Healthy Travel Food: The Ultimate Packing Lists for Eating Right on a Trip
I’m a busy single mom who does a lot of traveling, with and without my kids. Part of my journey to excellent health was learning habits and recipes that we enjoyed, that happened to also be really nutritious. But another major step was key to my being able to rehab my family’s health many years ago when I got serious about ditching the Standard American Diet. That step was learning how to be prepared with ideas and healthy options away from home.
Packing Healthy Travel Food
In this article:
- Finding Out How to Eat Healthy When Traveling
- Packing for a Healthy Road Trip
- A Healthy Plane Trip Food List
- Tips for Finding Healthy Food While Traveling
- Plan Your Food for Traveling
Finding Out How to Eat Healthy When Traveling
Running kids to sports practices, attending “home” and “away” games for four competitive athletes, playing a traveling, competitive sport myself, and traveling all over the country giving lectures for six years, forced me to get creative about eating healthy travel food while on the road.
In addition to those times away from home, I’ve gone on vacations and humanitarian service missions where I’ve taken my entire family to developing countries for several days or even weeks at a time.
How do I feed myself and my family well when I’m on the go and away from home so often?
I’ve been asked this question countless times, and I’m happy to share my strategies.
Packing for a Healthy Road Trip
Car trips are easier to plan for than plane trips because they are conducive to bringing coolers and a box of ingredients and equipment. You can even pack quarts of green smoothies for your first few days.
And more often, when you drive, you’ll have access to a kitchen where you’re going.
You can eat healthy travel food even on long car trips, like one we took to Disneyland.
Our Disneyland Road Trip Food List
We brought enough food and snacks for two meals per day. (Make sure you book a hotel with a mini-fridge, but if you tell them you need it for medical purposes, they have to provide it.)
Then, I asked Siri for a salad bar or vegan restaurant nearby to make up for the other meals.
Our Disneyland healthy travel food packing, for a family of 6, looked like this:
In the Cooler
- Bags of baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, raw sweet potato sticks
- ½ gallon homemade yogurt
- 2 bags Costco organic mixed greens
- 1 bag Costco frozen mixed berries
- a pint of soaked/drained sunflower seeds (to add to granola for breakfast)
- a quart of alfalfa/radish/clover sprouts (to add to granola for breakfast)
In the Box
- BlendTec for a family, Nutribullet for a single person with limited ability to pack (can go in a suitcase easily)
- Disposable cups, straws, bowls, spoons, and resealable baggies
- Knife and cutting board for smoothies (I use it even on hotel room tables or vanities)
- Containers with tight-fitting lids, for smoothies
- Backpack for taking food to the parks
- 3 loaves whole-grain bread
- Organic peanut butter-honey (pre-mixed for sandwiches)
- A gallon bag of homemade granola (recipe below)
- 3 boxes rice milk
- 1 gallon soaked/dehydrated Teriyaki Almonds (recipe below)
- Tonya’s “For Cryin’ Out Loud Dehydrator Onion Bread” (recipe below)
- 1 bunch ripe bananas (for green smoothies; also add to yogurt for breakfast)
- Bags of washed apples, pears, plums, celery sticks
- Ziploc bags of dried fruit
- Powdered greens and a shaker cup
- 5-gallon jug of filtered water
Avoid Processed Food Overloads
Not only did bringing our own healthy travel food to save us a lot of money, but we also didn’t feel horrible and sleep 10 hours a night to recover from a day of trans fats, chemicals, food dyes, and sugar from eating Disneyland food.
Our digestive function didn’t shut down, and we didn’t struggle with blood sugar lows and resulting crabbiness.
Save Money and Eat Healthy
All in all, we may have enjoyed our vacation much more, in addition to saving a boatload of money compared to what we saw others doing.
When you travel, if you don’t think ahead about healthy travel food, you are more likely to be trapped in the worst of the Standard American Diet!
A Healthy Plane Trip Food Packing List
Traveling by plane for an extended trip (especially with children) takes a little different planning.
For example, Europe for 3 weeks was a tricky trip. I want to share how we went and ate well (5-10 raw vegetables/fruits daily) without hassle or excessive expense.
Making Do Without Appliances
We had no green smoothies as a crutch because you don’t go to little European hotels with an appliance, nor will an appliance company cover your warranty if you blow it out with the weird plugs in various countries.
Plus, we had a few flights with strict weight requirements. A turbo blender is just too much weight.
We packed these healthy travel food options in our suitcases to take with us.
The Best Travel Food to Bring with You
1. A good organic powdered greens product.
This saved us, nutritionally, in the absence of green smoothies! I stirred a large spoonful into a glass of water for everyone, morning and night. (If you would like to order from our friends at Organifi, use coupon code ROBYN15 at checkout—you’ll get 15% off your order!)
2. Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, Costco Granola, and Rice Dream.
Double bag the rice milk in gallon Ziploc bags; two fit perfectly in one bag. (Keep in mind that you’ll need to put liquids in checked baggage, not your carry-on.)
Remove the Grape Nuts from their boxes (we bought the big Costco ones) and add another layer of protection with a gallon freezer bag. You don’t want these things exploding in your suitcases.
3. Bags of homemade granola and dry, raw seeds.
Granola and pumpkin or sunflower seeds are lifesavers on long trips.
Along with a box of rice milk, they’re a breakfast that will serve you well for the most important meal of the day, helping you avoid a crappy hotel continental breakfast, which is never, in any country, an option that will give you sustained energy for the day.
Soak the seeds when you get to your destination, pour the water off the next morning, and use the seeds stirred into the baked granola, for living enzymes, the world’s healthiest fats, and powerful nutrition to power through until lunch!
Even restaurant breakfasts (which take time from your touring and are expensive) are pretty much never nutritious. We bought bananas in the market, upon arrival, to add to our cereal.
4. Paper bowls and plastic spoons.
These are great for breakfasts.
5. Snacks like sprouted Teriyaki Almonds.
You can find that recipe alone. Organic plant-based bars and apples also travel well.
6. Frozen smoothies and juice.
Frozen plastic containers of green smoothies or green juice can be double bagged and rolled into pairs of jeans in your suitcase at the last minute. You can even have these in a carry-on and get through security just fine; if it’s frozen, it’s not liquid!
This works when the hotel we’ll be arriving at has a fridge. If it doesn’t, you can get some ice and put green smoothies in the sink, with ice, to keep them cold for a couple of days. This is a bit of a hassle.
7. A large bottle of water in everyone’s checked luggage.
This to tides us over till we’re able to stop and buy gallons of distilled or filtered water, so we don’t end up not drinking enough or drinking fluoridated, chlorinated water from taps or drinking fountains.
Make sure you’re drinking a lot of water when you’re traveling, especially with airline travel, because drinking lots of clean water is even more important than food.
Tips for Finding Healthy Food While Traveling
It’s not true that you can’t find something good to eat when you’re traveling. It is, however, true that you have to try a bit harder than when you’re at home.
Just know what you’re looking for. First and foremost, you’re looking for opportunities to get greens and vegetables (priorities #1 and #2) because those are the base of the pyramid, the most important foods, and also the hardest healthy travel food to find when traveling.
So when you can, find them, buy them, and eat them however you have to—even by the handful, plain!
1. Look for Produce Stands and Local Farmers’ Markets
You’re enjoying local fruit and vegetables in season, and can be part of your touring the area and experiencing what they grow there!
For example, when we went to Europe, we’d stop at a market and buy some healthy travel food options like this every day for lunch:
- 6 nectarines
- 6 large carrots (I never saw baby carrots in Europe)
- A loaf of whole grain bread (a comedy of communication errors in a bakery in Paris taught me that “complete” is the word in France to describe whole grains)
- Some local cheeses and mustard and tomatoes for the bread
We’d wash the fruit and carrots, toss all the stuff in a backpack, and stop in a park somewhere to eat each day.
Part of the fun was going in the little local grocery markets to see what they have.
Finds like this make you feel at home in a strange city and add to the sense of discovery and accomplishment in your travels.
Read John Robbins’ The Food Revolution on how European meat/cheese is highly government regulated and not full of antibiotics, steroids, infected pus, and other lovelies like the U.S. products contain. Also, bread is made fresh, without hybridization of the wheat, without preservatives, and Europe does not have the glyphosate (Roundup) issue. So many people with gluten issues do fine with European bread.
2. Know What to Look for in Restaurants, and Try the Local Cuisine
While traveling to Europe (and often stateside), we would eat dinner in a restaurant. I’m certainly not going to take my kids to Italy without letting them try gelato and pizza!
(Of course, the pizza bears no resemblance to what is offered here in the U.S. It is much better for you, and you can get many lovely vegetarian pizzas, one of the most popular varieties being topped with mounds of raw greens.)
Ditto Barcelona, where we enjoyed the paella (vegetarian, of course) and gazpacho.
And France? I did not, myself, try the white bread, but let the kids do it once because my then-husband thought it was somehow important in their “experiencing” France.
And of course, they did fall madly in love with crepes.
(Can you believe I had never tried that hazelnut/chocolate spread, Nutella, in my life, before France? Note to self: avoid at home. Wow, it was yummy on crepes. Do not include this as part of my “eat healthy” tips.)
So, we did indulge, but we always indulged with a big green salad alongside.
After my childhood of severe hypoglycemia, I learned that if one eats refined sugar now and then, it should be done only after a good, healthy, high-fiber meal.
The Europeans have lots of watercress and other lovely greens that we consider exotic here. And amazingly, even without my green smoothies, and despite a few servings of gelato and crepes, I came home the same weight and had lots of energy each day for our adventures.
3. Make a Healthy Fast Food Choice
Stateside, Subway is our standby as “fast food” on trips. Here’s what you do: get the “wheat” bread and order a Veggie Delite.
Tell the teenage employee to put on LOTS of cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots, plus spinach if they have it (skip the iceberg lettuce). For a sauce, we just do brown mustard.
Then, your sandwich lies there, open, looking a little skimpy.
The “sandwich artist” awaits further orders. Do not, in the interest of being polite, leave with that skimpy sandwich. You say, can I have a bunch more tomatoes? Thanks! And how about a lot more cucumbers?
(Go through the whole vegetable lineup again if necessary. Smile and use all your chatty charisma, so as to not completely annoy the sandwich maker.)
The Perfect Packed Sandwich
When your sandwich is piled high with veggies, they manage to squeeze it shut and package it up for you, and you get a rather nutritious meal, at least compared to most fast food. I recommend the 12-inch to make it filling enough for hiking around on vacation.
4. Look for Healthy Restaurants
Other restaurants we ask Siri to find for us on U.S. trips are Cafe Rio or Bajio’s. We’ll order salads with whole wheat tortillas, no meat, lots of black beans, and extra romaine.
Think what your favorite chains with healthy meal options, then look for them when you’re out of town.
If I end up at one of the really lousy Americana chains like Chili’s, Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, etc., I ask for extra romaine and dressing on the side (so you can use a minimal amount).
Avoid Mexican and Chinese restaurants, because they rarely have anything raw or nutritious on their menu.
5. Look for Juice Bars and Salad Bars.
Greens are your #1 daily priority, and Google makes this easy.
I’ve found a juice bar and had a wheatgrass shot in the Amsterdam airport, and had another giant glass of made-to-order fresh carrot-celery juice in downtown Prague. That’s right, in the Czech Republic! Where a tour guide told us, “Our national vegetable is pork.”
Buy green smoothies or no-fruit green juices, made fresh, with superfood additions. Some Whole Foods Markets have made-to-order juice bars.
In fact, Whole Foods was my go-to when I did my lecture tour for 6 years in 450 cities. In virtually every city we drove to, we’d make the GPS direct us to the nearest Whole Foods and get a giant salad from the salad bar to last lunch and dinner, plus a few healthy snacks and treats. It’s kind of an adventure, and it’s McDonald’s-like in that you know what you will get when you go there. Predictable and better than wandering around town hoping to find some reasonably non-toxic grub.
6. Don’t Buy Into the Idea that There’s Nothing Healthy to Eat in Airports.
In airports, you just have to look a little bit harder for food you won’t regret. I found amazing quinoa/kale salad in the Phoenix airport recently, for instance.
The Denver airport has a restaurant that serves only locally grown food selections. The Atlanta airport has a fresh juice bar. And you can get a green smoothie at Jamba Juice in most airports, though tell them to triple the greens and halve the fruit content.
The point is, look around a bit, and you’ll find something plant-based, something whole, something that gives life rather than spends it. Anywhere in the world.
Here are some photos our readers shared with us, about healthy travel food “finds” on their vacations, plus a few of my own. You really can eat right, while traveling, with a bit of effort!
Indulging While on Vacation
On a trip across the West with friends from Europe, at any of our given restaurant meal, some were having a couple glasses of wine with dinner, or dessert, or coffee after dinner.
All of us are very health-conscious people. My point is, we all indulge, on vacation. If we’re doing some great things, all day, to keep nutrient density high, hopefully, it’s enough to continue enjoying the vacation.
Plan Your Food for Traveling
I hope these ideas are useful to you, and the recipes I made before our Disneyland trip are below for your enjoyment! And grab our Healthy Travel Food Packing List, here! It’s free and it’ll make eating healthy on your next road trip or vacation a breeze!
Special Offer! Want more ideas for healthy travel food while on vacation, on a budget, or with little time? Want to know how to get your kids to buy into healthful eating? Get my books How To Eat Right In The Real World and How To Raise Healthy Eaters at 50% off the already discounted set! Enter the coupon code ROADTRIP at checkout!
What’s in your travel food list? Share them with us in the comments section below!
Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.
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