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What to Eat When You’re Having Fun

5 tips for better eating with difficult choices

It’s summertime: the season of baseball games, outdoor camping, and trips of all kinds, from a weekend at the beach to a family reunion halfway across the country. One element these otherwise fun adventures all have in common is plenty of obstacles to healthy eating. It’s harder to control what you’re putting in your mouth when you’re off your regular routine and the only option might be a fast-food restaurant, gas station, truck stop, or stadium snack bar.

There are good coping strategies, however, and these tips and planning advice may help you come home with wonderful memories, and without the extra pounds and potentially higher blood glucose levels.

Pack healthy food

You’re on the road, away from your kitchen and feeling hunger pangs at different times than you might normally. These circumstances may make it tempting – and so easy – to grab a chocolate bar or a bag of chips when stopping to fill the tank. It’s easier to resist that temptation if you have good-for-you food packed and ready to go. Start with a lightweight cooler and a few ice or freezer packs, and add in some good packable choices:

  • Water and other zero-calorie drinks.
  • Peanut or almond butter sandwiches.
  • Hard-boiled eggs.
  • Vacuum-packed tuna (delicious tossed on top of a fast-food salad).
  • Individual servings of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • Reduced-fat cheese sticks or slices.
  • Nuts pre-measured in 1-ounce or ¼-cup servings.
  • Canned tomato or vegetable juice.
  • Washed, cut, and ready-to-eat veggies. Carrots and celery sticks are always good, but consider trying some of the many vegetables that are fresh and in-season now, including baby bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, or sugar snap peas.
  • Fresh fruit. Oranges, clementines, apples, and pears are especially sturdy for traveling, and if you pack them carefully, you can go for pretty much anything, including grapes, cherries, plums, peaches, and bananas.

Tuck a fast food or restaurant guide, such as Calorie King®, into your bag as using it will likely guide better choices if you stop for a meal. If you have a smartphone, consider downloading a dining guide before you leave. GoMeals®, for example, is a free app with a restaurant finder and database of over 20,000 restaurant foods, so you can track calories, fats, and carbs, almost anywhere.

If you’re traveling by plane, you can bring fruit, nuts, and a healthy sandwich on board. Take an empty water bottle to fill at the fountain once you’ve cleared security. If you’re seeing the country by train, pack your snacks in a thermal lunch bag.

Write down your game plan

Before your trip, spend some time thinking about where you’ll be eating – try jotting down notes in a notebook or on your phone or computer. Start with your mode of transportation – how you’ll get there – and how long the trip will take. Then think about your destination and activities. Are you going to the beach or the ballpark? Will you grill your meals at a campsite or dine in fancy restaurants? Think about what your best choices will be when you can’t bring your own food.

Here are some ideas to get you started; I call them my “road food reliables.”

  • Ballparks are more than just peanuts, popcorn, and hot dogs these days. You’ll find turkey sandwiches, veggie wraps, and even sushi. Each small California roll is only about 35 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate. The sandwiches may be good choices, but they are almost always more appropriate for two people to share. A small popcorn with no butter may be a good choice as well, especially if it satisfies your urge for something ‘fun’ to eat.
  • Fast food restaurants usually have salads or grilled chicken sandwiches. My favorite tip is to order a kids’ meal and skip the dessert. Those meals offer built-in portion control!
  • Truck stops and gas stations typically offer nuts, fresh, or canned fruit and a small selection of crackers, some even whole-grain. You can put them together for a quick meal in a pinch. Some stops have hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, low-fat yogurt, pre-made or made-to-order sandwiches. When choosing sandwiches, opt for lean meats like turkey or roast beef without extra mayo, and again, consider splitting the sandwich with someone else.
  • Airports now have more choices than ever before. Look for hummus wraps, entrée salads in takeaway containers (go light on the dressing), fresh fruit, oatmeal, and small, non-fat lattes. On the plane, sip tomato juice or seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice to stay hydrated. Sometimes our bodies fool us, making us feel hungry when we actually are thirsty.

Know your carbs

Before your trip, review your carb counting and meal planning materials. Make sure you can identify high-carb foods, so you are better able to balance them at each meal. For example, when your choices are chicken with starchy sides like mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, cornbread, dinner rolls, and green beans, go for the chicken (without the fatty skin) and fill up with a generous order of the green beans. Then pick only one or two high-carb sides, depending on your individualized meal plan. Choose just one bread and either the mac and cheese or the potatoes, but not both. When at the sub shop, cram so many veggies in your sandwich that it resembles a salad with bread! Fruit makes a wonderful choice as a side dish, but don’t forget to account for the carbs. Since one sub roll is usually bigger than two slices of bread, you may have to leave part of the roll on the plate to make room for the fruit. If pizza is your best option, balance a slice or two of thin crust with a salad – even if it’s only iceberg lettuce and tomato slices – instead of adding on carb-heavy breadsticks. To keep the fat down and nutrition up, choose veggie pizza instead of pepperoni or sausage.

Don’t deprive yourself

If your beach vacation screams for an ice cream cone or if a ball game just feels wrong without a hot dog, plan for your treat. Pick a day to enjoy it, buy the smallest serving available, and if necessary, cut back elsewhere; and always follow your testing plan, even on holiday.

Don’t stress

Forget the notion of eating “perfectly” when traveling. Work hard, but enjoy yourself and accept that you may not be able to control everything. Once home, double down to reverse any gains. Happy summer!

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE* is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for the The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

GoMeals® is a Sanofi US trademark.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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