You may work religiously at home to follow a paleo or gluten-free diet, but once you head to the airport all bets can be off.
Around every corner—from the concourse to the airplane to the hotel to the business dinner—you’ll find temptations, conundrums and challenges. But holding fast to a special diet can be a rewarding accomplishment for a frequent traveler.
For those not familiar, the increasingly popular paleo (or caveman) diet limits foods to what our Paleolithic ancestors ate. Broadly speaking, this means a diet rich in protein and non-starchy vegetables and fruits, eschewing processed foods and those introduced as agriculture developed.
The paleo diet is, by definition, also gluten-free. A gluten-free diet eliminates foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley.
Eating healthily when you travel can be hard under any circumstances. But for those with specific dietary guidelines, it is especially tricky.
Here are some success strategies for those eating paleo or gluten-free on the road:
1: Carry satisfying snacks – A little planning means you’ll always have something simple and delicious in your carry-on. I like to pack a few apples because they’re sturdy, but some like to throw in bananas because they’re self-packaged. Individual serving bags of nuts, cut vegetables, natural applesauce, nut butters, and jerky are also good to keep in your pantry—just throw them into your bag on the way out the door. Increasingly, you can find healthy snacks at airport shops, my favorite of late being the hard-boiled egg. And for a special treat, pick up or bring along a nut or protein bar that meets your dietary requirements.
2: Pre-order a gluten-free meal or snack box for your flight – Pre-orders allow you to make sound decisions when you’re not tired or stressed. If you’re flying internationally or in business/first class domestically, many airlines now you allow you to pre-order your meal and usually there’s a gluten-free option. If you eat paleo, this is probably your best bet, too. For snacks, some airlines (like United) are offering gluten-free boxes, and some airlines (like US Airways) offer pre-order of main cabin meals and snack boxes.
3: Take charge of the restaurant choice – When dining with others, offer to select the restaurant. The easiest choice: The classic steakhouse. Other good bets are sushi, American, and Mexican. Italian, don’t take offense: We love you, but you’re a dangerous partner for either of these diets. Also, I always take a quick look at the menu online so there’s no stress at the table. Plus, planning ahead prevents bad choices.
4: Don’t hijack the joy of the meal – The purpose of most business dinners is to seal the relationship by sharing a meal. If your food limitations become the focus of conversation, it can be a distraction and downer for those you’re with. I’ve found it better to keep quiet about my dietary preferences. The one exception—and it’s a tricky one—is when you’ve been invited to someone’s home. In that case, I will send the host a friendly email mentioning my gluten intolerance. I’ve found it’s possible to navigate this without offending or causing inconvenience.
5: Beware, alcohol – Be extra careful with pre-dinner cocktails. Without the bread to soak up the alcohol, you may unwittingly get loopy before the entrée arrives—not advisable at a business dinner.
6: Get the tools – Yes, there’s an app for that. If you eat gluten-free, check out iEatOut (iOS), which filters by food allergies like gluten, and DineGlutenFree (iOS and Android). Or simply search on Yelp, using the gluten-free category as a filter. A number of apps assist those eating paleo, including Healthy Out (iOS and Android), PaleoGoGo (iOS and Android), and YoDish (iOS).
7: Have confidence – Perhaps the most important strategy: Bring your commitment along when you walk out the door. Synching your lifestyle on the road with your lifestyle at home can be satisfying and energizing. And it’s doable!
What are your best tips for sticking with a paleo or gluten-free diet when you travel? Have you tried either diet? Share your tips and comments below.
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