Cooking healthy while traveling

I like preparing healthy food for home, but I am stumped when I try to prepare meals for my husband (he’s a truck driver). He is gone from two to five days at a time and mostly relies on truck stop food, which he finds extremely heavy, expensive and difficult on the stomach. I would love some suggestions for preparing meals and/or snacks. He needs sustaining food because the work is very demanding physically. The only appliance he has is a small refrigerator.

The secrets to healthful eating are knowledge and control; knowing how to balance good foods every day for results over the “long haul,” and controlling what goes into your mouth by preparing food yourself or by making good choices from menus. (Don’t hesitate to ask for something that isn’t on the menu.)

Road food is an obstacle course. When I travel (by plane, not rig), the first and most important decision I make is where to eat. I look for restaurants, hotel dining rooms and take-out counters that give me the most choice. The more choices on a menu, the better the chance I’ll find something that appeals to my tastes and diet. Then, I choose the menu items that are closest to the foods I eat at home. Drastically changing your diet for a period of two to five days is not a good idea.

To give you some more specific guidance, I consulted one of my friends, Paulette , whose husband is also a trucker. Here are some tips that we can recommend:

Stay away from fast food

Calories and fat are packed to the max on those menus. If your schedule demands a quick stop at fast food occasionally, opt for the broiled chicken sandwich and a soda. This will tide you over until you can scout a menu with more variety. Avoid fries at all costs.

Concentrate on soups, salads and sandwiches, even at a truck stop
Broth soups with ladles full of vegetables, pasta or rice are your best bet. Steer clear of cream soups. (Vegetable cream soups can be a heart attack in disguise.) Most bread is good for you, though whole grain types give you extra nutrients and dietary fiber. I always order whole wheat bread for a sandwich.

My all-time healthful favorite is sliced turkey on wheat with lettuce and tomato. (If you’re wondering where the mayo went, stay tuned.) Of course, if your husband ever has the luxury of lingering over a meal, try a full-course salad with some lean meat, a little cheese (“little” is the big word here) and some complex carbohydrate, like pasta salad. Salad bars give you the most control over what goes on your plate. Vinaigrettes are a better choice than creamy dressings.

Use the refrigerator

This is a convenience dream for your husband. Not only is it good for food safety, it gives him control over ingredients. For instance, a small squeeze bottle of low-fat mayonnaise will allow him to order my favorite turkey sandwich and skip the full-fat mayo in favor of his own reduced-fat brand.

Nothing is worse than a day-old soggy sandwich. Send him off with the components of a sandwich, wrapped separately. Sliced turkey, ham or cooked chicken breast can be kept fresh in a zip-locked plastic bag. Do the same with separate lettuce leaves and tomato slices. Remember, do not refrigerate bread or rolls; the carbohydrate in bread will remain fresh at room temperatures.

Be creative on the road

Go easy on breakfast

Breakfast is just as easy … and, more healthful if you skip the donuts. Tell your husband to pick up freshly baked bagels every morning. (He’ll have a head-start on all of us 9-to-5ers to get the freshest bagel in town.) Bagels are usually baked early in the morning, and are great for sandwiches at lunchtime, too. Pack his refrigerator with light cream cheese and a few disposable knives. Paulette’s husband chooses pancakes and waffles over eggs and bacon at truck stops. That’s an intelligent alternative.

Nourish with snacks

Paulette jumped right to an old stand-by. “If he has a refrigerator, tell her to pack him carrot and celery sticks in small plastic bags.” I agree: They are the most satisfying crunchy munchies. Freshly cut carrot sticks are best, but a bag of the baby peeled carrots will do in a pinch.

Brainstorm

New supermarkets have huge parking lots and cheap, fresh salad bars. Increasingly, you can find home-style food to go there. If I were traveling the highways week after week, I would pull into a supermarket parking lot and shop for a ready-to-eat meal in the store. Your imagination can run wild with all the benefits of this decision. Homestyle food. Fresh food. Complete control of the menu. HUGE menu. Reasonable prices. Pleasant atmosphere. Just remember: Choose the foods that are familiar and healthful.

Be sweet

Paulette includes hard candy in her husbands travel kit, the kind that lasts a long time. Butterscotch suckers and root beer barrels keep the taste buds busy and remove the temptation to smoke. She packs full, re-sealable boxes of low-fat crackers for munchin’ on the long trips between stops. She makes sure to get crackers that are flavored (sour cream and onion, Cheddar cheese) so they can satisfy her husband while he drives (two hands on the wheel; no hands to spread cheese on the crackers).

Paulette suggests fresh fruit as a great feel-good road snack. Easy-to-eat fruit includes apples, seedless grapes and pears. Bananas and oranges are perfect for a fuel stop.

What you have in your mind?