significantly.

4. Go for “Mom and Pop” over “quick and empty”: You will likely need to make some compromises on the road, but there are ways to insure you’re still getting some nutrition. Choose places that look like they’re actually cooking food rather than heating stuff out of a can. Avoid chains and franchises as they often ship in their edibles to maintain continuity. Finding a place where the guy behind the counter is the guy whose name is on the sign over the door greatly increases the chance of getting a home-cooked nutritious meal.

5. Grocery stores are often the best choice: Although it’s not ideal, sometimes a grocery store has the healthiest choices for meals when on the road. Salads, raw fruits and veggies and some of the healthier prepared foods at the deli counter can be a godsend in a landscape of burgers and fries. Often the fancier grocery stores have straight-up health food at their prepared food counters, so you may get lucky.

6. When in doubt, ask a local: More often than not, the locals know where to find the best food. Just be clear about what you’re looking for.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.