How do I eat Plant-based when traveling?
This a question often raised when someone is thinking about how to implement a plant-based lifestyle in a serious way. So many of us are in the habit of snacking or grabbing fast food when on the road, or in the air, that it seems pretty daunting to really stick to a plant-based diet when you are in your home and your regular routine. But I’m here to tell you that it’s actually a lot easier than it might seem at first glance. There are three main strategies that I recommend to keep you and your family fed when away from home.
Packing your own food
This is probably the most obvious, is usually the cheapest, but is also the most time-consuming. Depending on how long you plan to be away, you can take all your food with you or you can plan to grocery shop once you arrive at your destination. I recommend at least a small cooler that you can keep fresh perishable items in while on the road. Breakfast is the easiest meal to pack. Dry cereal can be put into ziplok bags that collapse when empty so as to save space as you eat up your food. Non-dairy milk travels well in the 1 quart size, shelf-stable carton if you have a family. Silk brand milks also come in smaller single serving sizes which are convenient if you are by yourself. If you use a whole container for a meal, there is no need to worry about refrigeration. Trail mixes of raw or dry roasted nuts and unsweetened dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, cherries, prunes and apples are great for satiety. Almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans are all great in these mixes. Apples and other firm fruits travel well with minimal bruising, while I consider bananas and peaches a disaster to travel with.
For lunches, sandwiches, juice, and chips with some of that trail mix should be quite satisfying. Nut or seed butters with whole grain breads or crackers and fruit juice sweetened jam make good sandwiches that don’t have to be refrigerated and can be made fresh when you want to eat. You can take whole, ripe avocados in your cooler to smash onto bread or whole grain crackers. Topped with a little pink salt is simple and excellent. Even better is to throw in a head of garlic. Peel a clove and rub it on crispbread or rough crackers then add the avocado and salt for a real gourmet treat! Other savory sandwiches can be made with bean spreads, olive-garbanzo spreads, tofu egg salad, or vegan veggie meats (traveling is about the only time I use these). There are great non-dairy cheese slices that can be used in sandwiches with the addition of lettuce and pre-sliced tomatoes (in the cooler, of course!) Follow Your Heart, Miyoko’s creamery, Chao, and Daiya brand cheeses are probably my favorites. If you prefer bagels, you can also get Tofutti vegan cream cheese or make your own cream cheese to eat on them. Juice boxes of 100% fruit juice or fresh fruit can provide liquid. I like to pre-cube fruits like melons and mix with blueberries and grapes, put them in a glass container with leakproof lid and use that for dessert. Make sure to include plastic ware, plates, and napkins for feasting in the car or at a roadside park.
Eating in Restaurants or Fast Food Joints
Believe it or not, this is actually possible. You simply have to be a little creative and read all the menu options, looking for plant-based items.I like to pull up potential restaurant websites on my phone or with an app like UrbanSpoon or Yelp, and then peruse the menu ahead of time and figure out what the options are. Most metropolitan areas also boast vegan restaurants which make finding a great meal much simpler. Many restaurants have a salad bar. Pick one with a lots of options and you can build a whole salad-based meal. This can include lettuce or other green leafies, tomatoes, cold beans (kidney and garbanzo are popular – make this a major part of your salad so that it sticks to your ribs), olives, peas, onions, sunflower seeds and sprinkle all with lemon (most restaurants can get you some if you ask, and there are often lemon wedges where ever they dispense tea) and some salt. If they have olive oil, you can drizzle a little of that on instead of a creamy salad dressing. I find that almost everywhere, if you ask, you can get the olive oil. You can add sides of cooked veggies at a lot of restaurants which might include green beans, carrots, or steamed potatoes. Other restaurant options are baked potatoes and salads without cheese or dressings. Ethnic restaurants often offer better plant-based options. Italian restaurants will often have a whole grain pasta, salads, and marinara sauce. Asian restaurants are wonderful places to find veggies, noodles (watch out for the egg noodles), rice, vegetarian spring rolls, tofu dishes, and more. If you tell them you are vegan they can often recommend dishes for you. Indian restaurants will have assorted breads, vegetable curries with rice and vegetable stuffed samosas are also often available. You might have to ask what dishes have dairy though as they use quite a bit of cheese and ghee (clarified butter) in their cooking. Mexican restaurants offer fajitas, which are easily made totally plant based, tortillas, rice and beans. You do need to ask about the fats they use, as lard is traditional in many mexican dishes. Bean burritos are often able to be made plant-based as well if they are told to hold the cheese and sour cream.
Fast food joints will not have the highest quality food but many still will offer plant-based options. Qdoba and Chipotle and even Taco Bell offer dishes built around rice, beans, veggies, guacamole, lettuce and salsas. Just leave off the meat and cheeses. Wendy’s is always one you can count on for baked potatoes (plus they are cheap), but I usually have to supplement somewhere else for some beans or something to put on the potato. I even carry a small bottle of olive oil and my own salt which can make the potato tastier. In airports here in the USA it’s becoming quite common to find more and more plant-based options in the food courts and along the terminals. Rice and quinoa salads are often refrigerated, you can get roasted garbanzos to snack on, and bagels and fruit smoothies are often available as well. It’s pricey, but food is available.
If you are traveling by road, another option is to stop into a grocery store to pick up ingredients for a meal. Often I will stock up at a grocery store when staying at a hotel and eat in my room. That can actually be some really high quality meals. Things that are easy to buy and to fix with minimal fuss in a hotel room include dry cereal and milk, breads and crackers (GF are often easy to get as well), fresh fruit (whole or cut), canned beans, salad greens, grape tomatoes, and pre-sliced olives make easy breakfasts and lunches. Non-dairy yogurt, like Silk brand mixes nicely with fresh fruit for breakfast or supper as well. When I travel out of town to teach, one of my favorite meals is a heart salad. I buy organic spring mix, (I bring a medium sized glass container with snap-lock lid to put it in), add grape tomatoes, get the little containers of olives that are packed with no liquid (Walmart), put about ½ a can of organic canned garbanzos (chick peas) on it, and drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and some lemon juice and it’s makes a hearty lunch that is just delicious! Sometimes I’ll add some dry roasted sunflower seeds to that as well.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for eating plant-based when you are away from home, it just takes a little planning and thinking ahead. So don’t be afraid to pack your bags and take your plant-based lifestyle with you. I’ll be wishing you Bon Voyage!