July 21, 2022

How to Eat Healthy While Traveling

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they discuss how to eat healthy while traveling.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • Shanthi’s approach to food options while on the road
  • Meal ideas that are quick and easy to make in a hotel or rest stop
  • Shanthi’s go-to healthy snacks when traveling
  • How to balance healthy eating while still experiencing local flavors

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 110. Coming up, we discuss how we can eat healthy while traveling.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast, the podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and wellbeing through small healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica, and every other week, we’ll sit down with a certified expert and discuss topics that cover nutrition, fitness and a lot more. This week, we’re not on the road, but we want to pretend like we are. So we’re going to talk about healthy eating while traveling and what we can do to make sure we’re eating right while we’re away from home. With us again today is registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Shanthi Appelö. It’s good to see you.

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s good to see you. This is our first time talking face to face. Well, virtually face to face.

Chuck Gaidica:
Right. Yeah, no, it’s great. Because I see you through social media. You’re a star of small screen. Are you in a movie with Brad Pitt yet? I mean, have you gotten that far?

Shanthi Appelö:
I’ve been seen like 500 times on Instagram. That’s about it.

Chuck Gaidica:
There you go. Okay. Well, you got to start somewhere, right? Well it’s so good to have you with us. I know you enjoy getting outdoors, getting out on the road, right? I mean you’ve traveled the country. Talk to us about this idea that somehow we are going to go up north, we’re one of the only states, I think us and maybe Minnesota, maybe New York, where we actually say, “What are you doing this weekend?” and we say, “Well, we’re going up north.” Sometimes it’s south, but you know what I mean.

Chuck Gaidica:
There’s the thrill of traveling that we’re going to get going, with or without children, because that’s its own challenge for eating healthy. But then, you want to get on the road and you’re planning your next vacation and there’s always this challenge. What do you grab in the house to take with you? Is it a bag of chips? Apples roll around in the car, you know what I mean? It seems like it’s a challenge.

Shanthi Appelö:
Right. Right. Yeah, it’s definitely a challenge. I think one important thing to remind yourself of is, first of all, when you’re traveling, eating unhealthy or going out of your routine for just a few days isn’t going to make a huge change to your lifestyle. But what can happen is that we go on vacation, we enjoy the convenience of the packaged foods going out to eat, and then that can often span into our normal life.

Shanthi Appelö:
Then of course there are people who travel for a living. They work, they’re always on the road, and that can of course make a difference in our health. So eating can be especially something that you want to pay attention to. So I think planning is key, finding those kind of key foods that really work for you, that are going to be healthy and that are going to be nutritious and convenient too, because there are things like that.

Chuck Gaidica:
My wife and my daughter made fun of me yesterday because I was sent on the shopping errand, not for traveling, just going locally. I picked up some fresh sushi. I made fun of them because they’re using chopsticks. I go for the fork. But on the way home, I made sure my hands were clean with a wipe inside the car. But I just used my fingers and I had to taste a few just to make sure they’re okay, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, of course.

Chuck Gaidica:
So it is okay to take things with you that you know you like, and I think the key thing you just said is planning. We plan for packing. We plan for car seats. We make sure the tires are inflated and sometimes we just run out the door and we don’t really think about what to pack for the five hour drive or the two day drive of what we want to eat.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, exactly. So one of the things that I like to do, especially if I’m like, “Okay, I’m running out of time. I don’t have time to really put together a meal or anything like that,” my now fiance and I often drive to Tennessee. So that’s where our family lives. So we typically plan our food stops in bigger cities when we drive to Tennessee. We’re like, “Okay, Cincinnati is a good one.” Because typically they’ll have healthier food stops.

Shanthi Appelö:
So when you’re on a random interstate, you’re often going to see only fast food. Of course, there are healthier options at fast food restaurants, but they’re limited. So we like to make the stops in bigger cities so that we can load up on a healthier salad or a healthier power bowl or something like that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. That can be a challenge because if you Google stops along I-75 between Detroit and South Florida, I mean you can go all the way down there, most of the stuff that pops up is not necessarily the healthiest. It could be the peach preserve place in Georgia, but usually it’s the donut place, it’s the rib place. It’s the stuff that people tend to think about in a touristy way. To your point, trying to find the healthy stuff could take a minute more to dig a little deeper, huh?

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. So then before you leave, just plan on about when you’re going to take your stops and that’s kind of perfect, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Of course, you can pack your food. There are so many things that pack easily for a eight hour car ride, putting everything in your cooler and packing things. So I love to pack salads. I think it’s so easy just to throw in a few vegetables in a bowl. If you’re a whole family of four taking a whole bottle of vinaigrette isn’t going to spoil. You might use the whole bottle. So little things like that can be really great because you don’t have to heat it.

Shanthi Appelö:
Another thing is pasta salad. Pasta salad sometimes gets a bad wrap, but if you do a vinaigrette base to this and you add a ton of vegetables, to mine, when we have this on A Healthier Michigan, this recipe, because it’s really great. It’s just oil, vinegar, a bunch of spices, and then we’ve got tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes. We’ve got onions and bell peppers and cucumbers. All in all, you’re getting so many vegetables in that and it’s really filling because you’ve still got a little bit of protein in the pasta, especially if it’s whole grain.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, and what’s interesting about what you say is that part of that plan may not be that you’re going to find the place that serves the food that you sit down at. It could be one of the best looking rest stops in Michigan, right? I mean, it’s pure Michigan. They all seem to have picnic tables. There are overlooks going down through the mountains where you can pull over and you could pull out the bowl of stuff, right, or anything you’ve packed in the cooler. So I don’t know that I, I won’t speak for everybody, I don’t know that I think about that as much as I should where I just think, “Oh, we’ll find a place to pull off and we’ll buy food there.” Where we could just bring it with and look for a scenic spot.

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. You save so much money. Fun fact, Michigan actually had the first picnic table in the U.S.

Chuck Gaidica:
Come on.

Shanthi Appelö:
How about that? Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
No kidding.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow.

Shanthi Appelö:
Roadside picnic table. So the first.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So you talked about moderation right off the top. That is an encouragement to us too, right? If you go on a day long trip and you kind of mess up and you get the beef brisket sandwich somewhere, because that’s the famous place to stop while you’re going down past Memphis or something, it’s okay. You didn’t blow your whole life because you got a great sandwich somewhere.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think removing the guilt from it is so important. Just know that whenever you’re traveling, try to make at least just one meal healthy in a day. Aim for making either parts of your meals healthy or different meals of the day healthy and you’d be good to go.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Do you pack a lot even when you’re traveling? I know you travel the state of Michigan a lot in your role as a dietician for various appearances. Do you pack food when you’re on the go like that?

Shanthi Appelö:
Absolutely, yes. Or if I know I’m going to stay the night somewhere, I usually have a go-to kind of grocery list for things I like to grab. So if I know I’m staying in a place with at least a microwave and a fridge, definitely I’m going to be bringing some Greek yogurt. It’s great because I can bring some berries along the way, a little package of low sugar granola and breakfast is covered. Because sometimes even when you’re staying at hotels, all they have are like, well, it’s great, but a waffle machine, just plain white toast. They’ve got all these toppings. It’s not the healthiest, right? A lot of things filled with sugar, even the yogurt that they have is very rich in sugar. So I like to bring that for breakfast.

Shanthi Appelö:
For lunch and for dinners, I think a really amazing just grocery store find that anyone can buy are pre-cooked rice that you just heat up in the microwave. You can find ones with brown rice, with quinoa, with flax seeds, a lot of great nutrients in there. Throw in the microwave for a minute and a half and then combine it with whatever to make it delicious. So a bowl I like to make when I’m on the road and don’t even have a kitchenette is heating up that, throwing on some crunchy chickpeas that’s also packaged, easily found in a lot of grocery stores.

Shanthi Appelö:
I throw on some cherry tomatoes that I’ve halve, along with some green onion and cucumber, and then drizzle some spicy mayo on top. It’s such a great meal. It’s like one of those power bowls that has a lot of nutrients and it’s so easy. It takes literally under five minutes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Well, my wife and I travel a lot and we just helped moved her daughter back from New York City. So on the way back, we didn’t get the suite sweet place. We got a regular hotel room. Most of them, to be fair, now have the small fridge, the mini fridge. That breakfast thing, I’m noticing much more Triple Zero Greek yogurt versus the other choices, right? So you have some choice, even if they’re doing the, I don’t know, if they’re powdered scrambled eggs or not, but I mean, there are ways to get some protein, a little yogurt, and you can still get your coffee.

Shanthi Appelö:
You can mix and match, like you said, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Get your coffee there, get maybe your yogurt there, but then add something from home for the rest of your breakfast, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So is microwaving your best friend on the road? I mean, when you talk about, and I think of the suite type place that may have the mini kitchen or kitchenette, do you look forward to cooking when you’re in a room or you really would just rather zap it and bring something that’s easy, got to go?

Shanthi Appelö:
I like to just combine ingredients. If I have to microwave one or two of those, that’s kind of the best deal. But if they have a kitchenette, if they have a pot and pan, the thing is you have to bring your oil, which can be… You have to bring some bigger items, which can be fine. So if you’re there for a week or so, it’s a great option. For those kind of meals, I love to find some pre-marinated frozen salmon in the grocery store, sear that up and combine it either with some pre-mixed lettuce bags. I love those, that you find in the grocery aisle.

Chuck Gaidica:
Sure.

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s just a lettuce bag that’s already got everything you need in it, along with the extra veggies and the dressing. So either combine it with that, or one of those steamable bagged rice. It’s great.

Chuck Gaidica:
I’m such a nerd with those bags of greens. To be fair, I’d rather grab a bag of spinach, but to me, they’re oftentimes… I’m like a kid. It’s almost like I’m going in for the moose tracks ice cream and trying to dig for the nugget. I’m looking for that one green or that slice of radish, that’s just it’s like, “Oh, there’s an extra find.” It’s awesome. I feel like I should get a prize. Makes it fun. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Or you’re like, “Ooh, I got to try every flavor here.” You’re like, “Yeah. Lemon pepper or lemon honey. Ooh, let’s do both.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, no, that’s good. So when we’re traveling, the other thing that I find, I like fish, my wife doesn’t particularly care for. It’s not like she hates it, but I’d be much more apt to travel the state of Michigan, let’s keep it parochial, and I’d be the guy who would order whitefish, not fish and chips, but I would order stuff that’s local to the region and try to stay fresh. That’s another way that works for me, just trying to keep it healthy, is to experiment with stuff that’s kind of local.

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. I think, especially when you’re traveling international, trying native foods that are actually healthy are just really great ways to find out foods that maybe you didn’t know could be prepared that way and you really enjoy. So for example, if you’re going to another country exploring cultural foods, trying the ways that they prepare vegetables can be just eye-opening. Of course, you’re getting the nutrients in there too. I think when you’re traveling in general, focusing on getting the nutrients is more important than thinking about overall calories and things like that, just making sure you’re getting the feel you need to feel good.

Chuck Gaidica:
There’s also something to be said, for me anyway, about finding the breaks that I know. We’ve talked in the past about sitting too much and we know all the statistics about binge watching and how it’s not good for our health. I don’t know that we assign as much value to the idea that we’re hopping in a car for five hours or nine hours or however long you’re trying to rally through. So eating is one part of good health and digestion, but also this idea that it’s okay to get out and stretch your legs. Part of that, finding the second picnic bench in Michigan that you can get out and walk to and enjoy some fresh air. There’s something to be said for that, along with the scenery and the good food, huh?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s some good pre-planning too, like thinking about, “Okay, where am I going to make my food stops, but where am I going to make my stretch and kind of walking spots.” Because it is really important, and especially if you’re traveling with young children or even dogs, it’s so important to get out and stretch and move a little bit and help burn some of those calories too.

Chuck Gaidica:
So let me put you on the spot about snacking, okay? It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to bring a bowl of salad or a bag, and then I’ve got my oil and vinegar.” I’m not mixing that as I’m going up to Harbor Springs or something, it’s just not going to happen.

Shanthi Appelö:
Right.

Chuck Gaidica:
So what do you grab? What do you encourage us to think about that you would consider snacks that are grab and go, they can just be in a bag in the back and I don’t have to worry about a lot of prep, et cetera, maybe pre-prep? I don’t know.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So if you’re going to the grocery store, I think going to the produce aisle and finding the pre-chopped veggies, that’s going to be a really great option. I like to spend about 10 minutes the night before prepping some veggie spears of bell, peppers, cucumbers, all those kind of things, bringing some hummus along the way, bringing some Tzatziki. I love hummus though. So many different flavors. It’s also something I want to try each and every one of. So I think that’s a great option.

Shanthi Appelö:
Then the crunchy stuff, don’t be afraid of it, right? I think chips and crackers and things like that, obviously don’t have a lot of health value, but there are other easy kind of prepackaged stuff. I mentioned the crunchy chickpeas, one of my favorite things just to snack on because it’s such a good source of protein and they’re just lightly roasted. Something else you could think of is bringing nuts. I like pre-portioning those though, because oftentimes if you have access to a whole bag, it’s gone and then 900 calories later, you might not feel so great. So still in moderation with all these things.

Chuck Gaidica:
Am I wrong or aren’t there things like celery sticks where you literally are expending more energy chewing and eating them and digesting than they actually… I’ll get the precut stuff if I’m traveling, right? I’ll get that little rectangular container. I dump the water somewhere along the way so it’s not spilling in the car. Before you know it, I’ve eaten half the tub, and I’m thinking to myself, “I bet you, I just exercise more chewing this stuff than the calories from…” It’s all water and it’s got fiber.

Shanthi Appelö:
I believe that’s true for celery and cucumbers. Yes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Is it? Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. Our mouths are going to work. They’re getting exercise too.

Chuck Gaidica:
I can tell my wife that’s part of my exercise plan for the day when we’re traveling, right? That’s good?

Shanthi Appelö:
You’re like, “No, I already had celery for a snack. We don’t need to go on a walk.” I don’t want to recommend that.

Chuck Gaidica:
Hummus is a good one. You can get the tub of hummus at your big box store for like five, six bucks, and that’ll last you a whole day of tripping.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, exactly. That, or I love Greek yogurt dip making some, Tzatziki. You can find Tzatziki in the same aisle often as the hummus. It’s cucumber, Greek yogurt and garlic. Really simple ingredients, and then again, really filling because what we want to look for is the protein content in some of these foods. We don’t want to go on a trip and only have our carbohydrate foods because then 30 minutes later we might be wanting to reach for something else. So really important to get the protein in there too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Michigan in the summer, it’s obvious it’s a seasonal thing, but Michigan in the summer, it’s hard to consider I guess if I’m driving up north that I’m going to wash vegetables that I can find at a roadside stand, but it is not uncommon, especially while traveling the state to find great vegetables that are fresh, whether it’s tomatoes, corn in season, just crazy good stuff. You have to have the ability to cook it, but you could still microwave it in the room. So there are ways to pick up stuff and bring it back and sort of restock the back of the car as you make your next day’s trip, huh?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, definitely. When you talked about a microwave, something made me think of microwaveable meals, because I think if you’re someone who travels for work a lot and then you run to the grocery store and you pick up some microwaveable meals, those tend to just be so full of salt and fat. When you choose the lean kinds, have you ever been full on one of those? I don’t know. I haven’t.

Chuck Gaidica:
Not really. Well, and to be fair though, it is a lot, typically it’s rice or quinoa. I know that’s supposed to fill me up, but somehow my brain is telling me I didn’t get enough of something, something in there. Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. So I think just finding things that you actually enjoy because you are traveling is so important. I like to think about my trip as the way there and the way back, I am saving money by packing and by pre-planning, by bringing things and eating healthy. Then when I’m on the trip, I can allow myself some more enjoyment. That’s kind of a good rule of thumb.

Chuck Gaidica:
Some of that fun factor, I mean, if we’re going, let’s keep it again to the state of Michigan, if I’m going up north, I may want to get off the beaten path and find the winery and do a little tasting or get a bottle of wine for another day or something. So to have fun and to bring the experience of the countryside and whatever’s being grown in that region up in Leelanau, or wherever I’m going, is part of what’s making me healthy in terms of my peace, my enjoyment of the day, what made it worth driving five or six hours, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. Because if we harp on having to be perfect and having to eat only healthy meals the entire time, the worry just isn’t worth it to me. I think actually traveling to me is almost all about food. I’m not joking. The one sole thing that Travis and I plan on every single trip is where we’re going to eat. We’re doing research on what restaurants we want to try and what types of foods in the place we want to try. So I think a lot of people are like that and it’s so important to allow yourself to enjoy.

Shanthi Appelö:
But like we said, just building in some rules of thumb, like for example, for breakfast, I’m going to eat at home every day, or in the hotel every day, or I’m going to make sure I have one side of a vegetable at each meal or a fruit. So whether that’s breakfast, you have a cup of fruit, or at lunch, you order a side of broccoli with the rest of your food. Or at dinner, you have a side salad so that you know you’re packing in some of the nutrients and that you’re balancing each meal.

Chuck Gaidica:
I think part of this is also if the trip is extended, or let’s say it’s a hiking or kayaking trip or both, or you’re going on a cruise, my wife and I have made a pact with each other that we will never go on a cruise and use the elevator unless it’s absolutely necessary to get off the ship with a suitcase that’s the size of Hawaii. You know what I mean?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
So wherever we go, we’ll do the two miles a day on a track because that’s our thing. So we’re not being crazy about it. Then we take the stairs everywhere. Well, you do 14, 16 flights of stairs multiple times a day, you can probably sneak in that tiramisu tonight for dinner. So I think part of what I hear when I speak to you, not just today, but often is finding balance, right?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Don’t give up on the fun. Don’t give up on the experience of a local flavor. Maybe something is a little more fattening than you would typically want to eat, but if you’re balancing your life and you’re going on a major hiking trip up north for two days, yeah, you can probably have a little fudged on Mackinaw Island. You’re okay.

Shanthi Appelö:
Exactly. When you said tiramisu, I thought of tiramisu for two, because when you’re going out to eat, think about splitting with your partner, your family member, your friend. You can try so many different foods if you just share it, right? Oftentimes, when we travel, we like to bring in a lot of different appetizers and things like that. But something that I think is really important when you do that is one at a time, right? Instead of ordering five to 10 appetizers for your whole table of four to eight or whatever it is, maybe take a little at a time to really register that fullness.

Shanthi Appelö:
I think something too that’s important is when we’re traveling, we might think, “Oh my gosh, I want to try it all. I’m not going to get to come back here for a while. I can’t leave here without having tried this really big thing,” but I think it’s important to remember that you can come back, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, you can. I have discovered again on this trip from New York recently, it’s stuck in my mind because we actually pulled off into civilization. So we’re surrounded by every fast food choice you can imagine. One of the choices to be honest was a Panera. The reason I like that is because we do share now a sandwich, one big giant sandwich is too much for either one of us, but we also get a salad.

Chuck Gaidica:
The reason I like that location is because you can also, through your app or otherwise in person, you can delete, you can add they’re very much into customization, which is not the case for a lot of drive through fast food places that are right next door to them. So you can be a little choosier and still get some good stuff and it still is quick and it’s still fast food, let’s be fair, but it’s a salad and it’s a half of a sandwich and it’s lunch and that’s it.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. The customizable thing made me think of a lot of these fast food restaurants have all the information on their apps on their website. So you can really be empowered by what you’re choosing, because oftentimes when you’re grow into a restaurant, you’re like, “I don’t really know what they’re putting into this. I know it tastes good, but I’m not really sure what it is.” But when you’re on the road, if you’re kind of following that rule of thumb, like I do, okay, on the road, I’m going to be as healthy as possible. When I get to my location, I don’t care as much. You can really be in charge of what you’re choosing by looking at the calories, by looking at the sugar content, the saturated fat content, the salt and things like that, and modify as you need to.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. But I hear from you a registered dietitian, is it fair to call you a foodie? Is it?

Shanthi Appelö:
Oh my gosh. Yes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So when you travel, you’re looking for these really great spots, but that’s encouraging to me as a mere mortal, right? I’m not a registered dietitian, but to think that a registered dietitian is saying, “Yeah, when we go to Cincinnati, we’re going to find the place with the chips and the guac.” I’m thinking, “Okay. I mean, if it’s okay for you, you’re encouraging me, then I can think about balance, right?” It’s okay to think that way.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yes, absolutely. I think food makes life fun.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah.

Shanthi Appelö:
It’s something we eat do every single day. So I think it’s meant to be enjoyed, but of course, with the balance. Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. So wrap it up for us. We’re still going through summer. We’ve got great fall travel here. Of course, we’ll have a seasonal change where we can’t get everything we’ve talked about, veggies at roadside stands when the snow flies. But for the rest of the couple, what, we even have five months to go before we get to the end of fall, encourage us about what to think about some top tips, what to grab and go, how to pack as we travel for the rest of the summer?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah. I think one important thing is to set goals for yourself, whether that is how many healthy kind of components you’re going to have in your day, how many healthy meals you want to have in a day, how many steps you want to get in a day when you’re out and about, maybe you want to aim for 10,000 steps or more because oftentimes when we’re traveling, we get in more. Get familiar with that grocery list. Maybe even make one for yourself that you always have that you can have for on the go.

Shanthi Appelö:
So I was mentioning the bag of brown rice, the salad bags, the hummus, the Greek yogurt, make that easy grocery list for yourself of things to pick up that are always going to be travel friendly. Lastly, just like I said, know that you can come back. Don’t have the fear of missing out. Enjoy until you’re full and until you’re satisfied, but don’t overdo it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Well, I think those are great takeaways and lots of encouragement, especially the idea of balance and finding ways to work off what you think may be coming or you didn’t discover yet. Shanthi, it’s always great to see you. Thanks for the wisdom.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thanks, Chuck.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, take good care. We’re glad you’ve been with us. Thanks for listening to A Healthier Michigan podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show and you want to know more, you can check us out online. Go to ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave us a review or a rating. We’d love for you to do that. You can do it on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. You can get new episodes, a lot of old episodes as well to take with you. So be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, your favorite podcast app all the way around. Stay well. I’m Chuck Gaidica.